Christianity 201

September 29, 2022

Anchored in Jesus

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Beginning a New Series: What Kind of Church?

by Clarke Dixon

Many people have become uncomfortable with the Church and churches to the point of being done with Christianity. They have seen too much politicking, hypocrisy, abuse, scandals, and the ignoring of science and education. One might wonder if Jesus himself would be comfortable in some churches.

While on Sabbatical I was grateful for efforts of our interim pastor Ray Jones who happens to be the executive director of an entity called Open Table Communities. What is Open Table Communities? There are many people known as the “dones,” that is, people who are done with churches and Christianity as a whole. While there is much more to it that what I’m about to say, I’d characterize Open Table Communities as saying, “before you throw out the baby with the bath water, let’s take a closer look at that baby, and the bath water.”

Open Table is guided by eight cultural statements. They are statements of “this is how we do things around here, this is the kind of community we are.” As I looked over the eight cultural statements, they struck me as being good, not just for a new kind of faith community like Open Table, but also for an old fashioned kind of church, such as we are at Calvary Baptist. Really they speak to a community that gets Jesus, his teaching and example, the kind of community Jesus would feel at home in, the kind of community many of us would feel at home in.

Therefore, over the next eight weeks we will be using of these statements as launching points for exploring the kind of church Jesus would feel at home in, the kind of church we want to be.

Here is the first statement:

We nurture cultures that are anchored in the Jesus story, his life, death and resurrection. We nurture a view of God that is seen through the lens of Christ, and consider how this way of seeing God, the world and human activity is conducive to all human flourishing.

Open Table Communities

Why anchor our faith and life in Jesus?

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT)

Why anchor our faith and life in Jesus? Because Jesus said it was the wise thing to do. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had already said several times “you have heard it said…but I say to you.”. Here in conclusion he is saying “Listen to me!”

Jesus later said,

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.

Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)

The kind of church that “gets Jesus” is one that is anchored in him.

But why listen to Jesus?

Why listen to Jesus when we wouldn’t listen to any of our friends if they said the same things about themselves as Jesus said about himself?

In a nutshell, the resurrection of Jesus changed everything and the apostles knew it.

With the resurrection of Jesus, on top of his teaching, and on top of the miracles he performed, listening to Jesus became the natural thing to do. With the resurrection of Jesus it became reasonable to believe him when he said that all authority had been given to him. With the resurrection of Jesus the disciples knew it was time for new wineskins. Everything had now changed.

But why listen to what the early Christians said about Jesus?

The disciples were convinced about Jesus, but why should we be? How do we know the New Testament is not just made up?

There is enough to say here to write a book, in fact I’ve done that as have many others. For now, let’s just recognize that Jesus is unique in the history of the world and the history of people. Jesus deserves a deeper dive, a second look, in fact a third and fourth look.

Where else might we anchor our faith and life rather than in Jesus?

There are many other places we might anchor our faith, many places which actually are good sources of truth. For example, science. Science is a great and important source of truth, but it cannot tell us everything. Likewise, philosophy, tradition, and our own experience can all be good sources of truth though they cannot replace Jesus as the anchor. Some anchor their faith in what pop culture says, or in what their social media streams tell them. There can be truth there too, but they do not compare to Jesus as an anchor for life and faith.

Here is another source of truth which is not to be the anchor: the Bible. Surprised? We are not Bible followers who look to Jesus to help us follow the Bible, but Jesus followers who look to the Bible to help us follow Jesus. There is a subtle but important distinction there. The Bible is “God-breathed,” and while that’s amazing and important, Jesus is “God with us,” and that’s even more amazing and more important. We Baptists like to say that the Bible is our authority. Sometimes what we mean, without our even realizing it, is that our understandings or interpretations of the Bible are the authority. Again, there is a subtle but important difference there. The Bible is so important for our faith. But it is not the anchor. Jesus is.

Jesus as the corrective lens.

If all we had was science, how would we view God, humanity, life, and everything else? If all we had was philosophy, how would we view God, humanity, life, and everything else. Or if all we had was pop-culture, social-media, or the Old Testament? We see what God is like through the lens of Jesus.

The corrective lens of Jesus, seeing everything through Jesus’ teaching, his life, his example, his death and resurrection, enabled Paul to say that “God is for us and not against us” (see Romans 8) and John to say that “God is love” (see 1st John 4). What does being anchored in Jesus enable you and I to say about God and our relationship with the Divine?

Since Jesus is the anchor, people are the focus.

Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10 NRSV). When we focus on Jesus, his teaching, example, life, death, and resurrection, we see that Jesus was focused on us. Being anchored in the Jesus story means putting the focus on people, seeking human flourishing. There is a reason the only verb in the tagline of our church is “helping people.”

Here at Calvary, we want to be anchored in Jesus. We want to help people walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada; whose writing appears here most Thursdays. The sermon on which this is based can be see here.

September 20, 2022

Eliminating Walls Between Christ-Followers

We’re back once again for a visit to the website called More Than Useless, written by Thom Fowler. Clicking the title which follows will take you there where you can read today’s thoughts where they originally appeared.

Tear Down Those Walls!

In my distress I prayed to the Lord,
… and the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear.
… What can mere people do to me?
Psalm 118:5-6 NLT


God’s Good News

Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart[a] by spreading the Good News about his Son.

10 One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. 11 For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. 12 When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.

13 I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters,[b] that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles. 14 For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world,[c] to the educated and uneducated alike. 15 So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News.

16 For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.[d] 17 This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”[e]

Growing up I went to kindergarten through 5th grade, initially in West Virginia then finished in North Carolina. We then moved to Ohio where I attended middle school.

Younger readers won’t get this reference, but in Ohio, many of my classmates called me Gomer Pyle! (Remember these colloquialisms? “Shazam!”, “Gooolly”, “Sur-prise, sur-prise, sur-prise!” If you recall his character, I’m sure you heard his accent loud and clear in your head!) So unsurprisingly, I had a bit of a southern accent. I wasn’t labeled for very long, but obviously, it impacted me, because I still remember it after all these years.

Unfortunately, one of the worst traits of humanity is not accepting others who are different. It is an ancient habit that is just as prominent today as it has ever been. It is a very complex mentality that plagues us all.

It is most disheartening in that, though you’d think it wouldn’t be, the church is not exempt from these thoughts and attitudes. If anything, we tend to expand the criteria of separation. We don’t just hold at arm’s length those who differ from us along cultural, social, racial, and economic lines, but we also throw in all the religious issues.

Some may be pretty vocal, but I think, instead, many have this underlying mentality of distrust – even fear – of those who aren’t like them. And the list of “problematic” characteristics then goes on forever – they may not speak the language we know, the customs of their culture exclude some of our traditions and add things that are totally foreign to us, they may come from way more money than we’ve ever seen, or they may be dirt poor and lack the fastidiousness of our hygiene, and of course, having any other skin tone may automatically throw up red flags.

Then to make matters worse, they may adhere to different faith practices than we do. They may speak in tongues, or partake of communion from a chalice, they may follow a strict liturgy of worship, or be entirely led by the Spirit in their worship style…and on and on it goes.

It’s not necessarily intentional, but walls go up…dividers are set into place. But isn’t that what Jesus came to tear down? The Apostle Paul said it this way,

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. Ephesians 2:14-16 NIV

In verse 14 of today’s passage he stated,

For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world… NLT

My Life Application Study Bible says, regarding this verse,

Paul’s…obligation was to people of the entire world. He met his obligation by proclaiming Christ’s salvation to people – across all cultural, social, racial, and economic lines, both Jews and Gentiles. We also are obligated to Christ because he took the punishment we deserve for our sins. Although we cannot repay Christ for all he has done, we can demonstrate our gratitude by showing his love to others.

