Christianity 201

January 23, 2022

Baby Steps: Carrying Out Christ’s Most Basic Command

Some will think today’s “baby steps” devotional isn’t very 201-ish. It’s more like 101, or pre-101. But over and over again this weekend it has been impressed on me that the pastors and leaders I’m watching or listening to online are concerned that the church in North America, Western Europe and Australia/New Zealand is missing out on Christ’s elementary teaching that we reflect love in all we do and say. Or to put it another way, our orthopraxy matters as much if not more than our orthodoxy. Especially in these times of dissension and division.

Matthew 7:22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7 reminds us here that much of what passes for spiritual activity doesn’t ultimately guarantee us standing before God. I was thinking of this today in reference to a very familiar passage in I Corinthians 13. This is often referred to as “The Love Chapter” though it falls into the middle of a larger passage on spiritual gifts. The actual “Love is patient, love is kind…” section has more affinity with Paul’s teaching on the fruit of the spirit than it does with things he says elsewhere about Christian marriage. Someday in the future, I hope to walk up to Paul and say, “Hey, you know that stuff about how ‘love is patient, love is kind…;’ did you know that used that as part of our wedding ceremonies?” And he’s gonna be like, “Weddings? Wow! I didn’t see that coming.” But I digress.

The set-up to the classic love reading is three verses that are not as well known:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

The principle here applies to many other dynamics of the Christian life. Using the second part of verse 2 as an example:

  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but lack humility, I am nothing.
  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but am prone to anger, I am nothing.
  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but ignore the marginalized, I am nothing.
  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but cause controversy and division, I am nothing.
  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have stopped hungering and thirsting after God, I am nothing.

I can be so very spiritual in so many ways but also so very lacking spiritually. It’s interesting to look at the various ways these outward manifestations of great faith are articulated in different translations: (NIV unless indicated)

  • speak in the tongues of men or of angels
  • speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy (Message)
  • speak in different languages (NCV)
  • have the gift of prophecy
  • I have prophetic powers (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose) (Amp)
  • can fathom all mysteries
  • understood all of God’s secret plans (NLT)
  • understand all the secret things of God (NCV)
  • have the gift to speak what God has revealed (NOG*)
  • can fathom all knowledge
  • speak God’s Word … making everything plain as day (Message)
  • can move mountains
  • my faith is strong enough to scoop a mountain from its bedrock (The Voice)
  • give all I possess to the poor
  • give over my body to hardship
  • go to the stake to be burned as a martyr (Message)

[A more complete list of the supernatural gifts can be found in I Cor. 12: 8-10.]

The Voice Bible bookends this first section of chapter 13 with this commentary:

Gifts of the Spirit, which are intended to strengthen the church body, often divide the body because members of the church elevate those who possess the more visible gifts over those whose gifts function in the background. In fact, this is the very problem facing the Corinthians. So while talking about the importance and function of these gifts in chapters 12 and 14, Paul shifts his focus to the central role love plays in a believer’s life in chapter 13. Love is essential for the body to be unified and for members to work together. Members of the body that are very different, with little in common, are able to appreciate and even enjoy others because of the love that comes when a life is submitted to God.

Paul boils it all down for the believers in Corinth. Religious people often spend their time practicing rituals, projecting dogma, and going through routines that might look like Christianity on the outside but that lack the essential ingredient that brings all of it together—love! It is a loving God who birthed creation and now pursues a broken people in the most spectacular way. That same love must guide believers, so faith doesn’t appear to be meaningless noise.

Often, non-believers look at us and merely see religious people busy doing religious things; church people running to and fro with church activities. Or, more specific to today’s passage, they hear of spectacular miracles or visions or healings, but don’t see anything tangible manifested in how we live our daily lives in the neighborhood, the workplace, at the school committee meeting, or at family occasions.

Decades ago, in a book titled The Mark of the Christian, Francis Schaeffer exhorted, “Love — and the unity it attests to — is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.”

I’ll admit the third-to-last one in the list, giving all my money to the poor, sounds impressive, but even that can be done in the wrong way or with the wrong motives. (Flip back a few weeks to this devotional.)

In certain Christian quarters, supernatural gifts are treated as the gold standard of faith, but without humility or love, we come up empty; and all our co-workers, neighbors, or extended family see is a preoccupation with religious things that really don’t appeal to their felt needs.


*Names of God Bible, a 2011 edition from Baker Book House just added at Bible Gateway.

November 28, 2021

Ministry for All the Wrong Reasons

This is a part two to yesterday’s post.

