Christianity 201

May 15, 2017

Focusing More on What Unites Us

NIV John 17:20-21 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…”

Today we’re again paying a return visit to Done With Religion by Jim Gordon. If you click the title below and then click the banner at the top of their page, you’ll see that this is a blog written from the perspective of ones who left the institutional church. I think they do a better than average job of presenting that perspective and that’s why I’ve chosen them to return here today. Besides, to think otherwise would be to completely miss the spirit of today’s devotional!

Divisions in the Body of Christ Should Not Be

It is sad that Christianity is divided into so many different groups. We all have a little different interpretation of the bible and a little different understanding of doctrine. Obviously, we are not going to agree on everything but we certainly should be able to love one another and accept each other even when we differ on these things.

It is hard to understand why this is when God tells us we are to be one as Jesus and the Father are one. Yet, we understand that we are human and it is easy to lose sight of our first love. If we could only stay focused on Christ, listening for his voice and the guidance of the Spirit, loving God and loving others as God intended, then we could begin to look past our differences.

The problem seems to be that we are unwilling to see any other viewpoint other than our own. There are those such as my wife and I that do not attend an organized church. There are those who attend a church every time the doors are open. Some attend a house church, some meet with fellow believers at cafés, parks or restaurants and others meet in their homes over dinner. We should accept these differences and love one another rather than argue over who is right and who is wrong.

There really is not a right or wrong way to assemble together and we need to stop expecting everyone to do things exactly the same way. We should respect others viewpoints and focus on loving them rather than expecting them to see things our way.

Things will not change until we start focusing on what is common in our lives rather than the differences. The common focus should be on Christ, the head of the body. After that we should focus on loving others rather than arguing about the differences in interpretation and doctrine.

We also need to keep in mind that we are all constantly changing as God brings new truth to us. We are all learning and changing as we are ready to accept new truths. The interpretations I had five years ago are completely different from some of the interpretations I have now. I am sure in another five years they will change again as God leads me into more truth.

Sometimes we are afraid to accept others interpretations because we feel if we do not hold to our way of thinking we are compromising and not standing up for what we believe. We do not have to give up how we interpret the bible, but neither should we think everyone else is wrong. Besides, we really are not responsible for convicting people of sin or leading them into truth or even saving them. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. We are told to love God and love others.

When we realize we are each equally important functioning parts of the body and Christ is the head, we can start to change how we feel about those who do not see things exactly the way we do. We can begin to accept the differences in our brothers and sisters in Christ as we realize we are all following after our Father and our goal is to show His love to all people.

 

August 9, 2016

Judah and the Modern Church

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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JudahThis is our second time sharing the writings of Pastor George Belobaba who was in full-time ministry for over sixty years.  Through almost 750 posts, Susan E. Johnson copied the pastor’s writings so they could be preserved on the internet at the blog Scripture Nuggets. Today’s post here is the first part of a two-part article. The link below is to part one, and then you’re directed to part two to read at source.

Judah: The Backslidden Nation

Hosea 14:1-7… Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto Him . . .” (v. 2, KJV).

Hosea wrote about Ephraim, who represented the nation of Israel and her spiritual downfall. He says in Hosea 4:1,6, “There is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land . . . My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee” (KJV). Lack of knowledge was destroying the people of God. “Lack of knowledge” refers to forgetting the law of God in word and practice. In our terms it would be not knowing the scriptures or the power of God. God wanted to do mighty things in their midst, but they were backslidden. Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:19-21 that every Christian should have knowledge of the wide range of the love of God, and they should know that it is God who will do above all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us. Hosea 4:14 says, “Therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall.” This may be the reason why the power of God is absent in today’s churches. The text says, “Bring your confessions, and return to the LORD. Say to him, ‘Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer you our praises” (v. 2, NLT). I heard in my spirit the words, “My people do not know how to repent.” Think on it… many do not know how to say, “I am sorry, Lord.”

“Backsliding” means “turning from God, defection, apostasy, without adherence to God or to His word, stubborn, rebellious, bent on sinning, failure to grow in the knowledge of God.”

Hosea exposes the nation’s backsliding… These same signs are in the church today.

Hosea 4:17… Ephraim is joined to idols. In other words, divided loyalties were in his heart. There is danger in incomplete separation. Our nation is full of idolatry. People have made idols of other people, big homes, money, fancy items, big churches, big business, positions, and status, among others.

Hosea 5:3… Ephraim has defiled himself through immoral practices. Proverbs 12:28 says, “In the way of righteousness is life: and in the pathway thereof there is no death” (KJV). Sex is a big business in our nation.

Hosea 5:11… Ephraim, because of oppression, cannot make sound judgments because he willingly did wrong things. How can our leaders make sound decisions when their conscience tells them they are doing wrong? We are no different.

Hosea 5:13… Ephraim went to Assyria for help. Assyria represents taking a step in a wrong direction. The trip did nothing for Ephraim. The United Nations will never be the answer for our nation.

Hosea 7:1… Ephraim’s iniquity made an opening for the enemy to come in so that the enemy could strip him of his wealth.

Hosea 7:8… Ephraim brought mixture into his life. He was cake that was half-baked. Partial holiness is not good enough. The Bible has been compromised. The truths that the nation was founded upon have been watered down. Half-holiness will bring you death, not life.

Hosea 7:9… Ephraim was not aware that strangers were devouring his strength. So also in our nation–people who are alienated from God are bringing much damage. Spiritual deterioration comes in silently.

Hosea 7:11… Ephraim is pictured as a silly dove, i.e., senseless and confused about what direction he should take. God was silent; His counsels are refused.

Hosea 8:11… Ephraim made altars to sin. He was devoted to a false thing. Today, people love their SUVs and their big houses.