Lord Jesus, help us tear down those walls. May we too feel that obligation to people of the entire world…not just those near and dear. Amen.


NLT footnotes:

  1. 1:9 Or in my spirit.
  2. 1:13 Greek brothers.
  3. 1:14 Greek to Greeks and barbarians.
  4. 1:16 Greek also the Greek.
  5. 1:17 Or “The righteous will live by faith.” Hab 2:4.

September 12, 2022

Too Much Milk, Not Enough Meat

In the Northern Hemisphere, as the school year begins, local churches also reset to begin a new season of ministry. It’s customary where I live for this to incorporate a series of sermons on the first principles of our theology and practices; with titles such as “Who We Are,” and “Why We Do What We Do,” and “The Bible is our Foundation,” and “Getting Back to the Basics.”

We also recognize that in the present “post seeker-sensitive movement” times, there is a realization that the person sitting across the aisle, or a few rows ahead of us might be attending church for the very first time in their life, and we need to define our terminology. There is also a long-standing idea that it doesn’t hurt the regular parishioners to review the fundamentals.

However, the past few days I’ve heard comments like,

  • “We’re doing another navel-gazing sermon series. It’s the same thing every year.”
  • “It seems like just days ago that he was saying the same things. It’s recycled notes with nothing updated.”
  • “I just wish he’d toss us something deeper somewhere in the middle of the sermon, for some of us to chew on.”

These represent three different people and three different churches.

The commonly used contrast between “basics” teaching and “deeper” teaching is the one the writer of Hebrews uses in chapter 5, distinguishing between milk and meat.

12 Although you should have been teachers by now, you need someone to teach you an introduction to the basics about God’s message. You have come to the place where you need milk instead of solid food. 13 Everyone who lives on milk is not used to the word of righteousness, because they are babies. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose senses are trained by practice to distinguish between good and evil. (CEB)

(I did find it fascinating that the third comment above referenced craving something “to chew on.”)

While there is one verse in 1 Peter 2 which casts milk in a positive light — “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (2:2 NLT) — the picture of a milk diet is generally one of spiritual infancy. The scriptural model is growth or progress toward spiritual maturity.

Paul strikes this contrast twice in 1 Corinthians:

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.You are still worldly. (3:1-3a NIV)

Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. (14:20a NIV)

…The general direction of many churches has been to provide easily-communicated sermon content in the primary weekend gathering of the congregation, and then offer various other options for those who wish to go deeper. These might include,

  • a mid-week gathering for prayer and Bible study
  • home-based small groups studying a particular curriculum
  • adult elective classes earlier on Sunday mornings
  • enrolling the church in an online portal to free streaming of top teachers
  • book recommendations
  • podcast recommendations

To various degrees these provide the deeper teaching needed, but do so outside the context of the gathered body. I believe there is much to gained by coming under the hearing and teaching of God’s word corporately. (“Remember that time when the pastor explained how that passage was understood by the early church?”)

One of the best sermon summaries is in Luke 24:27, though sadly, the audience at that particular message was rather limited: “Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures. (CSB) Arrgh! If only Cleopas & Company had taken more notes!

I believe this is what our spirits long for. To long to know more about God, is to long to press in and know God himself more. As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.” This is what we crave. (Psalm 42:1 NLT).

…I realize that this may stepping on some toes, and that the annual “basics review” may be a sacred cow in your church. But what if? What if the church continued to probe the deeper things of scripture, and offered those who are beginning their spiritual journey the opportunity to understand the basics through;

  • a mid-week gathering for studying and asking questions
  • home-based small groups doing the Alpha Course materials
  • an alternative classroom situation running at another time or parallel to the church’s main meeting
  • encouraging newcomers to work their way through selected Bible Project videos
  • basic doctrinal book recommendations
  • a good podcast tailored for new believers; new Christians

Just an idea. What do you think?

 

 

August 31, 2022

This Cultural Moment

“Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed.– Acts 13:36 (NIV)

I’m not sure if it was in their speaking or their writing, and I’m not sure if it was Mark Sayers or John Mark Comer who I first heard use the phrase “this cultural moment” in reference to the church being ready, willing and able to speak to the wider surrounding culture. What I do know is that the phrase has stuck with me.

A conversation is continually taking place among church leaders as to how we respond to the general direction of the society around us. Do not be mistaken. Some confuse this with speaking to specific issues that make up our headline news.

We do need to be aware of the world in which we live. Esther 1:13 is a great verse on this subject:

Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times. (NIV) He immediately consulted with his wise advisers, who knew all the Persian laws and customs, for he always asked their advice. (NLT)

But we have to be careful not to immerse ourselves in the minutiae of specific issues at the expense of (a) keeping the much larger cultural landscape in view and (b) being true to our calling as citizens of another world.

No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. 2 Timothy 2:4 (NASB)

Do you see the need for balance?

Paul — the very same Paul who wrote that advice to Timothy — also offers a textbook example of how we should be aware and in touch with the people around us when he delivers a famous speech (sermon) to a crowd gathered at the marketplace in Athens.

So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Acts 17:22-23a (NASB)

Did he write his speech weeks in advance? No, his remarks are prefaced with a remark concerning something he saw when he arrived in the city. He then uses that as a springboard for the point he wants to make. It’s brilliant. But it’s not something he could have done if he’d been whisked to a hotel in a limo with tinted windows, and hadn’t had time to look around.

He doesn’t have to immerse himself in their culture to have a conversational familiarity with it. And as such, he’s able to speak to their cultural moment…

…Years ago I remember attending an ordination service where the young man being ordained was encouraged in this very thing. He was told to be sure to have a newspaper subscription — before the internet — to which in hindsight he might have added, a local newspaper subscription and a national newspaper subscription. It’s important to stay in touch with our surrounding communities and our world.

Today there’s another way that “this cultural moment” might be used, and that’s in terms of the time and place that the church now finds itself. If a person is selective, I see no reason why they can’t have a Twitter account consisting of other Christian leaders and follow the issues which are important today to the modern Church, or the Evangelical movement, or whatever sector of the capital “C” Church is important to them.

Finally, “serving the purposes of God in His generation” means not trying to serve the Church and the people the Church serves as if it’s 50 years ago, or 150 years ago. The content of our message is unchanging: redemption through the cross of Christ. However the presentation of our message should reflect the cultural moment.

Let’s make it personal.

How are you serving the purposes of God in your generation?

 

 

August 22, 2022

As Ten Commandments Tablets Shatter

There’s a bad Sunday School joke that goes something like, “Who in the Bible broke all ten commandments?” The answer is Moses, when he returned from the mountain and exasperated over the sin of the people sent the tablets crashing to the ground.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

First of all, the giving of the commandments in a physical form does not mean that this is the first time God establishes moral and behavioral boundaries of the people of Israel. The website Life Hope and Truth states,

…The answer is found in a fascinating statement God made about Abraham, recorded in Genesis 26:5: “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

This is significant because Abraham was born hundreds of years before Moses received the law on Mount Sinai!

In order for Abraham to obey God’s commandments, statutes and laws, he had to know what they were. This means that Abraham was taught the laws directly from God or from others (or possibly both). God was not giving Moses a brand-new law on Mount Sinai. He was merely giving a codified, or formal, version of His law so that it could be used to govern the emerging nation of Israel…

The article then goes on to illustrate instances of such laws existing prior to Moses.