We usually don’t continue a theme into a second day, but I felt there were a few more things that could be said about pursuing church growth at all costs, and doing ministry for the sake of having good optics online.

First, later in the day a verse came to me which should have been part of the discussion:

Proverbs 16:2

All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
but motives are weighed by the Lord. (NIV)

Because we just spent time in this verse two years ago in a piece titled Motivation Matters, I don’t want to spend a lot of time except to note that God is concerned with the why we do things as much as the what we do.

The apostle Paul saw this happening even back in his day. In Philippians 1 he wrote,

15 It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. 16 They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. 17 Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. 18 But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice.

I think this is an important passage in our time because ministries do compete with each other, so let’s visit the same verses in The Message:

15-18 It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them. So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!

Paul was able to see the good that could come out of such proclamation, even when the motives were suspect. The grace he shows in this situation is remarkable. In I Cor. 4:4-5 he again says,

My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide.  So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due. (NLT)

The last two sentences suggest that are reward will be based on the motives which drove our activities. (Someone has quipped, ‘There will be a lot of surprises in heaven,’ for reasons such as this.)

Although I don’t have a copy, earlier in the year I was intrigued by this book title: Rooting for Rivals: How Collaboration and Generosity Increase the Impact of Leaders, Charities, and Churches (Bethany House, 2018).

When the church growth movement is analyzed, it’s said that much of the growth that takes place is transfer growth, in other words, people moving from one church to another. (This isn’t always true of fresh church plants however, in which genuine overall growth can be measured.) Transfer growth means that church leaders are competing for the same people, the same bodies if I can use that term.

But rivalry can also get to the point of bad-mouthing another organization without justification. The blurb for the book says,

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 nonprofits have a unique opportunity to link arms and collectively pursue a calling higher than any one organization’s agenda.

In today’s polarized world this comes as no surprise…

…Although I’ve looked at our opening verse many times, it was only today that I caught that it’s repeated at 21:2. Taking one last look, I noticed something at BibleHub.com that I’d also not seen before, the inclusion of the Brenton Septuagint Translation. Its rendering of 21:2 is:

Every man seems to himself righteous; but the Lord directs the hearts.

We can really deceive ourselves sometimes or decide that the end justifies the means. But God’s concern is always deeper.


Again, if you missed yesterday’s thoughts, click here.


Bonus article: It wasn’t the type of article we’d run here, but earlier in the week, Ruth Wilkinson’s conviction and courage converged and she ended up in a very foreign environment and made a new connection. Click here to read.

November 27, 2021

Evangelical Obsessions

Earlier today, tongue-in-cheek, I posted two mis-quoted passages on social media:

Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds … to be seen on Instagram. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

and

And He said to them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s branding?’

As one gets older, it becomes quite apparent when people are doing ministry for the purpose of promoting themselves and their church or organization. The blurred ministry motives become so blatantly obvious, that you have to ask yourself why the people are not more spiritually self-aware to realize the pride which drives much of their activity is staring them in the face.

First, let’s look at the verses:

And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” – Luke 2:49 NASB

The context is the short snapshot we have of Jesus at 12-years of age when he gets separated from his parents. They retrace their route and find him back “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” vs. 45

The phrase in vs. 49 that Jesus is “being about my Father’s business is unique to the KJV. We’ve never discussed it here before, but the phrase ‘kingdom business’ gets used to describe all manner of church activity (and busy-ness), but it’s important to notice that Jesus was discussing theology, not planning a building program, or starting an organization, or discussing a stewardship campaign.

Our satirical ‘my Father’s branding‘ is seen so frequently these days. It’s about lifting up the name and tag line of a single congregation or organization, not the name of Jesus who ought to be the central focus of the worldwide church referenced in The Apostle’s Creed.  (‘Catholic’ in that context meaning universal.)

The other verse alluded to is

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. – Matthew 6:1 NIV

which is echoed a few verses later:

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. – 6:16 NLT

Practicing good works to be seen on Instagram is more common than you might think. It’s all about optics.

Back in 2014, I looked at this, writing

I Samuel 16 offers us a verse we know but tend not to practice:

7bI do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.

The Louis Segund translation renders it this way:

…l’homme regarde à ce qui frappe les yeux, mais l’Éternel regarde au coeur.

In English, it would read that man looks at what “strikes the eyes;” in other words first impressions and superficial indicators.

Creating Instragram moments in ministry is more commonplace than you might think. Perhaps in some small way it can be justified in that it models or encourages others to think about their own Christian service or lack thereof.

But it’s often a thing in and of itself.

And therefore it’s not about Jesus.