Hosea 8:14… Ephraim (Israel) had forgotten his Maker and built temples of false worship. Meanwhile, Judah multiplied its fenced cities and isolated itself behind walls. The church world divides for various reasons. A group splits, leaves a church, and starts their own church, giving it a spiritual sounding name to cover up their act. No splinter group ever calls their new work “We Split Life Center,” or “We Dislike One Man Leadership Fellowship,” or “Legalism Tabernacle.” Judah put up walls of exclusiveness around itself and acted as if they only had God in their midst…

Judah: The Backslidden Nation, Pt. 2

Hosea exposes the nation’s backsliding

Hosea 9:3… Ephraim goes back to Egypt and eats unclean things. In other words, people go back to doing the things that God has delivered them from.

Hosea 9:16… Ephraim is stricken, and not only that, his roots dry up. His fruit (children) are murdered (v. 13) and many others are aborted in the womb. Hosea may have also seen our day and our nation.

Hosea 11:7… Ephraim was bent on backsliding. The word “bent” means “determined.” He still had a love for the Most High, but refused to exalt Him. Most backsliders care about the Lord but they love their evil ways too.

Hosea 12:1… Ephraim feeds on the wind and follows the east wind. The east wind is the doctrine that came from Babylon. “Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves [fruit] of our lips (Hosea 14:2, KJV). Our nation knows that it is doing the same as ungodly societies that are all around them. Very few prophets stand before our politicians and prophesy the word of God.

Hosea 12:8… Ephraim prospers financially because he became crooked in business and said, “I did nothing wrong.” Many giant corporations have fallen because of this same attitude.

The prophets called for Ephraim and Judah to return. The countries were determined to backslide. Yet, God, in Hosea 11:8, says, “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim?” (KJV. God says that He chose mercy, because He is God and not a man.

Hosea calls for the nation to return to God

Hosea 14:1… God lays it on the line. “You are fallen and a backslider because of your own iniquity. You have no excuse, you can’t blame others; you made your own decisions.” The nation needs to call sin, sin, and not bad habits or something that you will get over. Our jails are full because of sin. Our medical costs are rising because of sin. Sin without repentance can rob Christians of their power against evil.

Hosea 14:2… God shows His concern. “Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves [fruit] of our lips” (KJV). The Lord wants to help the backslider by giving him the right vocabulary. Often the sinner doesn’t know what to say. Our nation knows that it is doing wrong, and it doesn’t know what to say. Repentance has its own vocabulary. What does God want to hear from the backslider? “Take with you words.” Say to God, “Take away my sin, cleanse me, forgive me.” Hosea is saying, “Acknowledge your sin before God. Ask God to receive you again.” “Take me back, Lord.” Worship vocabulary comes after repentance. The backslider (v. 3) must recognize that the world (Assyria) can’t help him. You don’t repent by coming back on a “show horse”; i.e., making a big thing out of it. Repentance involves humility, remorse, being sorry, and often weeping. You don’t return carrying any good works that you may have done while you were backslidden. You are saved by God’s grace and by God’s mercy, not by your own works (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Hosea tells what God will do for the returning nation

Hosea 14:4-9… He heals them, loves them, and removes His anger from them. He refreshes them, He causes new growth, and He strengthens the nation’s roots. God enlarges them, gives them a new fragrance, brings a reviving into their life, brings a revival in their jobs and families, and brings new joys. He removes their desire to serve sin. They receive fresh prophetic direction. They are exhorted and shown that the way of the Lord is right. “You have been restored. Now walk in God’s ways.

May 9, 2016

Psalms: The Missing Jewel in the Modern Church

Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

While certain types of prayer and praise rate high with some, I believe that God is happy just to have us commune with him. That includes expressing our angst, our frustrations, our deep longings.

Today’s post includes some excerpts from an article by worship songwriter Graham Kendrick. For a better experience of these thoughts, you are encouraged to click the title below. The site is also a wealth of songs Graham has written.

Psalms – The missing Jewel of the Worshipping Church?

graham kendrickIt was several decades ago that A. W. Tozer described worship as the ‘missing jewel of the evangelical church’. It was one of the messages that helped to fuel an embryonic worship movement that has since transformed the way millions worship across the world. I hope the late great man will forgive me for adapting his words for today to read: Psalms – the missing jewel of the worshipping church.

I have read them regularly, composed songs from them, and spontaneously sung them straight from the page for many years, but even so I think I am only just beginning to wake up to their immense power and significance. I love to open up a good commentary and learn about them from a scholar, but something remarkable starts to happen when I open up my mouth and wrap my lips, tongue and heart around the words and pray them aloud…

…One of the strongest arguments for using the Psalms is both simple and profound – it was what Jesus did. The Psalms were Jesus’ prayer book, songbook and meditation manual, and if he needed them how much more do we? …

Kendrick then explains the absence of The Psalms as owing to the current state of worship:

The vital place of the psalms to our spiritual ancestors is beyond question, so why are they sidelined today? There are many historical reasons I am sure, but one very contemporary one is that our media-intensive culture moulds us as spectators rather than participants, looking to screens, stages and platforms to be ‘done to’ and spoon-fed experience rather than learning how to nourish our own spiritual lives. In this atmosphere many Christians have become ‘event-dependant’ and have little idea how to sustain themselves between ‘fixes’. Those who have the job of providing the ‘spectacle’ week by week become exhausted under the demands.

There are many songs today that give us an excellent language for expressing our personal love and thanks to God but the Psalms also give us a language for anger, for frustration that the world is not as it should be, for protesting against injustice and for lamenting the tragedies that we see around us, and a language of hope for the future. We need to rediscover some of this language in our worship today – that allows the Christian community to grieve, protest, lament, and anticipate God’s final victory…

But then he suggests one practical way we can experience the Psalms. In this section he quotes Eugene Peterson who references Isaiah 31; the word usage in the first section is important here:

This is what the Lord says to me:

“As a lion growls,
    a great lion over its prey—
and though a whole band of shepherds
    is called together against it,
it is not frightened by their shouts
    or disturbed by their clamor—
so the Lord Almighty will come down
    to do battle on Mount Zion and on its heights.