Let’s pick up the store in Exodus 19 and Exodus 20

NIV.Ex.19.20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.”  …

NIV.Ex.20.1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.  …

It’s verses 4-6, which we call the second commandment — see the post from last month where we break them up into commandment 2a and 2b — where we want to focus. It’s reiterated in verse 22

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

Then, for nearly a dozen chapters, God gives Moses instructions for worship, and also some amplification of the “big ten” commandments given. But then he tells Moses it’s time “get down to earth” because there’s trouble stirring.

NIV.Ex.32.1  When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”…

…7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt…

…15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.”

18 Moses replied:

“It is not the sound of victory,
    it is not the sound of defeat;
    it is the sound of singing that I hear.”

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.

Moses returns to see the people breaking the second commandment which was cited above. And he is livid. In his anger and frustration he shatters the “big ten,” which we’re told God Himself engraved.

It’s a very Moses thing to do. In his anger he will later strike a rock he is told to simply speak to, and that particular act of anger costs him entry into the promised land.

But here’s my point.

Before I started writing this, I gave it the title, “As Ten Commandments Tablets Shatter.” I was thinking about Moses and what the people did in his absence. But I was also thinking about pastors and church leaders today.

Depending on whose statistics you read, in North America 1,200 or 1,500 pastors resign (quit) from ministry each month. While conservatives are busy arguing about women in ministry, it’s probably a good thing some of those women are in place, because the mostly-men pastoral workforce is abandoning ministry in droves.

There are a number of reasons, but I’m sure one of them is frustration over the lack of spiritual dedication among the parishioners. Or, as Moses observed, a flagrant disregard for the will of God.

So figuratively, over a thousand each month are throwing the tablets up in the air and letting them crash to the ground while literally, they pack up of their church office library and dust off their resumés and begin to look for another career path.

Vocational ministry life can be frustrating. I write that even as a member of my immediate family prepares to enter into a greater level of vocational pastoral commitment. I am sure that like Moses, I would get exasperated by what I would see and would want to toss the tablets up in the air as well.

In North America, October is designated as “Pastor Appreciation Month,” however if people were serious about appreciating their pastor, they would, to use an archaic word, “harken” more to the things about the ways of God that he or she is trying to teach the congregation. Yes, they should live a certain way because it’s what God desires and what God requires, but there should also be a recognition that the very reason this person has been set apart for career ministry is to teach them such things with the expectation that they will follow.

Otherwise it’s all just empty words and meaningless worship.

Are there “ten commandments” violations that you see that would cause your pastor/rector/priest to want to toss the stone tablets in the air?


Related:

 

 

August 12, 2022

Keeping Jesus the Focus of Our Scripture Reading

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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So readers and subscribers, bear with me on this one.

We’re featuring a lot of writers for the first time during August, and this one is no exception. The original article from which this is based is longer than what we usually run here, and this excerpt from it is a bit shorter that what you normally get.

But what struck me here — aside from the very obvious point the writer is making — is the way he cited scripture verses. Using (I think) the KJV as a base text, he inserts clarifications the same way the Amplified Bible inserts amplifications.

And somehow, I couldn’t walk way from how this brings the scriptures to life and the truths seem to leap off the page.

So as usually, we’ll link to the article, but this time around you have the option to continue reading the original on the writer’s blog. The author is David Buffaloe and the blog is BibleTeacher.org. Click the link below to read this there in full.

Our Business Is God’s Kingdom

John 1:10-14 He {Jesus} was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. {11} He came unto his own, and his own received him not. {12} But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: {13} Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. {14} And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

Why Are We Here Today? Why Am I A Christian?

When Sherry and I were stationed in England for the United States Air Force we had the wonderful opportunity of riding these big red double decker buses in London. We’d taker our boys to the top floor of the bus – an upper “uncovered” floor – and enjoy a wonderful view as we rode around town. It was wonderful to ride those buses – that is, when you could get on them.

There were several times when our family was waiting at a bus stop, excited to ride the bus … and the bus driver passed us by without stopping! It wasn’t just us, but this happened frequently throughout London. Someone finally complained about this to the London Transit Authority, the organization that maintains the city buses. The London Transit Authority issued a public paper that stated the following:

“It is impossible for us to maintain our schedule if we are always having to stop and pick up passengers”

The Transit Authority forgot what its purpose is. Without passengers, the bus is useless. Without passengers, the Transit Authority makes no money. The business of the London Transit Authority is to take people around town in buses.

What Is The Business Of The Church?

The Business of the Church is to introduce the Lord Jesus and His Kingdom to a world that neither knows Him, nor wants to know Him. We are Light bearers & Seed sowers.

In our text today we see a tension between Jesus and the world He made. Jesus made the world. Jesus made every person who has ever been made. The Bible says:

John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word {that’s Jesus}, and the Word {that’s Jesus} was with God, and the Word {that’s Jesus} was God. 2 The same {that’s Jesus} was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

The Bible says All things were made by him. That’s Jesus. The Apostle Paul said of Jesus:

Colossians 1:15-18 Who {that’s Jesus} is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature {Jesus is the Source of all life}: 16 For by him {that’s Jesus} were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him {that’s Jesus}, and for him {that’s Jesus}: 17 And he {that’s Jesus} is before all things, and by him {that’s Jesus} all things consist {are held together}. 18 And he {that’s Jesus} is the head of the body, the church…

The Business of the Church is to tell others about Jesus, and as they believe on Him this will bring the Kingdom of God more and more to this present world.

 

►►finish reading the article at this link

August 7, 2022

Honoring the Offering

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. – Hebrews 13:16

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  2 Cor. 9:7

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. – 1 Timothy 6:18

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus, in Matthew 6:19-21

Many years ago my wife worked in a church leading worship where one of the members of the church’s “Program Team” objected to her sometimes having the congregation sing another worship song concurrent with the offering being received. She was okay with an instrumental song, but felt that combining the congregational singing with the placing of cash and envelopes in the basket being passed failed to “honor the offering.”

I have no idea where she got that concept.

Today we have quite a different situation. There is no offering received in many of our churches. During the pandemic, places of worship were told by local health authorities to avoid the surface contact generated by passing an offering plate or a tray of communion elements.

Long before the outbreak, some churches had switched to a box at the back of the auditorium. (I loved it when Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids would announce the “Joy boxes” and the congregation would cheer!)

Moreover, many of us give online these days. We use neither cash nor envelopes, and our electronic giving replaces checks. (That’s cheques for my Canadian/Aussie/UK readers.)

But giving is an act of worship, right?

If so, it follows that act of worship should be part of a worship service, right?

So how we incorporate “taking up the offering” when we’re not actually taking up the offering.

In once church I visited, people take a small card (business card size) that said, “I use automatic bank withdrawal giving,” as they walk in and then as the plate or basket is passed, they drop the card in. (Hopefully they’re being honest, or there’s a whole set of Ananias and Sapphira admonitions we could mention here.)