The last part of Matt. 6:5 reads,

I assure you and most solemnly say to you, they [already] have their reward in full. – AMP

This self-promotion mentality goes all the way back to Babel.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:14

They wanted to make a name for themselves; “…This will make us famous…” (NLT) This is so backward and the polar opposite to the upside-down kingdom of Christ which is characterized by humility. Philippians 2: 3 begins

Don’t do anything for selfish purposes…

Four times at Thinking Out Loud, you’ll find this quotation which we heard in a sermon and it has stuck with us.

“There is no limit on what can be done for God, as long as it doesn’t matter who is getting the earthly credit.”

If that’s true, then if a church or organization is always consciously aware of building their own brand, logically, there are going to be limits on what they will be able to accomplish…

…The other Evangelical obsession I want to touch on quickly here is a preoccupation with numbers.

Earlier this week we listened to a podcast where a pastor was clearly boasting about all that his church has accomplished in the last several years and it came out in phrases (which I’ve altered slightly here) like,

  • We have 150 people serving in this department of our ministry
  • We’ve prayed for a thousand people in this area alone
  • We want to be a church of 12,000 people

The numbers I’ve changed, but the substance was real. It was about building a brand, promoting a book, and, inevitably, hosting a conference.

Sadly, it somewhat undermined the good things he shared. Let me clear on that, there were some excellent takeaways that I will remember, but I’ll also remember the attitude and how reminiscent it was of another pastor we’ve been examining on another podcast who eventually crashed spectacularly.

Instead, we should be looking at partnerships where we work in cooperation with other ministries to build the Kingdom.

The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. – 1 Cor. 3:8 NLT

The passage that comes to mind here is one where John expresses concern to Jesus that a group that is outside their circle of disciples is ministering in the name of Jesus. Mark chapter 9 (CEB) reads,

38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.”

39 Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him. No one who does powerful acts in my name can quickly turn around and curse me. 40 Whoever isn’t against us is for us. 41 I assure you that whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded.

I once heard someone’s unique interpretation of the “mark” in Revelation represented by “666.” They said the mark was simply numbers. It was an interesting take, and one that fits our data-driven society.

We in the church can indeed be easily obsessed with likes, website stats, church growth, average attendance, yearly budgets, numbers of people baptized.

Numerics are simply not the name of the game.

August 7, 2019

Praying for God to Open Doors

The Voice.Col.4.2 Pray, and keep praying. Be alert and thankful when you pray. And while you are at it, add us to your prayers. Pray that God would open doors and windows and minds and eyes and hearts for the word so we can go on telling the mystery of the Anointed, for this is exactly why I am currently imprisoned. Pray that I will proclaim this message clearly and fearlessly as I should.

Dilgence and Inclusivity

Ray Stedman writes:

…The apostle has two things to say about prayer. The first is: “Keep at it” — “continue steadfastly in prayer.” The reason, obviously, is that prayer is essential to your Christian life. Prayer is dependence on God, and that is the name of the game! If you don’t pray, then you are not expressing any dependence on him at all.But, though it may seem so at first glance, he doesn’t mean, “Now, set aside a certain part of your day for prayer; set a schedule, and be sure to keep it.” I am not demeaning that; some people are able to do it, and it is an excellent practice, but that is not what he is really saying.

The Greek word the apostle chooses for steadfastly means “to be ready at all times.” In Mark’s Gospel, there is an incident which illustrates this. In the third chapter, Verse 9, we read that Jesus told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they should crush him. The word for ready is the same word translated steadfastly in Colossians. That is, “Always be ready to pray, because prayer is such a vital link with the Heavenly Father, whose life is available to us continually, that in every circumstance you need to pray.” That is what Paul is saying. “Be ready to break into prayer — in your thought life — instantaneously, at all times, because that is the way we ought to live.”…

…The second thing Paul says about prayer is, “Include others in it.” “Keep at it, and include others in it — especially me,” he says. “Pray for us also that God may open to us a door for the word.” Here he recognizes the body of Christ and the fact that we are members one of another. We need each other. This great apostle says that the opportunity for him to declare the message of Christ will be given to him by others: “You pray for me,” he says, “and that will open a door. God will open a door when you pray for me.” The opportunity of opening doors for each others’ ministry is given to every one of us. You can open a door for me; I can open a door for you — if we pray for one another…

Setting Aside the Time

Charles Stanley writes,

No matter where we are in our Christian walk, most of us will admit that our prayer life isn’t what we’d like it to be. Our attempts to make room for prayer in our busy schedules are often short-lived. And when we do manage to spend time with the Lord, we find ourselves easily distracted by random thoughts, our own desires, and the demands of the day.