Kendrick writes:

How do we pray the psalms? One of the best ways is simply to read them out loud, but not in a detached, cerebral way. The book of Psalms begins with a promise that the person who meditates in the law of the Lord is like ‘a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.’ That is quite a promise. Meditation sounds like a purely mental activity, but according to Eugene Peterson:

“Meditate [hagah] is a bodily action; it involves murmuring and mumbling words, taking a kind of physical pleasure in making the sounds of the words, getting the feel of the meaning as the syllables are shaped by larynx and tongue and lips. Isaiah uses this word ‘meditate‘ for the sounds that a lion makes over its prey [Isaiah 31:4].” [Eugene Peterson, Answering God]

The Psalms spring to life when we engage with them physically – try it!

Again this is about half of the article; click the title to see it all.

Something more to think about:

Graham Kendrick concludes the full article with this observation:

Jonah’s Psalm-like prayer in the belly of the whale [Jonah 2:2-9] was not original, its component parts can be traced back to at least 10 sources in the Psalms. He had been to ‘Psalm-school’, worked out at ‘Psalm-gym’ and so in a moment of desperation, he had a vocabulary of prayer to draw upon.

 

April 10, 2016

It’s All About God!

•••by Russell Young

Modern Biblical teaching, at least from a western perspective, has become focused on mankind and the blessings that have been promised to him if he would only “believe.”  The consequence of this focus is weakening the church and distorting the truths about God.

It is not uncommon to hear “believers” lament the fact that God is not answering their prayers; after all He is a good and faithful Father who loves them unconditionally and wants the best for them.  The “love’ and the “best,” of course are according to their own understanding.   Contemporary song writers don’t hesitate to exuberantly express that God “adores” them and how “pleased” He is with them.  In their thinking God’s grace has assured them of a place in His Eternal Kingdom.

God created and They (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) created for Their good pleasure or according to Their plan and interests.   When His original creation was completed, He “saw” (advised Himself, approved) all that He had made and declared it to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31); it pleased Him.  This original creation state is the one on which God rested His approval.  Concerning man, it is revealed that man had been made in God’s “image.” (Genesis 1:27) That is, man had been created in God’s moral likeness, pure and regular in all his thoughts and imaginations.

When the focus is taken from the Creator and put on man, the believer allows himself all kinds of permissions and allowances; God does not.  Paul wrote that the believer is to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) and that he is to be once more conformed to image of the Son of God. (Romans 8:29) The focus of teaching needs to shift back to the promotion of reality.  God is loving and merciful but he is also, holy, Sovereign, and King.

“Believers” who rest in their determination of their love for God and His for them need to reflect more fully on teachings concerning the New Covenant.  The writer of Hebrews has made it clear that many are still living on “milk, not solid food” which is teaching about righteousness. (Hebrews 5:12-6:3) The Lord said that, The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John.  Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached and everyone is forcing their way into it.  It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the law.” (Luke 16:16, NIV)

Permissive TeachingTeaching that permits an eternal hope without satisfying the heart of God is deceptive.  God’s “love” does NOT nullify the law and His requirement for holiness on the part of those who will dwell with Him.  Adam and Eve were created holy and those who will dwell with Him must be holy. (Hebrews 12:14) No one will be able to “force” his way into His Kingdom.

The bulk of modern theology has taken the focus of the believer’s attention from God and onto himself.  The message so misrepresents the truth that many are prepared to disown God because of His failure to bring “good” into their lives.  He is seen as the all benevolent Father abounding in love and in blessings allowing the nature of those expected blessings are determined by the heart of man and his perceived needs.

It is no wonder that the world is confused about the Christian faith.  When “believers” go about living according to the desires of their flesh and in the interests of the world and fail to experience their expectations from a loving God, their faith ends up proven false according to their understanding of God’s goodness.  God expects His people to love Him with all of their heart soul and mind (Matthew 22:37) and to be humble before Him.

As one retired pastor has written, “We gladly portray a gospel of God’s love and forgiveness, but neglect or downplay, or water down if you like, obedience, confession, repentance.  This message virtually ignores the ongoing work of the cross.  The Holy Spirit makes it clear in numerous passages that God wants, and is looking for a holy people, a pure ‘Bride’ for His Son, nothing else; not a harlot, living for the things of Egypt, but a pure and righteous ‘Body.’”

Those who allow promises of God’s grace and mercy to cover rebellious and disobedient hearts and who ignore His holiness are living in the deceptions of the Evil One.  It’s ALL about God!  Creation was for His good pleasure.

January 3, 2016

Jonah Feared Success, Not Failure in Mission Nineveh

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NIV-Jonah 1:1The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord…

One time when the kids were younger, for our Bible study we studied the story of Jonah for an entire week. Since by that point this was very familiar territory, we were looking for new insights into the story, and with scripture, you’ll always find them. We came up with a few, with a little help from the ESV Study Bible.

Chapter One
There is a great deal of bigotry that plays into this story, but not in the way we often think. We tend to assume that Jonah simply didn’t like the people of Nineveh and simply didn’t want to go on that basis. But it’s more accurate to say that Jonah was afraid of the success of his mission. He certainly wasn’t seeing them through God’s eyes. Do we do that?

  • What if that terrible family down the street become Christians and start going to our church?
  • What if that guy where I work became a believer and started expecting me to mentor him in his faith journey?
  • What if so-and-so in our extended family got serious about reading the Bible and started asking me why, if I’m also a Christ-follower, have I done some of the things I’ve done?
  • What if those poor people I prayed with downtown and left my phone number expect us to help them out?
  • What if all the people who put up their hands at the movie our church showed start coming ever week… there would be more of them than us?
  • Everybody knows the terrible things that _____ did; now that he’s been a believer for two years, is he going to expect a leadership position?
  • That’s the woman who hit our car in the hardware store parking lot last Christmas. What’s she doing at our small group meeting?

Chapter Two
The ESV Study describes the four chapters of Jonah as containing seven episodes, with the first three paralleling the second three. Jonah speaks to two similar audiences in the story. The crew on the boat heading for Tarshish were each praying to their own God, but then after Jonah explained to them what was causing the terrible storm, they prayed to Jonah’s God. Success! Just as he will experience in Nineveh. His ministry as a prophet was constantly bearing fruit. But inside the great fish, Jonah’s prayer is mostly thankfulness for his own safety and deliverance. There’s no mention of the sailors or the people who he was originally sent to. A rather egocentric prophet, don’t you think?