But one church we watched online did something different. It was an offering liturgy prayer that the entire church spoke, a declaration of a giving spirit (or perhaps the intention to do so as soon as the service ended.)  It’s worded this way:

Holy Father, there is nothing I have that You have not given me. All I have and am belong to You, bought with the blood of Jesus. To spend everything on myself, and to give without sacrifice, is the way of the world that you cannot abide. But generosity is the way of those who call Christ their Lord; who love Him with free hearts and serve Him with renewed minds; who withstand the delusion of riches that chokes the word; whose hearts are in your kingdom and not in the systems of the world. I am determined to increase in generosity until it can be said that there is no needy person among us. I am determined to be trustworthy with such a little thing as money that you may trust me with true riches. Above all, I am determined to be generous because You, Father, are generous. It is the delight of Your daughters and sons to share Your traits and to show what You are like to all the world.

This statement of what it means to be generous toward the world and toward God, both corporately and individually, replaces the offering for this church.


Source of Giving Liturgy: Westside AJC (a Jesus Church), this is the congregation founded by Phil and Diane Comer and taught for years by John Mark Comer. Click image to see full size or visit: https://westsideajc.org/about#giving-section

Scriptures used in the preparation of the Giving Liturgy (click the above link to see the version where these footnotes correspond.

(1) Psalm 24 v1, Psalm 31 v19, Ephesians 1 v7, James 1 v17, 1 Timothy 6 v17
(2) Proverbs 11 v25, 1 John 3 v17
(3) 1 Timothy 6 v17-19, Romans 12 v2, 2 Timothy 3:2-5, 2 Corinthians 9 v6-8
(4) Acts 4 v32-35
(5) Luke 16 v10-11
(6) Psalm 81 v10, Matthew 7 v7-11, John 16 v23-24, Romans 8 v32, Ephesians 1v3, Ephesians 1 v7-8


For our Canadian readers: Coincidentally (honestly!) this ran today on our ministry Facebook page, but U.S. readers can give to this as well, though you won’t get a tax receipt.

It’s Sunday, and there are people reading this for whom it’s been a long time since you were in a place where an offering plate was passed. Searchlight’s recommended Christian charity of choice continues to be the Welcome Home Children’s Centre in Haiti. Your donation today can provide shelter, food, clothing, supervision, school fees, school uniforms, transportation, and more for 14 children, at the orphanage located two hours north of Port-au-Prince. Click on their page at Canada Helps to donate, or donate by credit card or Paypal using Welcome Home’s own donation page at this link.

April 2, 2022

Compassion in a People-First Culture

I wanted to share some of my experience reading the book, A Church Called TOV: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing by Scot McKnight with Laura Barringer (Tyndale House Publishers). The short word tov is a Hebrew word that means good. The second half (two thirds, really) of the book are about creating a culture in the local church that fosters goodness, and having a “people first” culture is the third of seven elements in what the writers call the “circle of TOV.”

A short excerpt follows.

Develop Jesus-Like Eyes for People

How did the Gospel writers and apostles know that Jesus was filled with compassion? There are only three options: he told them, his face showed it, or his tears flowed. Two and three are the most likely. However, Jesus’ emotional response to those in need was not simply to “feel bad” about their circumstances; it was an emotional response that prompted action. Each time the Gospel writers describe the compassion of Jesus, the also tell us what he did: he healed, he cured, he cleansed, he taught, he pastored.

The apostle Paul had a similar heart for people–though many people today get him wrong on this one. They think of Paul as a power-mongering, workaholic, money-grubbing, anti-woman, proslavery authoritarian who gathered together groups of new Christians and set up some rules for them before pushing off for the next shore, and who heard some stories about nonsense in those gatherings and dashed off angry letters telling everyone how to live. Okay, that’s an overstatement, but not by much, if you’ve ever heard the critiques of Christianity offered by some people today. Now read 2 Corinthians 2:12-13 and ask yourself if it lines up with the critical view of Paul mentioned above.

When I came to the city of Troas to preach the Good News of Christ, the Lord opened a door of opportunity for me. But I had no peace of mind because my dear brother Titus hadn’t yet arrived with a report from you. So I said good-bye and went on to Macedonia to find him.

Here’s a man who had such an intense love for the Corinthians (who, at least in Paul’s mind, lacked that same love for him) and concern for his protege Titus that he stopped in his tracks and couldn’t go on until he saw Titus and heard about the welfare of the Corinthians. Paula Gooder, chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, puts it this way: “Paul–the greatest evangelist of all time–passed up an opportunity to preach the gospel because his friend Titus was not there.” And not just “his friend,” but his “dear brother.” People first.

Notice now the focus of Paul’s mission to the church in Colossae–which was almost entirely a group of people he’d never met. We’ve italicized the people-oriented words:

We tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me. I want you to know how much I have agonized for you and for the church at Laodicea, and for many other believers who have never met me personally. I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself.  [Col 1:28-2:2 NLT]

Agonizing, encouraging, knitting together with “strong ties of love.” Paul was nothing if not compassionate and people-first. It was the foundation of his entire ministry.

pp 132-33, A Church Called TOV


The fine print: Usually, buried here at the bottom is the publisher information and the little phrase “used by permission” but Tyndale no longer has a publisher’s representative in the country where we originate, and review copies of their books are now equally elusive, even though our readership is 78% American. So I could have ignored the book altogether, but I really think it’s something that is important reading in this cultural moment. Plus, I wanted to create my own little “culture of goodness” by sharing it. So… excerpt is ©2020 by the authors, and used without permission.

March 11, 2022

The First Thing People See is Our Fruits

 

“Either make the tree good and its fruit will be good, or make the tree bad and its fruit will be bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. – Matthew 12:33 CSB

A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. – Luke 6:44 NLT

“As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness’ but my hand shall not be against you.‘” 1 Samuel 24:13 NASB

Even children are known by the way they act, whether their conduct is pure, and whether it is right. –  Proverbs 20:11 NLT

Today we have another first time writer to feature here, whose name is not immediately identified on their page, but who has a number of good articles on a number of topics. I’m fairly confident his name is David Patton. The blog is called Becoming Christian and I encourage you to click the header which follows and take the time to read this at its original source.

The Missing Fruit of the Christian Church

“And you will know them by their fruits”

If we as Christians meditated on this quote by Jesus found in Matthew, would we have a different world view, would we see pastors and church elders differently, would we judge our local political leaders differently, would we see ourselves differently?  But here is the thing, knowing and being able to judge a person based on their fruits is one of those teachings of Jesus that has been ignored, and has not been given room to breathe and be developed. It is on the surface a simple truism, and in context Jesus is talking about false teachers. But the more someone is willing to meditate on this saying this the more power it has.

Growing up in an evangelical fundamentalist cultural there is a feeling that that “he who is without sin cast the first stone” so there is the idea that we can’t, or maybe just shouldn’t, talk about the fact that someone is not bringing forth good fruit. Yet when the average person looks out across the visible manifestation of the church, I’m not convinced that they see a difference in the behavior and mannerisms then of people outside of the church, because they do make judgment calls based upon the fruit they see. And I know that there are going to be many people who are going to church who say, “that is not our church” or “that is not a real church”. but that is the thing that so many Christians don’t realize and fail to understand, and that is most people outside of the church judge the church by its fruits, and they don’t like what they see.

My feeling is that the church in America in no ways wants to be judge or criticized on its lack of fruit. In fact, if criticism is leveled against it, Christians have a complex ecosystem which they use to minimize and deflect the fact that they are in no way baring the good fruits of Jesus. Time and time again the Mark Driscolls and Hillsongs are put forth as examples that we as followers of Jesus should look to, but time and time again when they are tested it is revealed they in no way embody the actions of Jesus, they do not produce good fruit, even though some will make the excuse that they do.