Instead of giving up in frustration and settling for a sporadic devotional experience, we need to realize that prayer was essential to Christ and should be to us also. The road to a deepening prayer life begins with a commitment to make it a top priority in our day.

We follow through by setting aside a daily time to pray and read from God’s Word. Then we need to find a location that minimizes interruptions. Since we’re already busy, sacrifice may be necessary to make this happen. We might have to wake up earlier, give up a favorite activity, or use our lunch hour.

Scripture is a key factor because it teaches us about our Father’s character, promises, and priorities. The Word of God shifts our thoughts from worldly cares and pleasures to a focus on Him. Through it, we are reminded of His importance to us and our desire to please Him. Then we become ready to ask in accordance with His will and hear what He has to say.

Developing a habit of prayer may require sacrifice, but it’s worth the cost and effort. Spending time in the Lord’s presence is the best way for us to know Him better and love Him more.

Paul Prays for Quality of His Delivery

Warren Berkley notes a specific aspect of Paul’s request,

…But observe further this meaningful phrase: “as I ought to speak.” Paul wanted them to pray to God that he would speak effectively. In addition to content, Paul wanted God’s help in delivery. It is one thing to give the facts as they are. It is another to give them in good order, with appropriate passion and with challenge to the hearer to act. Paul had an interests in everything about the process of preaching. He wanted God’s help to open the door, and he wanted God’s help in effectively delivering the gospel.

Everything in this passage highlights the value of prayer in association with preaching the gospel. If we ask God to help us in various earth-limited endeavors, how much more should we ask Him to guide and direct our efforts to get the gospel into the doors around the world…

 

August 5, 2013

The Value of a Soul

Tim Challies is a widely read Christian blogger, but many of you might not think of him as a devotional writer. This is however his fourth appearance here at C201. I really liked this piece, which he gave the title, And Also Much Cattle. Many of you are already familiar with the variety of Tim’s blog; for the rest of you, click through to read this one at source.

I love to receive challenges and lessons from unexpected places. Lately God has been teaching me so much through the book of Jonah. Yes, Jonah. Jonah is a book that ends in an unorthodox way. Where most books end with a satisfying conclusion, this one ends with a question mark. Where most books end with people or with God, the final word in Jonah is “cattle.” It’s all very strange. It’s all deeply challenging.

Even the context is odd. Jonah has just witnessed a miraculous city-wide revival with tens of thousands of people turning to the Lord in repentance and faith. Yet despite seeing this great work of God, Jonah’s reaction is one of anger. He is furious with God—so angry that he just wants to die. He would rather die than see these inhabitants of Nineveh call out to the Lord.

And as Jonah sits outside the city mourning the loss of a plant that had shaded him from the sun, God speaks to this rebellious prophet.

The Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

This is one of those classical biblical arguments from the lesser to the greater. God is saying, “You feel compassion for a plant. That’s good. But don’t you see how much greater people are than plants? If you pity the plant, which was here yesterday and gone today, shouldn’t you also pity people? Shouldn’t you pity them even more? And tell you what, even if you can’t bring yourself to pity these pagan people, can’t you at least muster up some sympathy for animals? Surely you don’t want me to destroy all of those animals, do you?”

God calls on Jonah to understand that he is seeing this all wrong. Jonah, the God-fearing prophet, should be rejoicing to see God save sinners. Instead he hates it. He believes that he and his fellow Jews are somehow worthy of God’s grace; he believes that all others—especially those dangerous, pagan Assyrians—are unworthy of grace.

And I think you and I are tempted to come to the end of the book and laugh at Jonah. We can roll our eyes in exasperation. “Jonah, you foolish, ignorant, xenophobic, pathetic man. Don’t you see? People are more important than plants! Only human beings are created in God’s image. Therefore nothing could have more value than people. You are a fool!” And we go our way.

Except for that question mark. We need to answer the question. You and I. Do we really believe that nothing in all the world is more valuable than people? Do we bear this out in our lives?

Jesus said: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” He is saying that one soul is more valuable than all the treasure in the world. You could own the entire universe and you would have nothing compared to the value of a single soul. You could have the wealth of Bill Gates and add to it the treasure of Solomon, and you would be poor compared to the value of a soul.

No wonder, then, that the Bible tells us, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Of course God desires that all people come to the knowledge of the truth! He knows they are lost and he is filled with compassion for them. His great desire is for souls to be saved because nothing is more precious. There is no greater loss than the loss of a soul.