Chapter Three
Jonah shows up several days (or weeks) late for his assignment and delivers his message, albeit halfheartedly. Today we have preachers who read powerful scriptures and then deliver messages containing great truths — even if ‘borrowed’ from the internet — and yet don’t realize the power of the Word they are handling. It’s just a job. The people of Ninevah may matter to God but don’t matter to Jonah. He’s apparently quite disappointed that God doesn’t destroy the city. Perhaps that would be more fun to watch.

Chapter Four
Maybe God will destroy the city after all. He’s already changed his mind once. So instead of taking the first train, boat or great fish out of town, Jonah hangs around to see if anything develops. The closing phrase of the story shows how out-to-lunch his priorities are, as God’s final appeal is basically, “If I destroy the city, think of all the animals that would perish.” Since Jonah has a thing for houseplants, God figures he’ll appeal to Jonah’s sense of nature. Not a good ending for Jonah really. Final score: Ship passengers and crew – 1; People of Nineveh – 1; Jonah – 0.

We ended our week reading the story from The Street Bible by Rob Lacey, known in North America as The Word on The Street. He devotes almost half of his writing to Chapter Four. Maybe someone should re-tell this story for kids, using the last chapter as the basis for the story, and then recreate the opening scenes backwards in light of the closing. Call it “Jonah and the Plant;” or “Jonah and the Worm.” Or instead of pitching this story for kids, it should really be part of Church Leadership Lessons 101.

The 4th chapter — the entire book actually — ends with a question, “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh…?” (NIV) to which Lacey adds, “Hard question to someone convinced God’s only interested in the Jewish nation. It’s tough admitting you’re wrong.”

Often our evangelism efforts are focused on people who, if converted, will look like us and talk like us — people who blend into our local church culture — but the command of Jesus to go into the world means the whole world.

 

November 29, 2015

Favoritism in the Local Church

NIV James 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6a But you have dishonored the poor…

I remember the first time I encountered this verse. I attended a large church at the time, and there was a couple in the church who would always arrive five minutes late, which was rare in that church culture. The service would start at 11:00 AM with the call to worship, the invocation and the opening prayer; and then either just before or just after the opening hymn, this man and his wife would walk in and be escorted by an usher to a seat near the front that had been kept for them.

Imagine my surprise when someone older and more cynical (but as I later realized, surprisingly accurate) told me that their late arrival was on purpose. That the whole point of their apparent tardiness was to create the grand entrance that I witnessed each week. To be seen. To be known.

In that stage of my life I would later move on to a succession of four much smaller churches, and I could say with all honesty that this problem didn’t apply in those churches. At least not as far as I could see. The problem of favoritism toward the rich obviously was an early church problem.

Around the same time however, I remember encountering these verses from Ken Taylor’s classic original Living Bible:

LB Romans 14:1 Give a warm welcome to any brother who wants to join you, even though his faith is weak. Don’t criticize him for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong.

The second half of this verse has been used to shut down all discussion of doctrinal matters, which I don’t believe is the intent. The first part has been the subject of what it means to be “the brother of weaker faith” and how it is often new believers (starters) who are prone to religiosity and legalism.

The point is not have a bias against people whose doctrinal interpretation is different on secondary matters.

Both the James and Romans passage remind us that in the church we do tend to give privilege and ministry opportunity to people who are (a) in positions of socioeconomic high standing and (b) people who we’ve already ascertained ahead of time will agree with us on matters of doctrine.

Again, in our world, we have people moving through our churches who come from a variety of backgrounds. It’s said that many millennials really don’t care whose franchise name is on the door. So our churches today you might find Calvinists and Arminians sitting side-by-side, egalitarians and complementarians on the same church board, and pre-tribulation and post-tribulation interpreters sharing teaching duties on the same adult elective class or small group.

Rather, in our modern church we sometimes have a different, more subtle examples of bias and prejudice.

When it comes to fairness in any organization, the one thing the world detests is nepotism. The Oxford Diction defines nepotism as:

the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs

In a church environment, this may include unpaid volunteer positions, as well as salaried positions. (For the former, the reward occurs later in heaven, right?)

When Paul and James are telling the early church not to ignore those of weaker faith, or not to prefer the rich people, they are setting out rules. A rule is something that may apply to (a) only one people group, or (b) only one location, or (c) only at one time. But the statements about people with whom we have doctrinal differences, or ignoring the poor are simply examples. In scripture, rules always derive from principles.

And what is the principle?

The principle is simply not to show favoritism. To be so circumspect in all your dealings (and dealing with the processes of hiring or appointing ministry leaders) as to not be seen as guilty of favoritism. To keep the process open and transparent. To keep accountability unbiased. To be willing to make the tough decisions if someone you’ve already placed in a position is falling short of the task required.

What’s true of churches also applies to Christians in leadership in a business or non-profit. It can apply to extended families. It can apply in neighborhoods.

I don’t know who among us needed that today, but I hope it will stay with you in situations you find yourself this week.

CEB Deut. 16:19a Don’t delay justice; don’t show favoritism.

NIV Lev.19:15a Don’t delay justice; don’t show favoritism.

 

 

 

November 22, 2015

Worship With Authenticity

A church we visited a few years ago incorporates a rather bizarre mixture of informality and tradition. By that I don’t mean that they blend contemporary and liturgical forms; no, that would be welcome. Instead, there is a very specific order of worship from which there has never — in the last 15 years — been and possibly never will be any significant variance.

One expects there to be a distinction between a “contemporary” church and a “liturgical” church, but in practice, many modern churches have a rather strict liturgy that simply exists in unwritten form.

It’s most evident in the arrangement of the worship songs which always consists of:

  • two songs at the beginning
  • three songs in the middle
  • one song at the end, which must be an upbeat song of celebration, not the more contemplative type of piece you might get after the sermon in other churches.

Some of the worship songs can be engaging and give voice to the worship inside of you that you are longing to give back to God; but once you know the formula, it’s really like trying to put your worship in a box, when in your spirit you know it’s longing to break free.