But to be true to the teachings of Jesus, and to rightly call ourselves Christian, it is imperative that we give and receive criticism when our actions do not bring forth or reflect the good fruits that Jesus Christ desires of those who follow him. This should not, in any way shape or form, be considered a controversial opinion.

The reality is that criticism is downplayed or deflected because it’s clear that the Christian church in America is not producing good fruit, and the world can see this. The deeper, and in fact sadder, truth is that it does not have a framework by which it can say a person is demonstrating actions that is in keeping with producing the good fruits of salvation. Unfortunately, the church has been corrupted by the thinking of the world and uses the frameworks of the world to measures itself.

How big is your church? How many regular attenders do you have? How much money do you bring in each week? How many missionaries does your church support? How famous is your pastor? Has your pastor written and published books? How many people in your church have written and published books? These standards of the world can go on and on, and to most people they are seen as, not necessarily bad, or evil, more neutral.  Yet it is a simple fact none of these standards are in keeping with baring the good fruit found in the Holy Scripture.

The questions then must be asked, and answered, what does good fruit look like in a person who is a follower of Jesus, and how do they get to producing good fruit? This of course this is not an easy answer, but it will start us down the path of looking at the teaching of Jesus and how they apply to the context and world that we live in today.

It is a given that for the vast majority of us we can simply go to our local supermarket and buy whatever fruit we want. But in truth fruit just doesn’t appear in our supermarket it needs time to grow and become fruit. Plant the seed, water the seed, maybe fertilize the growing sprout, and then only when it reaches maturity will the tree, it is hoped, produce fruit. Though for American Christianity this idea of taking time to either develop a person or to just take the time to judge if the person produces good fruit is not something that done.

Most churches in America have more of a country club mentality in which a person who joins is given the bylaws and constitution and simply expected to read and abide by them, if cannot, or don’t want to, they can leave.  Churches need to start taking the time to develop people taking the teachings of Jesus as the foundation for what right Christianity looks like. Is a person showing compassion, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, to the stranger, the poor, and the outcast? If not, do we have a something in place so a person can start developing these fruits?

If someone wants to become a leader have they consistently, over time, shown the fruits of Christ consistent with salvation? We live in a world that is rushed and sees time as nothing more than a commodity it is therefore important to be slowly taking time to not only develop fruit in a person but also to see if a person has fruit that is consistent with the teaching of Jesus.

 It is also true that in order to develop these fruits a person needs a community of people, yet what is seen as community in the modern world is nothing more than a gathering of like-minded people around a dogmatic political or religious identity. Unfortunately, this kind of “community” is not a community that brings forth good fruits in a person, it is only an echo chamber that brings forth the absolute worst in humanity.

The development of a community that brings forth the good fruit of Jesus Christ is a very messy community that does not conform to a certain theological or dogmatic construct that are in vogue or happen to be “just what we do”. What it is, is a group of people on a journey of faith trying to emulate the life and teachings of Jesus.

We see a lot of this messiness reflected in the pages of the New Testament the conflicts with who can be considered as a Christian do, they must conform to the traditions of the past or are we making a new path, who gets feed and in what order, Paul verses Peter, Paul and Silas, or basically Paul in general. But for the American church this messiness gets papered over with statement of faith, and doctrinal statement that prevents us from entering in too true community. We assume that because a congregation has a faith statement that everyone in that congregation believes everything within that statement. Now while we know this is not true of everybody who shows up on a Sunday it is shared assumption that most people have that has led to a homogeneity that does not allow for the truly messy nature of Christian community.

The sad reality is that the fruit that Jesus Christ wants to be present in those who follow him are not fruit that a modern Christian particular enjoys. It is fruit of a bygone era. Fruit for those who want to live out of step with the world, live in the past and not the present.

If Christians today truly wanted to emulate Jesus, they would not only pursue the fruits of Christ but also provide a way for others to walk that path as well. Yet it is all too clear that the fruits of Christ, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control are not present in the church today, and a simple blog post pointing out these problems, and providing a couple of ways forward is not enough. It’s going to take a collective effort by those who truly want to follow Jesus to build the Church based on Christ’s teachings.

 

February 2, 2022

Caring for the Flock

This is our third time with American pastor Paul O’Brien who writes at New Creation in X. Last year we mashed-up two shorter articles, this time around you must click through as we only had room for the first two of three sections. In the latter section he discusses who does the caring, in other words, how the modern church might delegate pastoral care.

Click the header which immediately follows.

Care in the Church

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

…First, the word “pastor” comes from the Latin word pastor, meaning shepherd. A pastor is a “shepherd” or “one who cares for a flock or herd.” That’s why “pastor” sounds like the word “pasture.” The two words are connected. “The concept of the leader as a shepherd is a theme with deep roots in God’s written revelation with its foundation in the Old Testament and fulfillment in the New.” We are going to briefly consider some of the passages about God’s call to leaders to provide shepherding care.

Care in the Old Testament

God has always shepherded His people (Gen. 48:15; Ps. 23:1; Ps. 71:17-18; 77:20; 78:52, 72; 80:1; 95:6-7; Is. 40:11; Mic. 5:4). Further, He has provided under-shepherds to lead and care for His people. He has told people that serve as leaders to shepherd His people (2 Sam. 7:7). Ironically, before Moses and David shepherded God’s people, they shepherded a literal flock of sheep (cf. Ps. 78:70-71).

God, for example, knows that unexperienced challenges come with age (2 Sam. 19:35; Eccl. 12:2-5) and He cares that His people are helped with those challenges. Scripture even says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Ps. 116:15). God deeply cares for His people and wants to see them cared for.

When God’s people are not rightly cared for, He is upset. God says, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture” (see Jer. 23:1-4)! And Ezekiel 34 shows that God takes the failure of His under-shepherds very seriously. He pronounces judgment on them (Ezek. 34:1-10). He promises He Himself will care for them (Ezek. 34:11-22). And He promises that the Perfect Shepherd will come and care for them (Ezek. 34:23-31). This brings us to the New Testament and pastors serving as Jesus’ under-shepherds.

Care in the New Testament

First, is Paul’s powerful exhortation to pastor/elders to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). What a high, precious, and important calling! Pastors are to care for what Jesus bought with His very blood. If it is that important to Jesus, how can it not be important to us?

Paul himself provides a powerful example of pastoral care. Paul visited people to “see how they are doing” (Acts 15:36). And his letters showed his shepherding care. His letters were part of his care. So, Paul sought to make disciples and care for disciples. These are complementary callings of church leaders.

Paul shared pastoral concern for God’s people. He wrote “I have you in my heart” (Phil. 1:7) as well as “being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). But Paul didn’t just write letters, he also visited people (Acts 15:36). So, Scripture would have us see the importance of ministry both “publicly” and “house to house” (Acts 20:20).

Second, Peter passed on what he heard from Jesus: “shepherd the flock” (John 21:15-17). Peter relayed the command that we are to shepherd the flock of God that is among us (1 Peter 5:1) yet Peter also reminds us of our motivation: that the chief Shepherd when He appears, will give us the unfading crown of glory (v. 4).

Third, Acts 6:1-7 shows us we must make plans, delegate, and ensure the practical needs of people in the church are taken care of. And Ephesians 4:7-16 shows us that it is not just pastors that are to do ministry, but a big part of pastoral ministry is equipping the saints to do ministry. The church is the body, and each member is to do their part if the body is to function as it is supposed to (1 Cor. 12:4-31). Each member is equipped with gifts from the Spirit (Rom. 12:3-8) and is supposed to employ them for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7). Sadly, a Gallup survey found that only 10% of church members in America are active in any kind of personal ministry.