Do we believe this? Do we really believe this? Through his Word, God asked me Jonah’s question: “I have great compassion for the souls of men and women. Do you?” Maybe you need to answer it as well.

Maybe we could sit down and walk through your week together. How did you use your time? What does the way you used your time tell you about how you value souls? Would your time show that souls are precious, more precious than anything else? More precious than your entertainment? More precious than working long hours to have a nice house and nice stuff and lots of comfort?

Maybe you could take a look at your bank statements. What would the way you use your money tell you about what you value? What would it tell about how you really value souls? How much leads directly to mission? How much leads to the healing of the bodies and souls of people created in the image of God?

What if we could listen to your prayers played back? What priorities do your prayers reflect? Are souls your great concern when you are on your knees before God?

Do you have a beautiful lawn and a flourishing garden, yet feel more pity for the grass and plants than you do for people on the other side of the fence?

There is only one thing on this earth that will survive the ages: the souls of men and women. There is nothing more valuable. And through his Word, and especially through the book of Jonah, God has been forcing me to ask, “Am I the one sitting outside the city?”

 

Link to previous C201 re-blogged articles by Tim Challies.

January 19, 2013

For Such a Time as This

for-such-a-time-as-this
Today we begin an occasional feature where we will take a particular scripture verse and see how different pastors, authors and bloggers reflected on it. If you have a verse you would like us to consider, let us know.
“For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Pastor Greg Laurie writes:

When Esther won a beauty contest and ascended the throne in ancient Persia, she was a Jew. But she kept that information quiet. And one day, because of the wicked efforts on the part of a man named Haman, there was a plot conceived to have all of the Jews in the empire destroyed.But Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, came to her and essentially said, “You are there in the palace. You are in a place of influence. You can go to the king and speak on behalf of your people.” But then he added this telling statement: “If you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

The idea behind Mordecai’s statement was this: “God put you where you are for a reason. Now, are you going to leverage that opportunity for God’s kingdom, or are you going to keep it all to yourself? Guess what? If you don’t do it, the Lord will find someone else.”

God has put you where you are today. You have a sphere of influence. You have a circle of friends. You have neighbors around you. You have coworkers and others with whom you come in contact on a regular basis. Will you go to them? Or will you run from them?

You might ask, “Well, if I don’t go, will the job still get done?”

As a matter of fact, it will get done. The reality is that God doesn’t need you. Certainly God doesn’t need me. But God does want us to participate in the process.

When God says go, what will you say?

Blogger Shanda Hasse adds:

This is SO powerful because I have known that I have a calling from God to reach out to this dark world for His glorious Kingdom, as we all do, and I have really been praying into exactly what he wants from me, as his faithful servant. I definitely know that direction, but it isn’t fully clear yet as to when and how to take action. Money is a large portion of the wait, but I know God will provide me in His timing with all of the resources I need to take flight with this calling.I just love the articulation, “you were made queen for just such a time as this” — we are called as followers of Christ to reach out in His name and not stay silent. This is such a relevant command, especially in the wake of the disaster our world is facing through these perilous times. We are to be queens & kings for Christ now more than ever . . . by that I mean LEADERS. We are to lead people to Christ and the abounding, endless love and hope that he has for all those called according to His purpose — that CAN be everyone if they choose!!

SO, get out there in this mess, don’t try to hide or segregate yourselves and your family from what is going on now with the economy, government and society. We must dive in and radiate Christ’s light and help those in panic and need. The jobless, homeless, seniors who have lost all of their retirement money and many others come to mind. Seek these people out, and help them in Jesus’ name. Pay for their dinner, help them look for a job, point them to the limitless resources of our merciful God. We are being called to serve a powerful purpose in such a time as this, so let’s get out and show the weak, lonely, desperate, lost and so on, the love of our AWESOME God. You go, you Kings & Queens of Christ.

Blogger Suzanne Benner writes:

This is a great verse. Esther was afraid to approach the king and ask him to save her people because approaching him without being asked was risking her life. When Mordecai answers her, it shows a lot of faith. He’s basically saying… if you don’t do it, God will still save our people, but you and I will die. And maybe this is the reason that God has put you here. As it turned out, it was. … I think that is a good thing to ponder as we approach all of our problems. Yes, it is very true that God will accomplish his purposes on this earth without us, if need be. But being where we are, and who we are, we all have unique opportunities to participate in his work. And perhaps we are exactly where we are for such a time as this. Today, wherever we are, and whatever position we are in, let’s overcome our fears, and stand up for God and his work.