Furthermore, in the middle set, just as the spirit of the worship may begin to be really moving, it’s time to sit down again. Week after week, it’s the same;

  • two songs at the beginning
  • three songs in the middle
  • one song at the end

If we look at I Corinthians 14, we see a picture of the early church that incorporates orderliness and spontaneity. It’s hard to imagine the enactment of something so formulaic, let alone the mentality that would even want to suggest such a thing.

In verse 26, we see worship originating in a variety of contributors, a kind of melting pot of ingredients that many of the house church proponents are quick to note works well in that setting:

26 So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. (The Message)

26 Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you. (New Living Translation)

However, in verses 33 and 40 we’re reminded:

33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. (New International Version)

33 When we worship the right way, God doesn’t stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony. (The Message)

40 But let everything be done in a right and orderly way. (New Century Version)

While their available worship repertoire back then was probably much more limited than ours is today, I believe they sang their hearts out. Some of the songs were probably celebratory, but at other times, when they paused to remember Christ’s broken body and shed blood, I’m sure they sang softly and reverently. At times, I’m sure they sang until their voices gave out.

There were probably a number of spiritual and cultural parameters that were different in their day than ours, but I think if those early Christians could somehow time-travel to our era, they would be both amazed and appalled by the 2-3-1 worship ritual.

I think that those set apart for worship planning and execution have to frequently ask the WWECD question: What Would the Early Church Do?


Follow up: On a more recent visit, I was glad to see that their format is now being shaken up a little. It took nearly 20 years, but at least it’s being challenged somewhat.

Comparative subject: Like so many issues in our churches, there is a balance to be had here. Consider the difference between extemporaneous prayers and written prayers. I much prefer prayers that sound authentic and heartfelt, but sometimes the people doing so seem to rambling in search of content; I believe the Evangelical term is “winging it!” Pre-written prayers at least have solid content and thought has gone into them.

November 16, 2015

The Holy Spirit Working In and Through The Church

“We don’t need the Holy Spirit. We have technology.”

Yes, someone actually said it. They said it in a church I attended years ago in a pre-computer, pre-Internet age when technology wasn’t all that it is today. And yes, I’m certainly hoping they said it tongue-in-cheek.

But the sentiment behind that statement rules in many of our local churches, district offices, national denominational headquarters, parachurch organizations and mission agencies. We are self-sufficent. We can do this. We don’t need help.

This Sunday morning our pastor referenced Judges 16:20 (italics added)

He [Samson] awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him.

Samson, who is more of an anti-role model in scripture, has had his hair [the source of his great physical strength in conjunction with his Nazarite vow] shaved off, and once again has been tied up as he has been in two previous tests of strength. This time around however, he’s not going to be able break free. Matthew Henry writes about this (paraphrased)

He couldn’t help but notice his missing hair as soon as he awoke, and yet said, “I will free myself as I always did before after waking up…” …Perhaps he thought to shake himself free even easier than with the previous tests, and that his head would feel lighter, now that his hair was cut, little thinking how much heavier the burden of guilt was than the weight of long hair. He soon found himself in a never-before-experienced predicament …and yet even then doesn’t have awareness that the Lord had departed from him: he did not consider that this was the reason for him being in a different state.

Many have lost the favorable presence of God and are not aware of it; they have done something that provoked God to withdraw from them, but are not aware of their loss, nor ever complain of it. Their souls atrophy and grow weak, their gifts fall into disuse, circumstances starts going wrong with them; and yet they don’t credit this to the right cause: they are not aware that God has departed from them, nor are they in any hurry to reconcile themselves to him or to gain back his favor. When God has departed we cannot continue in a ‘business as usual’ mode.

Pastor Jeff also shared this quotation from A. W. Tozer (emphasis added)

If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95% of what we do would go on, and no one would know the difference.

That’s a rather sad commentary. Does this happen? Is it possible that “God has left the building?” In Romans 8:38-39 Paul tells us,

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But there are things we can do to impair the relationship between us and Him. In a long article — that’s worth seeing — George Kirkpatrick lists some of these things:

1 – Grieving the Holy Spirit
2 – Wrath
3 – Clamor and Sowing Discord
4 – Evil Speaking
5 – Unbelief
6 – Following false prophets and false teachers
7 – Sexual sins
8 – Free thinkers
9 – Jealousy and Anger
10- Unequally yoked to unbelievers
11- Rebellion against God’s authority

If the Holy Spirit was taken out of your situation, your family, your community, or even your church, would anyone notice the difference?

 

 

 

 

 

October 20, 2015

When God Becomes Ill

“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16)

Wild WaterfallTwo great commentaries on the same passage today. Neal Pollard is in pastoral ministry in Colorado. This is his first appearance here at Christianity 201 and he gives this immediate, practical application. Then, InterVarsity Press publisher Andy LePeau clarifies the background on the cold water in this passage; and how we are a lot like the Loadiceans.

Part One:

How to Make God Sick

When speaking of God’s attributions and actions, the Bible often resorts to a literary device called anthropomorphism (where human characteristics or behaviors are attributed to God—“the hand of God,” “the eyes of the Lord,” etc.).  But, there is one personification that’s absolutely terrifying.  Jesus utilizes it in describing the spiritual condition of Laodicea. He says, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16). Some translations, knowing “vomit” is felt to be too strong and graphic to the sensitivities of some readers, have gone the more antiseptic route by translating it “spit.”  But the Greeks had a word for the phrase “spit out” (you find that word translated in John 9:6, Mark 7:33, and Mark 8:23).

It has been said that what makes God sick often is what makes our culture tick. When you look at the Laodiceans, they were guilty of the following:

  • Indifferent to mission (Rev. 3:15-16).
  • Incorrect in self-analysis (Rev. 3:17).
  • Insensitive to need (Rev. 3:17).
  • Impenitent (Rev. 3:19).