Fourth, Jesus has compassion and cares for people when they helpless like a sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). Jesus holds church leaders responsible to care for His precious sheep. The leaders of the church are to keep watch on Jesus’ sheep knowing that they “will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17). In fact, Jesus sees the care of those who are “down in out” as though it was done for Him. So, as we visit people, Jesus sees it as though we were visiting Him (see Matthew 25:35–36).

King David, before he was king, risked his life for mere sheep (1 Samuel 17:34-36). King Jesus gave His life for His sinful people. He’s the Good Shepherd that lays down His life of the sheep (John 10:11). And His under-shepherds are to lovingly and practically care for those for whom He gave His life (Acts 20:28).

Thus, in summary, we have seen King Jesus, the Great and Sovereign Shepherd, laid down His life for the sheep and calls the church to care for His sheep. So, we must do so.

Biblical Delegation of Care

— Click here to read the article’s conclusion along with extensive footnotes.

January 12, 2022

A Powerful Church

Four years ago we introduced you to the writing of Bert M. Farias, who like another author frequently featured here, J. Lee Grady, has a blog at Charisma Magazine’s website. This time however, we’re featuring some writing from his own site, at Holy Fire Ministries. Bert has a number of published books, as well as two new ones due this month.

His primary audience is Pentecostal and Charismatic readers. Note that as you read. Click the header which follows and read today’s devotional at his site.

Christ’s True Church is One of Power

The Church began as a pure and powerful free flowing river in Acts 2, but through the centuries of time that river has picked up much dirt and debris (sin, man’s traditions, doctrines of demons, carnality, and compromise, etc.) until it became so muddied and diluted of its former character, power, and authority that it devolved into a shell of its former glory and such a phantom of the original. But in the last few centuries a glorious restoration has begun in its character, power, and authority until now we stand on the precipice of the greatest awakening and move of God this world has ever seen.

The early Church was birthed in Jerusalem where Jesus commanded them to wait for His POWER (Acts 1:8), and through the early apostles this POWER was carried forth to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth at the time. Then years later the “work” that Saul and Barnabas were separated unto added to the expansion of this gospel of POWER very quickly (Acts 13).

“As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the HOLY Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the WORK to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus” (Acts 13:2-4).

Most church members and saints, however, are not called to the “WORK” but specifically called locally. They have jobs, families, and relationships in their Jerusalem. Others’ sphere of influence will extend out to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world etc. This is the Lord’s divine design to add to the local churches and multiply the number of disciples and the obedience to the faith of many (Acts 6:7). It is to be the Church’s primary focus and commission.

UNITY IN THE BODY WHEN EACH FINDS THEIR PLACE

This is a simple word but profound and will create greater unity in the body when everyone finds their place. We cannot think of ourselves higher than we ought to, but at the same time, we cannot lightly esteem the lesser or weaker members either.

“But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased” (1 Cor. 12:18).

We often forget that this verse was written to the church at Corinth. It is in a local church setting and context. Here is another verse from another chapter:

“Do you not discern and understand that you [the whole church at Corinth] are God’s temple (His sanctuary), and that God’s Spirit has His permanent dwelling in you [to be at home in you, [collectively as a church and also individually]” (2 Cor. 3:16 — AMP)? We need more collective movement in the body and less independent movement. I’ll say more about that at another time.

THE WORK VS. THE LOCAL CHURCH

Saul and Barnabas along with three other prophets and teachers were ministering to the Lord and fasting at Antioch (Acts 13:1-2), when the Lord separated them to a WORK whose sphere of influence would be far beyond the local church in Antioch. Not everyone is called, separated, and sent that way. You can’t make yourself a prophet or a teacher, or an apostle, or choose it like you would choose a secular profession, as many self appointed Facebook and social media individuals do. I’d rather hear a donkey bray in a barn at midnight than listen to some of these pseudo “apostles” and “prophets” tout their latest revelations on social media. A true apostolic anointing has Power attached to it. It is God who appoints, anoints, sets and sends.

We see the immediate impact and results of this separation and sending. Saul (Paul) immediately begins to operate in a greater POWER and authority (Acts 13:8-12).

A TRANSFER OF POWER: STEPHEN AND PHILIP

In the early church at Jerusalem we see the same principle in operation as Stephen and Philip move from serving as deacons and tending to windows into a ministry of POWER and greater supernatural influence ( Acts 6-8). What often happens, though, is Christians get excited about Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth, and they lightly esteem Jerusalem. Spirit-filled leadership will recognize callings and anointings but it’s the Holy Spirit who does the “setting apart”. You can’t just lay hands on people to receive gifts and mantles, as is so common today, without the authorization of heaven and the direction of the Spirit. That’s just treating the things of the Spirit as common and playing with them as if they’re toys. It’s childish and irreverent to make so base that which is holy. Immaturity should not be a leader of God’s people.

LAYING ON OF HANDS WITH PRAYER AND FASTING

Honestly, so much of the laying on of hands today is done in the flesh. Often there is no leading of the Spirit to do it. No faith. No reverence. No POWER.

I remember being a part of a full gospel but still traditional church that would lay hands on the sick nearly every Sunday. The pastor would call up the elders, most of whom had no anointing, give each of them a bottle of oil, and just lay hands on people with no faith, no unction, and no POWER. Never did I see anyone healed. Never was there a testimony of such. You might as well just have laid hands on a piece of wood.

Friends, these things are holy. The laying on of hands is holy whether it be for healing or setting someone apart for ministry. There is supposed to be active faith and/or a transfer of POWER with it. There should be believing effectual prayer and at times fasting attached to it.

Notice that it wasn’t until the apostles laid hands on the seven that Philip and Stephen began to move out and preach the gospel in great miracle POWER (Acts 6:8). They received a great impartation and transfer of Power from the apostles when they hands on them.

STEPHEN

“… whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:6,8).

PHILIP

“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed” (Acts 8:5-7).

This is not for everyone. We have no record of the other five deacons receiving the same impartation or transfer of POWER Philip and Stephen did. Yes, we are all commissioned to preach and to lay hands on the sick and cast out devils (*Mark 16:15-18), but some are called, especially anointed, and appointed to a ministry office or function.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:27-28).

God sets in the body whomever He wills and appoints various ministry gifts. Some are called to work locally all their lives. Others will mature into greater callings of greater influence. Stay content in that and don’t push for ministry beyond the scope of what the Lord has ordained. Even John the beloved, an apostle, appears to have limited himself to mainly Jerusalem for sometime to care for Jesus’s mother Mary and help oversee the local church before ending up at Ephesus, and then confined to the island of Patmos in his later years. But he lived longer than the rest of the original apostles and became known as the apostle of love from what we glean from the gospel and epistle that bears his name.

Not every minister has an international ministry. I believe some ministries are confined to their present locale and region. The same could hold true with apostolic and prophetic ministries. Be faithful to your local church family and community as Philip and Stephen were, and if God sees fit to increase your sphere of influence let Him do it. Don’t initiate it on your own. Your overseers, if they are Spirit-filled men, will know it.

Find your place in your grace. Function in your unction. Remain in your lane.