Blogger B. Kessler (whose blog’s name is taken from this verse) writes:

…Esther did end up going to the king and because of that the Jews were saved. I am not the kind of heroine Esther was. In fact, I would describe myself as pretty average. But I do realize that by Ethiopian standards I live in a palace. I have luxuries I take for granted. In fact, compared to most of the world I live like a queen. It leaves me to wonder why I have so much when others have so little. Do I deserve more? Well, you may not know me but let me assure you the answer to that is no. I can’t give a good reason for why I was born in the U.S. and not some remote village in Africa or some country where the people are so oppressed they can’t even worship God without fear of being beaten or even killed. I have been thinking lately, as we pursue the adoption of an orphan whose name I don’t know and whose face I have never seen, maybe God has placed me here in these circumstances for “such a time as this”.

Finally,  from Truth and Freedom Ministries:

There are those in the Bible that were right on time, others went ahead of God’s appointed timing, and then there was One, born in the fullness of time

…Esther’s words – “…if I perish, I perish.” gives me assurance that she believed this was God’s timing for her to act. In her words you don’t see an assurance that everything will work out in her favor, but you do see the character that it takes to step out in God’s timing and leave the results to Him.

November 11, 2012

Ministry Gifts: Apostleship

Exactly one week ago we looked at the five-fold ministries of the church in terms of some very specific roles: Apostle, Pastor, Evangelist, Teacher, Prophet. At the blog of Ralph Howe Ministries, there has been a focus on the gift of being an apostle. For some of you, that may simply involve getting up from the table you usually sit at in the lunch room, and embedding yourself among some people you don’t normally have contact with. That would be intentionally making those people your mission, though you might not see the fruit of that for months or even years.

When we look at the church however, our expectations grow greater. We would expect to see fruit that matches the calling or giftedness claimed. This is actually part nine in a series that is part of a larger arc dealing with apostleship and I highly recommend that you not only read this at Ralph’s blog — click the title below — but then move outward into some of the other articles.

The Biblical Signs of an Apostle – Part Nine
The fruit in the ministry of an apostle is both obvious as well as abundant…

Paul states in 1 Corinthians 9:2 If I am an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

In other words, the proof of his call to the ministry of an apostle is the fruit that can be seen in his ministry – in this case, people who have heard the Gospel and become disciples of the Lord. Fruit is one of the major ways we can judge a person’s ministry no matter what their calling is. And, if there is good fruit then there are good roots – the minister will be truly “rooted and grounded in love” as well as teaching sound doctrines.

Some of the fruit in an apostle’s ministry will include:

1> People coming to the Lord with godly sorrow and repentance becoming true converts who then are hungry to be discipled and trained in the faith.

2> The establishment of churches that are full of the presence and power of the Lord and that begin immediately to win the lost and plan to multiply themselves by planting other churches while still young in the Lord themselves. Disciples begetting disciples and churches planting churches.

3> The establishment of powerful training centers and schools where saints can be properly equipped and trained for ministry as believers and those who are called to the five-fold ministry can also be fathered and mentored.

4> The reproduction and development of spiritual children who are relating personally to the apostle so that there is a father-son relationship. These young men, when ready and sent, will serve the Lord faithfully and successfully. The reproduction of spiritual children is a seal of an apostleship.

5> They teach fresh revelation that edifies the Church. Apostles receive a lot of revelation from God, and because of this, it is important to record and distribute it by written means – books, e-books, and the internet. As well, apostles write training manuals and teaching material and make it available for others to use after teaching it and testing in the local church. They are prolific writers.

6> The mature apostle has experience in all of the five-fold ministry offices. To exercise a valid apostolic ministry the apostle’s training will allow them to experience the ministry of pastor, teacher, evangelist, and prophet. As part of their calling is to train these 4 of the five-fold ministers they must experience these ministries firsthand as they are being trained and equipped to be apostolic. All men who are true apostles today and operating within their apostolic call and ministry are men who started their service in one of the other Ephesians 4:11 ministries and has experienced all four at one time or another.

These are a few of the basic traits of someone who is a mature apostle and who has been released by the local church to minister. These and other basic results are is much demand as the ministry of the apostle gains recognition over a season of time and his teachings and revelations prove to be true and beneficial to the Church.

Today, many call themselves apostles but they have no fruit or evidence in any of these areas to support their claim. Jesus said we would recognize them by their fruit!

~Ralph Howe

July 6, 2012

Four Myths Attacking God’s Word and the Church

Today’s thoughts are from James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel and host of Walk in the Word.  Click through to read this at source, and learn more about Harvest, Walk in the Word, and the upcoming Vertical Church tour of North America.