Certainly, the world is blind to God’s purpose for their lives, is numb to its true spiritual condition, and is deaf to the biblical plea to repent and depend on God and His will. But these words are directed to Christians as a warning to us.  Our mission is to engage in the work He has us on earth to do, which is not to accumulate wealth, indulge in fleshly pleasures, and pursue the honor and praise of this world. Our need for God’s strength and help every step of the way must drive us to depend on Him and repent of a lack of zeal for and involvement in the work He has called us to do as Christians.

When we get so wrapped up in this world that we ignore His mission, when we get so conditioned to rely on our assets and attributes that we ignore His power, and when we get so hard-hearted that we ignore His grace and forgiveness, we make God sick.  No matter how you look at that, the very thought is just chilling! He loves us, pleads with us, and wants to reward us (Rev. 3:19-22). But that requires us to live differently from those ancient Laodiceans. We must let Scripture properly diagnose our spiritual condition or it will make God sick.

Part Two:

A Lukewarm Interpretation of Hot and Cold: Revelation 3:15-16

This verse from Revelation 3 certainly must rank as one of the most misused in the Bible. In the last month alone I have heard two speakers give it the same incorrect interpretation.

In the first three chapters of Revelation we find seven letters from Jesus to seven churches in late first-century Asia Minor (now western Turkey). In the letter to Laodicea, he says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” As a result, he will spit out their tepidness.

Often this is misinterpreted to mean that Jesus is tired of namby-pamby middle of the roaders. He would rather people be passionately against him or for him. This is ridiculous on two counts. First, Jesus simply does not want people to turn resolutely against him. He wants all to come to him and be saved.

Second, when Jesus refers to hot and cold water, he is drawing an analogy from the fact that Laodicea did not have a good water source. Instead, using Roman aqueducts, it received hot water from the north, from the city of Hierapolis, famous for its soothing and healing hot springs. Refreshing cold water came from the south, from Colossae, eleven miles away, from snow melt on the mountains. Unfortunately, by the time the hot water and the cold water got to Laodicea, both were lukewarm. As Richards and O’Brien say in Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes, Jesus “wished his people were hot (like the salubrious waters of Hierapolis) or cold (like the refreshing waters of Colossae). Instead, their discipleship was unremarkable.”

The problem was not that Laodicea lacked zeal. The problem was that the church was good for nothing.

So why describe the church as lukewarm? The answer found in the next verse. “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

Laodicea as a city had a reputation for its many banks, for its excellent medical school and for its clothing industry. But, Jesus says, actually it was not rich but poor, not healthy but blind, not well clothed but naked. Their resources led them to rely on themselves instead of on Jesus. Their problem was not lack of fervor but a sense of self-sufficiency. They relied on themselves instead of on God.

For a culture that prides itself on its massive economy, the best medicine in the world, and a fashion industry second to none–Revelation 3, correctly interpreted, becomes all too relevant.

May 27, 2015

The Church: Rising From the Statistical Ashes

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I really appreciate Pastor Clarke Dixon’s weekly contributions here. In light of recent polls and news reports, this is very timely. Click the title below to read at Clarke’s blog.

Is There Hope for Christianity?

People say there is no hope for Christianity. They point to statistics. They point to unpopular doctrines and unloved ethics. It will die out eventually, they say. Furthermore, churches are boring and irrelevant, they will all die out. And people say there is no hope for the Christian. There is no such thing as the supernatural, at least not as described by the Bible, and so the Christian who dies will stay dead. They say that spirituality is something to be enjoyed in this life, the best one can hope for in the next is to push up daisies. Or perhaps your karma will catch up to you and you will be pushing up dandelions instead. But as for the classic Christian doctrine of the resurrection, there is no hope for the Christian.

People have said there was no hope for God’s people before. Their great city, Jerusalem, was destroyed. The central place for the expression of their faith, the temple lay in ruins. That temple was known as the place on earth that God had chosen to take up residence among His people. He was long gone. So too were the people, exiled, taken away from their land and dispersed to ensure they would remain weak through disunity. There was no hope for them. Or so they even they themselves said. But God said otherwise:

​The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:1-14 NRSV

We can first note the picture of hopelessness in Ezekiel’s vision. The first image is of a battlefield from the days of hand-to-hand combat filled with the bones of the dead. They are very dry, and so they have been dead a very long time. They have suffered the indignity of not having had a proper burial and they belong to the losers. The second picture is of the dead being sealed in graves, as if their fate was sealed.

But now note the picture of hope. In the vision the bones come together, and the dead are put back together complete with muscle and skin though they still do not live. Then Ezekiel is told by God to prophesy to the winds to have breath enter into the bodies. The significance of these two steps in the resurrection to life is that it recalls the creation of humanity by God in the first place:  “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” Genesis 2:7 NRSV. In other words, remember God’s amazing work of creation, don’t doubt God’s ability to do what He wants to do. And what does God want to do? To fulfill His covenant promises. To bring life and hope to what was thought to be dead and hopeless: “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live” v.14.

There should have been no hope for the disciples of Jesus in the early decades of the Church. The doctrines and ethics of the Jesus followers were repulsive to Jew and Gentile alike. Persecution often broke out against the Christians. But, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Acts 2:1-4 NRSV

Were it not for God’s Holy Spirit Christianity would likely have died out many times over throughout history. Yet it is still growing worldwide and exerting a positive influence on individuals and society alike.

People say that it is hopeless for God’s people in North America today. People say that Christianity will die. God says “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.” People say that all churches will eventually close. God says “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.” People say that Christians when they die, will stay dead never to be raised from the dead. God says “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.”

When God puts us back together, whether he is taking the dry bones of churches across North America that have become stale, whether he is taking the dry bones of a Christian whose fire for the Lord has gone dim, or whether he is taking the dry bones of the dead in Christ, He will accomplish what He wants to accomplish. If we feel the future is hopeless for God’s people, well then it is time to seek His Spirit.

 

 

March 24, 2014

The Modern Equivalent of the Bible-Times Tax Collector

Today we introduce you to Bryan Lowe, and when I say introduce, this time around, I want you to take a few minutes to read his story

…Wow! Now that we’re back, we introduce you to his blog Broken Believers (the title makes sense now, doesn’t it) where you’ll find today’s post, The Modern Tax Collector. (Emphasized sections in original post.)