In conclusion, read the following portion of Scripture very slowly and carefully:

“They compare themselves to one another and make up their own standards to measure themselves by, and then they judge themselves by their own standards. What self-delusion! But we are those who choose to limit our boasting to only the measure of the work to which God has appointed us—a measure that, by the way, has reached as far as you. And since you are within our assigned limits, we didn’t overstep our boundaries of authority by being the first to announce to you the wonderful news of the Anointed One. We’re not trying to take credit for the ministry done by others, going beyond the limits God set for us. Instead, our hope soars as your faith continues to grow, causing a great expansion of our ministry among you” (2 Cor. 12:12-15 — TPT).

I could say so much about these verses, but that will have to be for another time.

Stay tuned or buy the book (s) when it’s published.

December 11, 2021

The Church Around the World

I checked the date this morning and noticed it was two weeks before Christmas, and it struck me that this date is applicable to the Christian community around the world. It’s not a regional or local celebration, but one that is visible (at the very least) to the entire population around the globe.

In The Apostles Creed, we affirm that we believe in “the holy Catholic church,” which references this global fellowship. A 2008 article on the Christian History page of Christianity Today notes that,

…Millions of Protestants still repeat these words every week as they stand in worship to recite the Apostles’ Creed. The word catholic was first used in this sense in the early second century when Ignatius of Antioch declared, “Where Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.” Jesus Christ is the head of the church, as well as its Lord. Protestant believers in the tradition of the Reformation understand the church to be the body of Christ extended throughout time as well as space, the whole company of God’s redeemed people  through the ages.

Protestants, of course, do not equate “catholic” with “Roman Catholic.” To avoid this misunderstanding, some prefer to say “holy Christian church.” While there is nothing wrong with this term, we should not be embarrassed by the older wording. The word catholic simply means “general, universal, concerning the whole.”…

There is a passage in Isaiah giving the people a song that they are to use to “taunt” the King of Assyria upon their promised release. While it is specific to that time, I believe the prophetic language has broader repercussions.

26 This is the plan determined for the whole world;
    this is the hand stretched out over all nations.
27 For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him?
    His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?

God’s hand is stretched out, and is plans and purposes will be seen not only throughout the whole world, but throughout the all ages of history. It is “determined for the whole world.”

As New Covenant Christians, our Good News is also to everyone, everywhere:

Matthew.24.14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Elsewhere we read,

1 John.2.2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

and again, in the epistles:

Col.1.3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.

“Growing throughout the world world” means our story began then and continues now to spread throughout the earth.

Paul again affirms the international scope of the Christian faith in another epistle:

Romans.1.16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

As we start to wrap up the implications of this “holy Catholic church,” three passages I know have already come to mind for you:

Mark.16.15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

Matthew.28.19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Acts.1.8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The global nature of the Christian faith, starting at the time when we entered the New Testament era, stands in contrast to the Old Testament era, where the surrounding nations’ gods were localized and territorial. (Thus the need for so many, in contrast to the God of Israel who was/is one.)

With two weeks to go, we join the community of believers around the world in recognition of incarnation, through human birth the divine one has entered into our history, Emmanuel, God with us.

The opportunities this gives to share this good news at this time of year are immense, if we’ll only look for them and be prepared for them.

This we say:

Psalm.72.19 Praise be to his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.

September 20, 2021

A Call for Sleepers to Awaken

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:09 pm
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A year ago we introduced you to writer and photographer Lydia Shearin, who writes at Soli Deo Gloria. The blog is not currently active, but we found this one from February of this year. She begins with stories of morning wake-ups and then continues where we pick it up today. To read the whole devotional, click the header which follows.

Wake Up

I came across a passage in Revelation 3 that grabbed my attention, because I was reminded that individuals are not the only ones who need a wake up call in the mornings; churches do as well:

“To the messenger of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Revelation 3:1-3

Here in Revelation, the apostle John is given a vision in which Jesus himself speaks to the seven major churches of the time, offering them praise for their good works, and commands to change any ungodly behavior in the church. To Sardis, the fifth church, he gives a command that is relevant to the church of the world today: Wake Up!

How many churches today are just like Sardis, having a reputation as places of life, but which are truly filled with dead bones? How many churches are dwindling in size and power because their worship has become hollow and they have stopped relying on God to move? How many churches today have deeds that are ‘unfinished in the sight of God’? To how many churches is Jesus crying out, “Wake up! Don’t miss out on what I am doing!”

I would wager that their are more churches like Sardis than we think.

Just like my friend started out as a light sleeper, churches that are just planted can be awakened more easily; they are praying people, more in tune with the voice of their Father. But as a church grows, it has a tendency to become set in its ways, to become prideful in what God has accomplished through it, and little by little, the things that used to awaken the church from apathy are no longer effective. The whispers of the Holy Spirit are silenced. Wise counsel is ignored. The people become apathetic, treating church like a golf club or social group. So the question is, what does God have to do to wake up his church?

Whether he uses circumstances to shake us up, allowing (and in many cases, sending) disease, tragedy, famine, and political unrest, or whether he uses individual believers to spark a revival in churches, his message is always the same. In this passage in Revelation, God warns churches that if they stay asleep, they will die; they will not only miss the work God is doing today, but they will be shocked at the coming of Christ.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-8 echos this same warning:

“Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.”

1 Thessalonians 5:1-8 (emphasis mine)

Here, Paul warns churches that Jesus is coming back any day, and they need to be awake and ready, lest they be caught off guard. There is no time for sleeping churches in God’s economy. There is no time for us to wrap ourselves in comfortable blankets of tradition and hit the snooze button when the Lord calls for action. We don’t have time to live in a dreamland of past successes when there are broken people in our own neighborhoods that need help right now!

Where are the Pastors who will pray on their faces at the altar for revival in their churches? Where are the church members who will surround their leadership in prayer and support? Where are the students who will share Christ with their friends at school because they can’t bear to be silent about the God who saved them? Where are the Mothers and Fathers who will raise up their children to follow the Lord?

Church, we have been sleeping for long enough. It is time for us to be unified in faith and love. It is time for us to seek the Lord. It is time for us to wake up.

August 24, 2021

Long Distance Pastors

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
 – Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT

Last night at suppertime for the entire meal, the discussion around our table centered around a West Coast pastor who is planting a church in the Great Lakes region. I know this pastor, follow him on Twitter, and have read and reviewed his books. I understand how people gravitate to his style of teaching.

Most of what we call church growth is actually transfer growth. While some people say the one area of true growth is in fact, new church plants, most of the people supporting this new venture will be leaving another church. Were they planning this, or it more of a desire to be part of something new and fresh? Were they serving in their former congregation and are now leaving a vacancy? The launch meetings for the new church are free, but are ticketed events, which are sold out. What will be the impact on nearby churches?
It also amazes me that his West Coast leaders would sense a need in a place which, a century ago, was called “a city of churches.”

Many of our modern translations render the word pastor as shepherd. The requirements of pastors (plural) are therefore the requirements of shepherds (singular). The leadership of the multi-site church launching half a continent away would argue that there are local shepherds in place who will tend the flock. But it’s the teaching pastor who will ultimately draw many people to the church.

I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the LORD.
 – Jeremiah 23:4 NIV [The NKJV, ESV and others render missing as lacking.]

One person said that the best small groups are those where you can’t actually tell who is in charge. While that may work for small groups, and while churches with a plurality of leadership are often good and healthy, it’s clear that God’s intention is that in each local expression of the body of Christ, there is someone who is “over them.”

By separating out the roles of teaching pastors from the scriptural idea of shepherds we create situations such as exist in several megachurches in the southern U.S., where after 5-10 years of attending, it occurs to people that they’ve never met their lead pastor, shaken his hand or exchanged any words. Further, these pastors don’t do weddings, funerals, home visits or hospital visits.