2 Timothy 4:3-5
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Let’s grow in our capacity to discern. Make a note of these four myths attacking the church today. Some you might be aware of, others maybe not at all. They are messages crafted for itching ears that damn the souls of men.

1: The Word of God is not sufficient. The Word of God does not have all of the answers that people need for the complex problems of the twenty-first century man. Instead of the message of the Word of God, we need psychology—literally, the study of the soul.

Almighty God has already written a book on the soul. Any contributions from psychology have not seriously upgraded what God calls “all things pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). If you have a problem, a burden, or a struggle, the answer is not found by running away from God’s Word and going to a counselor, month after month, who never opens the Word of God, who never prays with you, or who is not ministering in the power of God’s Spirit. If the answer to your problem doesn’t leave you closer to God, it wasn’t God’s answer for you. I don’t judge those who don’t know the Lord for doing the best they can and finding relief along the broad road, but the people of God should not be clamoring for the world to solve what God, in His Word and in the power of His Holy Spirit, wants to give. God help us to love the truth and pursue the truth for the answers to the burdens we carry and the issues we face.

2: The Word of God is not sophisticated. If you really want to reach people—boomers, GenX’ers, post-moderns—you need a more sophisticated hook than the Word of God.

Listen to what some church sites are posting in their attempts to reach people. “Our church is growing large and strong with an emphasis on the importance of every individual.” “Our church is not just a church; it’s an adventure.” “We’ll make sure that the first face you see when you approach our church has a smile on it.” “We will give you the resources and the opportunity to reflect upon yourself, to develop a balanced lifestyle and discover the healthy whole person God designed you to be.” Those are not the answer to anyone’s problems.

How much different does the promise of this church sound?  “A people who desire to know Christ and to raise the Cross over Hollywood.” Do you see the difference, see the vertical focus upon Christ Himself as the answer for searching souls? But these myths, tragically posing as the ministry of Christ, claim the Word is not sufficient nor sophisticated. And tragically, when they fail, people feel the Lord has failed them, when He has not been truly involved at all.

3: The Word of God is not settled. The Word is still emerging—the message is still changing.

My brother sent me an e-mail about a church that’s attempting to adjust the biblical teaching on the role of women. The rationale they give for explaining away the clear teaching of Scripture is that folks like us take a static approach to God’s Word, “but we take a redemptive approach,” they say. My brother wondered what that meant. In essence, they are claiming: “Don’t think the Bible always means the same thing through all of the centuries. We believe that the Bible means different things to different people. Centuries ago it meant one thing, but now to modern, more sophisticated culture it means this.”

As soon as I hear that, I want to throw up, because that message confirms people in their sin and gives them misguided authority to sin against their own conscience.  All around us are those that have adopted the “redemptive” approach to studying the Bible. My greatest concern isn’t even about the role of women—we celebrate women leaders in our church in every area except those restricted by Scripture. My burden, however, is not women preachers, but the perversities in society that are standing in line behind that comparatively innocent issue, waiting to say, “Oh beautiful! We get to take the parts of the Scripture that are an affront to our perversity and dismiss them as no longer relevant.” It’s the idea that the Word of God is not settled, when it is—that the Bible needs updating, when it doesn’t.

4: The Word of God is not sure or reliable. Christ is not unique, and His unique message is to be rejected in a world of pluralism.

We live in a day where the name that is not welcomed is the Name that is above every name. As the God of this age heightens His attack upon this world in these last days, the dividing lines are becoming incredibly clear. I believe with all of my heart that in the days to come, to cross that finish line, it is going to cost us more than it has ever cost us before. It is going to cost us relationships when we continue to proclaim, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We trumpet the message of Jesus, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6). To those who do not have the Spirit of God within them, the Scripture says, we are the aroma of death, 2 Corinthians 2:16.  People are not kind to those who become a stench in their nostrils.

What should we do! Spend all of our time attacking error? Some of that is needed, no doubt. But Paul’s exhortation to Timothy [above] has a lot more to do with actually continuing in his own biblical ministry and being deterred by others.

“…be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

~James MacDonald

Christianity 201 is a repository of some of the best devotional and Bible Study material in the Christian blogosphere. Selections come from a variety of doctrinal and theological viewpoints. You’re encouraged to read articles at source, and if you like what you read, click that blog’s header to discover more about the writer/ministry and consider subscribing.