Luke 18:9-14, ESV

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Essentially it would seem, that there are only two kinds of people, (which simplifies things.)  On the right stands the religious man, who has confided  in a level of righteousness that he deems adequate.  But his sin is multi-faceted.  A big chunk has to do with how he perceives others in comparison to himself.  He often despises those who are failures, losers, and criminals.  He points to them only to bolster his own standing. It generates his own feelings of religiousness.

Too many churches have become places were Pharisees come together to congratulate themselves.  These men and women do not operate from brokenness and humility.  They know nothing of tears over their sin.  But they pat themselves on their back because of their progress in the ways of God.  Life seems so wonderful in our churches.  We leave the service comfortably encouraged in our self-righteousness.

The tax-collectors of this world are its drunks, addicts, mentally ill, and the losers.  They stand afar off. And they don’t even have the energy or confidence to turn to God.  They know exactly what they have done, and understand perfectly that they are less then zero.  There is such a gap between these two men, and it has only deepened to this present situation.

Where are the bipolar, the schizophrenic, the person with OCD in our churches?  For that matter, where has is the unwed mother, the crack addict, and the homosexual gone?  I will tell you where, they are “standing afar off”.  People with ugly secrets and intense issues are often scared to death by religious people.

Please be aware. I didn’t intend for this to be a hard word.  But many of the “rascals” of the Church have gone missing!  We must seek them out and bring them home.  The sinner very often needs our encouragement to “come and dine” with Jesus. The last verse of Jesus’ parable sums up the lesson–

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

October 24, 2013

Teaching Emphasis versus Liturgy and Sacrament

NIV Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

With the exception of some early Christian writings, we don’t have a lot of concise snapshots of the early church better than the closing six verses of Acts 2. But ask anyone with even a superficial knowledge of church history, and they’ll tell you that the way we do church in 2013 doesn’t follow the pattern known to those who came before us.

This article didn’t have a specific scripture reference, but for people processing their faith at the “201” level, it raises issues worth thinking about today. It’s from Matthew Marino who has a blog called The Gospel Side, where this article appeared recently under the title, Spiritual Baseball: The Unlikely Path to Intimacy with Jesus.  Send Matthew some stats love by clicking the title to read at source.

Liturgy

Every once in a while you meet someone and immediately sense they are wise and grounded. One of those for me was a Roman Catholic youth pastor. We met some fifteen years ago at an outdoor cafe. While the coffee cooled he made small talk by mentioning the Protestant activities his children were involved in: Awana, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Young Life, and attending a Christian high school. I laughed and probed just a bit: Was he a wanna be Protestant? He laughed back and said, “Absolutely not. It’s just that it is pretty hard to come to faith in my Church.” His answer baffled me. Why, I asked, would he choose to be involved in a church in which it was hard for his children to come to faith? How, I wondered, did he not see himself as making my point for me? The jovial youth minister grinned again, handed me a pen, pushed a napkin toward me and said, with the hint of a smirk, “Make a list of your ten favorite authors.”

I scratched names on the napkin until he reached over and grabbed the pen, and said, “Ok, I’m stopping you at fifteen. I notice that of your fifteen favorite authors, thirteen of them are liturgical Christians.” I had never heard the word ‘liturgical’ and didn’t want to admit it, so I glossed over that detail and asked him what his point was.

He asked, “Why do you like those authors: Nouwen, Lewis, Temple, Wesley, Chesterton, Wright, Manning, Stott?”

“I guess because they write as if they have intimacy with Jesus,” I said.

He answered without hesitating, “Exactly,” he said, “I’m in my Church because it is how you become intimate with Jesus.”

“O, come on!” I objected.

He pointed at the napkin and reminded me it was my list. He then said something that took me a decade to understand, “If you want true intimacy with Jesus, it will probably happen in a liturgical church: Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian, old-school Lutheran.”

We sat there another half hour and I decided that what he was saying is that if the spiritual life were a game of baseball, then first base is a relationship with Jesus. If one does not get on base, nothing else matters. That was why his kids were in evangelical activities. Second base might be knowing the Bible. Third, giving your life away in service for God and the Kingdom. But a “home run,” in the Christian life, is intimacy with Christ…what the Orthodox masters call “theosis” – a fulfillment of the image of God. I left that meeting wanting to “make it home,” but without the least awareness that, for millions over the last 2,000 years, the “home run” I longed to experience has been a common one in liturgical traditions.

And yes, I do realize that statement sounds arrogant and just plain incorrect to evangelical ears. After all, every evangelical church in America has a healthy collection of members who left the liturgical world precisely because they hadn’t gotten “on base” in a liturgical church.

What you may not realize is how non-normative the American 4 song/sermon worship format is in the scope of things. For 3/4 of Christian history, the liturgy was the only form of Christian worship. Even today, nearly 3/4 of the Christians on the planet worship God in the ancient pattern of Word and Sacrament. That doesn’t make the liturgy better, worse or more or less biblical, it does say that what most Christians know as “worship” is a bit of an outlier.

I am not saying that liturgical churches are perfect or have more holy people or that there are not dead liturgical churches…I’m fairly sure that dead liturgy might be the worst sort of dead. Just that for the lion’s share of Christians who have ever lived, worship was not song and sermon but Scripture and Supper.

…for the lion’s share of Christians who have ever lived, worship was not song and sermon but Scripture and Supper.

I didn’t understand what my Catholic friend was talking about precisely because I had been to a liturgical church a few times and found it repetitive and, frankly, numbing. What I discovered was that the power is precisely in the repetition…that, as a rough rock in a stream becomes a smooth stone from years of water flowing over it, the Christian is formed into the image of God when we surrender ourselves to the three-fold pattern of daily immersion in the Scriptures, weekly feeding in the Eucharist, and the annual cycle of the Christian year, combined with contemplative practices like those of the desert fathers. I have found that these are re-orienting my perception of reality, the way I view time, life, and the world around me, in ways that words on a page cannot fully capture. It is freeing me to love those who oppose me and work for the good of those who seek my harm.