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood.
 – Acts 20:28 CSB

For many years we were part of a church where the pastor excelled at teaching, but also was diligent about staying in touch with people through various contexts. Granted, it was a smaller church, but I always felt that his mid-week contacts earned him the right to be heard on Sunday mornings. I felt his intimate knowledge of the congregation informed his preaching. It made what would have been good scripture exposition better.

“Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you knowledge and understanding.
 – Jeremiah 3:15

That’s just not possible when you have delegated funeral, wedding and visitation responsibilities to other staff members, although in the case of my West Coast example, he does seem to be able to have those interactions there, but I’m not sure how he replicates this when the other church is thousands of miles away.

Furthermore, I Peter 5:2 seems to indicate that this should be the desire of the pastor. The same character traits and attributes which flow through their DNA in the calling to this service, should also apply to their willingness to embed themselves in the life of their flock for the period where they serve that particular church, in that particular place for that particular time. Peter writes,

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
– I Peter 5:1-14

Elsewhere, as in I Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9 we see the more commonly discussed requirements of church leaders (elders) which includes pastors. There is a strong emphasis in those passages on character and ethics. But today, I wanted to focus entirely on the idea of pastors having a heart for individual people, not crowds, and a deep working knowledge of their situations and the issues which are on their minds.

Know well the condition of your flocks,
and give attention to your herds

Be diligent to know the state of your flocks,
And attend to your herds
– Proverbs 27:23 ESV and NKJV

There’s nothing wrong with sitting under the best Christian Bible exposition that is available, but we mustn’t confuse this with the role of pastor, which isn’t something which can be done long-distance.

 

 

 

July 15, 2021

Parallels Between the Ethiopian Eunuch’s Story And Ours

NIV.Acts.8.30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31a “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?”

This article is based on a sermon that was a sequel to the one which presented here last week and appeared under the title below. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in one of several Canadian denominations of Baptist.  We hope some of the good things he has to say about his faith family apply to yours as well. The scripture focus today is the story of the eunuch who was some type of government official as well, so I’m not sure why we focus on his eunuchicity. (Like that word?) He was riding in a chariot when the encounter took place. Clarke has linked the scripture text in the article.

What I Love About Being a Baptist Despite My Misgivings About Baptists

by Clarke Dixon

Yes, I am a Baptist pastor, but no I don’t always like Baptists.

First off, I don’t like being a Baptist when people think they know what you are like and what you believe. This happens for people from every Christian tradition I’m sure, but when you are a Baptist, you face things like “you can’t dance.” True enough in my case, but that is not a theological thing, I’m just not good at it.

People hear you are a Baptist and think Westboro Baptist, they think Republican party. They don’t think Tommy Douglas, an NDP politician voted the Greatest Canadian in a national poll by the CBC not too long ago. Oh, and he was also a Baptist pastor.

People think “Bible thumpers.” They don’t think of people who put a lot of thought into reading and understanding the Bible.

We also have a reputation for not getting along with others, including each other! When it comes to the churches we officially associate with, the sentiment is often expressed, “if they are in, we are out.”

Worldwide, Baptists are one massive dysfunctional, disorganized, and often estranged-from-each-other kind of family.

What I love about being a Baptist, despite my misgivings.

In reading the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-39 we can find some of the reasons I love being a Baptist.

I love being a Baptist because freedom is important.

The Ethiopian Eunuch came to trust in Jesus freely and of his own accord. Phillip did not force him, in fact being baptized was the Ethiopian’s idea. He would also have been free to reject what Phillip told him about Jesus. If my sons express faith and are baptized, it will be their decision, their faith, not mine.

We promote the freedom to worship God according to our own conscience and not under compulsion from any government or church hierarchy telling us what to believe and how to live as followers of Jesus.

We also believe in the importance of freedom for others to worship God, or not, according to their own conscience. Religious freedom, within reason, for all people is important to us.

We do not think of the Christian Church as being a community of people who ought to be Christian because they are born in a certain nation, but rather a community of people who have freely chosen to follow Jesus, no matter where they are from.

I love being a Baptist because our main creed is ‘Jesus is Lord.’

Jesus was the focus for Phillip when the Ethiopian asked about the suffering servant in the scroll of Isaiah he was reading. We see no effort on Phillip’s part in trying to get the the Ethiopian to start practicing a certain kind of religion, or buy into a certain tradition, but rather he introduces him to Jesus. As Baptists, we are all about Jesus.

Jesus is Lord, and therefore the head of the church, not a king or queen, or a pope. This is why congregational voting is so important to us. The hierarchy of the church is not Lord, nor is the pastor, but Jesus. Since Jesus is Lord, we believe finding out what our Lord desires is very important. Since we believe that the Lord speaks through the entire body of believers, we ask the entire congregation. The way we discern what the Lord desires is through every member. Our congregational votes are not about the preference of the members, but the discernment of the mind of Christ, even when that may be contrary to one’s own preference.

I love being a Baptist because the Bible is our authority.

The Scriptures played an important role in the Ethiopian’s embrace of Jesus. We are a people for whom the Bible is very important, it is our authority.

We should note that Jesus is Lord and the Bible is our authority. The way we talk about it, however, may cause some people to think our belief is that the Bible is Lord and our particular understanding of it is the authority.

Since the Bible is our authority, we keep going back to it in every generation. While confessions of faith have been drawn up by different Baptist groups over the years, we often push against the idea of having such. We can learn from what those in former generations have learned and taught from the Bible, but they are not the authority. The Bible is our authority and not a statement of faith. Therefore, the teaching of the Bible can come alive for every generation and in every context.

I was once asked for a statement of faith by an organization wanting to partner with our church. I asked if they would like a pdf of the Bible!

I love being a Baptist because there is a focus on each person relating to Jesus directly.

When the Ethiopian Eunuch trusted in Jesus, he did not need to go find an official priest back at the temple in order to experience the forgiveness of sin. His sin was forgiven at the cross. He was free to come before the throne of God without any need for a priest as a “go-between.”

We call this the priesthood of all believers, each person relating directly to God through Jesus. We also have the role of priests, of being “go-betweens,” presenting God to people through witness and conversation, and people to God, through prayer.

I love being a Baptist because it is a grass roots, keep-it-simple-like-the-early-Christians-did kind of movement.

The baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch was not very formal at all. If this Ethiopian came to faith in Jesus today and said “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?(Acts 8:36 NRSV), we would come up with reasons! We would make it complicated. Some churches, and entire denominations, have such complications formalized in the rules of how things are to be done, on baptism, in fact on everything. We Baptists don’t always keep it simple, but the opportunity is there to do so.

Conclusion

If people are turned off by organized religion, then we can tell them not to worry, for we are highly disorganized religion! Seriously though, our goal is not to help people move towards organized religion, but relationships and connections starting with a vital relationship and connection with Jesus. This is what Phillip did in the life of the Ethiopian Eunuch.

People today do not like organized religion but they do like authenticity. We have space, as Baptists, for authenticity. We do not say; “here are our traditions and rules developed in another time and place, which you all need to conform to,” but, “here is the Bible, how does it speak into how we walk with Christ in our day, in ways that are authentic to our time and place?”

At the end of the day, it is all about helping people know Jesus and walk with Jesus, like Phillip did with the Ethiopian Eunuch. May we, who are Baptists, be like Phillip, but even more so may we be like Jesus.

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