May 25, 2012

Apostolic Passion

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

What is Apostolic Passion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Apostolic Abandonment

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

2. Apostolic Focus

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

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

3. Apostolic Praying

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

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

4. Apostolic Decision-Making

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

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

Read the entire article

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

December 2, 2011

A Church Where Freedom Reigns, A People Full of Grace

Occasionally there are worship song videos posted here, and I can’t think of a better time to do one than today, in light of all the reading we’ve had here this week.  If the videos aren’t your thing, this is a good day to carry on with parts 2, 3 and 4 of yesterday’s readings. 

Re. Yesterday:  For the record, I believe very definitely that “the buck stops” with the Bible as the final authority for those who follow Christ.  But I’m also understanding where the writer — an Eastern Orthodox person for whom tradition is placed in high regard — is coming from in reference to solo scriptura.  I hope that studying this material provides you with some things to think about.

The music video is from Eddie Kirkland from North Point Community Church.  This may not be your musical style, but listen once anyway and note the marriage of powerful (loud!) music with powerful (dynamic) lyrics.  This is a great opening song for any church that’s doing contemporary worship.

If you see something online that C201 readers should know about, be sure to click the “submissions” tab so that we can consider sharing your ‘find’ with everyone. If you have a blog of your own and have written something of a devotional nature or a Bible study nature that you’d like to see picked up here, click the same “submissions” tab.

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

November 10, 2011

Michael Frost on Being A Christian in a Post-Christendom Era

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Australian pastor and author Michael Frost has had a huge affect on how I look at church, mission, evangelism and community; just to name a few things.   We’ve been privileged to hear him speak several times and I often find myself repeating many of his examples of what God is doing around the world. This 51-minute lecture was posted at Glenn Schaeffer’s blog,  Go And Make and I believe it was recorded about a year ago.

What does it mean when the Jesus story no longer informs the broader culture? Rather than whine and complain, is it not possible for us to imagine that this experience may be the very ground from which we rediscover what it is to be a faithful follower of Jesus? 

Frost compares our present situation to that which faced God’s chosen people while they were in exile in Babylon.

July 22, 2010

Apostleship and “Becoming the ‘Being’ in the ‘Doing'”

I published this on my personal blog, Thinking Out Loud, this morning, but decided later that it also belonged here.

No matter what the people who print calendars tell you, the school year cycle determines when the start of the “new year” is in most churches.

Nothing lasting happens in your local church without (a) vision, (b) prayer and (c) planning. Vision begins with people who are ‘initiators’ that is, people who feel God is sending them into the middle of a situation or area to give birth to something that will either (a) serve those with needs, or (b) proclaim Christ; to provide opportunities to be salt and light at particular place and time or for their particular generation.

At a very low point in my life about ten years ago I asked God, “If my health improves and I am able to take on something, what do You want me to do for Your kingdom?”

The answer came in the middle of a worship service as clear as what you’re reading right now: “You need to be doing more.”

More? More what?

I wasn’t sure.

Some day, I’ll finish that story on this blog. It wasn’t the answer I expected. I was looking for a fresh vision. Instead, I was led to expand on a vision already in progress.

Let me say here that there is nothing you can “do” for God. He is concerned with what you can “be” for Him. But I know a lot of people are working on that “being” to the extent that nothing happens about “doing.” Sometimes by “doing” God shapes our “being.” With the exception of a handful of people who have some major stuff they need to work out, you can’t wait until you are perfect. That day will just keep slipping further and further into the future.

As the fall season approaches in your local church (or some local parachurch organization) you have a choice: You can maintain the status quo in your life, or you can choose to be a little apostolic; you can be a person who makes things happens.

What will your role be as another season of ministry commences in a few weeks?

You need to be doing more.

June 19, 2010

Raise The Cross

Several years ago, a long-time customer came into our bookstore and brought with her a new purpose and a new motto for our business, “marketplace ministry.” It was a fresh vision and a reminder that we should try to be more present in the public square, in civic life, and less dependent on churches which so often let us down.

The phrase “marketplace ministry” also reminded me of this quotation:

“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 churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about.”

This quotation belongs 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. 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.

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

April 2, 2010

What Matters Most

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:50 pm
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I heard this a long time ago, but it really applies to what I’m trying to do on this blog:

We can be so into “the things of the Lord” that we miss “the Lord of the things.”

Years ago, Lilly Green, a Christian singer, put it this way:

You can talk about it;
You can read a lot of stories;
You can sing about the Lord;
And never know what it means.

You can do a lot of labor;
Go to church, impress your neighbor;
You can be a holy roller;
And never find the Lord.

Light a candle, say a prayer,
Smile and say “Hallelujah!”
But your mind really isn’t there
So what good’s it gonna do you?