You may not be interested in walking the path to the ancient Church, known in Anglicanism as “the Canterbury trail.” I was not either. Ironically it is a journey that has given a depth to my walk with Christ that I never imagined. Like someone who has never tasted ice-cream, I didn’t know what I was missing.

What about you? If you have walked with Jesus for several decades, is intimacy/spiritual union something the church you worship in is nurturing in you? In what ways, corporately and individually are you finding intimacy with Jesus? Or have you, like many, given up on intimacy with God as having a corporate expression? If so, I invite you to the sandlot to play ball.

October 17, 2013

A. W. Tozer on Christian Leadership

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A W TozerThe Tozer leadership devotional appears daily on BibleGateway.com and is also available by email subscription.  Since we can’t transcribe full devotionals due to copyright, we’ll give you some introductory paragraphs and links to finish reading. Be sure to read all three, plus some of the in-between ones from various dates on the calendar posted on the right side of the page; the posts themselves are shorter than what we normally do here.

Failure and Success: The Small and the Great

…Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”1 Peter 5:5

Some time ago we heard a short address by a young preacher during which he quoted the following, “If you are too big for a little place, you are too little for a big place.”

It is an odd rule of the kingdom of God that when we try to get big, we always get smaller by the moment…

[...continue reading here...]

 

Failure and Success: True Greatness

Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave.Matthew 20:26-27

The essence of His teaching is that true greatness lies in character, not in ability or position. Men in their blindness had always thought that superior talents made a man great, and so the vast majority believe today. To be endowed with unusual abilities in the field of art or literature or music or statecraft, for instance, is thought to be in itself an evidence of greatness…

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Failure and Success: Quantity Rather Than Quality

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness-God is witness.—1 Thessalonians 2:4-5

Time may show that one of the greatest weaknesses in our modern civilization has been the acceptance of quantity rather than quality as the goal after which to strive….

Christianity is resting under the blight of degraded values. And it all stems from a too-eager desire to impress, to gain fleeting attention, to appear well in comparison…

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September 19, 2013

Bible Study Shouldn’t (and Can’t) Replace Church

Sometimes a comment left here leads me to yet another source of material. Although today’s item doesn’t begin with a key text — there are several for you to look up toward the end of the article — it is important to have this here because it would be tragic to think that there are people reading this as a substitute for being part of a local Christian assembly.  It appeared on the blog A Parched Soul, under the title Your Bible Study is Not the Church (click through to read at source) and the author is Grayson Pope.


If you were to survey the landscape of Christian blogs and culture today, you might come away with two notions concerning the church:

  1. It is broken
  2. It is redefinable

The first of these is reasonable. Many churches seem very broken. Sex scandals, misuse of tithes, and condemnation are all too familiar tales these days, unfortunately.

worshiping togetherThere are always areas in which the church can be improved. This will be true as long as sinners are in charge of running them.

The second point, that the church is redefinable, is where we have gone seriously astray. A common headline or title of a post on a popular Christian site might well read like one of the following:

  • “Why I Left the Church”
  • “How I found God Outside the Church”
  • “Why I’m a Christian but I Don’t go to Church”

(Let me be very clear before moving on: I believe the church is in need of repair. I believe there are very real problems with her, or more appropriately, how we have chosen to engage her. But I also believe she is the hope of this world, indeed the only one it has.)

These pseudo-titles above give us insight into the heart of what Christians think about the church at this point in history. In short, they find it open to interpretation, as if it is Play-Doh which can be kneaded, molded, or reshaped in the hands of a man.

Some believe worship with the family in the living room replaces corporate worship with a congregation. Others believe social ministry or their Bible study group in a coffee shop is their church.

It is tempting, to be sure. The social ministry field is seen as alive and vibrant, compared to the stale pews and stiff suits so many think of when church comes to mind. Huddling around a Starbucks table seems culturally rebellious and gives a sense of thrill.

Those things are not bad, but they are not the church. They may be called church by those involved, but they undermine thousands of years of ecclesiology, whether they do so knowingly or not.

They are mistaken. And it is hurting their faith.

James Emery White, who has spent much of his life studying the church and leading one, says for many this,

…has led to a trivialization of the church; for a growing minority it has led to a hunger for a deeper sense of church…

This gives rise to,

…those who intimate that the idea of the church in the New Testament is either embryonic or ethereal that we have the freedom to define the church as we wish. This is simply not the case.

If then, the church is not open to interpretation as we thought, what is it that marks it? Again, we turn to the work of White on the subject. He details what he calls the “5 C’s” in his book, Christ Among the Dragons, that give clarity to the biblical and historical view of the church.

To be the church, the following must be present:

  1. Community: “To be a church, we must be a community of faith. This community should not be segmented in any way, whether by race, ethnicity, gender or age…(see Gal 3:28; 1 Tim 4:12)
  2. Confession: “If a Christian church is anything, it is foundationally confessional, for the earliest mark of the Christian movement was the clear confession that Jesus is the Christ (Mark 8:29) and the Lord (Romans 10:9).”
  3. Corporate: “The Bible speaks of defined organizational roles such as pastors/elders/bishops/deacons, as well as corporate roles related to spiritual gifts such as teachers, administers and leaders (Romans 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4; 1 Pet 4).”
  4. Celebration: “The church is to gather for public worship as a unified community of faith, which includes the stewarding of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, for these were not in the public domain.”
  5. Cause: “…this involves active evangelism with subsequent discipleship, coupled with strategic service to the needy. We are to be the body of Christ to the world, and the twin dynamics of evangelism and social concern reflect Christ’s ongoing mission.”

These 5 C’s are what mark the church and what make it the church. They cannot be achieved to the same level as Jesus would have them outside of the local church.

Do you think you church is open to interpretation? Have you seen someone try to replace their church experience with another of some kind?

August 24, 2013

Weekend Wondering

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:27 pm
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“‘And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”  (Mark 12: 30-31)

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

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

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

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

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

Things like….

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

These and other questions rattle through my mind.

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

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

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


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

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