Christianity 201

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.

June 23, 2021

We’re Christians, We Sing

Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.
 – Eph 5:19 NLT

Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
– Ps. 96:1 NIV

A year ago we introduced a new writer, A.K. Francis who has been writing fiction for more than ten years, but more recently started writing faith-focused articles during the time of pandemic, in a series titled In The Valley of Fear and Solitude. Click the header which follows to read today’s article at source.

Singing in Church

…[T]here has been something that I have been thinking about doing a blog on for a while now – kind of since the beginning of lockdown. But I’ve always been a little worried it might turn into a rant…or a science paper.

You see, it is about one of my favourite things, which happens to be illegal at the moment.

No, NOT raves – I’m not remotely interested in those.

Or Hugging, which I can live with or without.

What I am going to talk about today is…

Congregational singing 😀

Or, to be less posh, singing in church.

‘But you sing in church now’ I hear you say, ‘And you sang in church last week, and like twice at Easter.’ Yes…But…the church I went to where we sang was outdoors, and the other times I was in a band or a choir…and no one was singing back.

Normally, in the kind of church I go to (Slightly towards the evangelical end of middle of the road Anglican) there is a group of people who lead the singing (a choir, a band, or a dude with a beard and a guitar) and then everyone else joins in, following their lead.

One of the things I have always felt is great about church is getting to worship – in the form of singing – together.

But right now, we can’t do that. Unless we are not actually with the others in the service (e.g we are on zoom or youtube) we cannot join them in worship.

This might seem like a small complaint, and it is when the case load is as high as it was in January. But my fear is that as we return to ‘normal’ this key part of church might not be allowed to return or might be forgotten. And that its importance may be overlooked.

Of course, not all Christians share my views about this. There have been bans on singing in church during points in our history that have nothing to do with illness. Battle also continue to range over exactly what kind and style of songs should be sung in church.

But here is the thing…

I think there are two aims to our singing in church. The first one is probably most obvious, and probably doesn’t require each one of us to be in the same building to sing the words.

We sing to worship God.

Throughout the Bible, people sing to God – most of the longest ‘book’ in the bible – the Psalms – are poems put to music – and singing in large groups features in old testament celebrations and in visions of the end times. In these visions, people of every race, tribe and people gather together to praise God for eternity. There is a suggestion here that, on the place with no sickness, sorrow, or death, people listen to the singing – very much the whole multitude sing to God together.

While it has been wise, out of love for one another, not to sing while covid risk was high, it is harder to justify the prevention of collective praise of God as the risk decreases. To lose this opportunity to point towards our hope – that eternity we will spend praising God together – is deeply painful.

There is evidence that actually, speaking and singing at the same volume gives the same level of risk. So why the reduction to only a choir for singing, when we can also recite the words of a service together?

Although helpful for reflection and prayer as worship, it is perhaps difficult to fully worship as a group without being able to lift our voices together – an echo of that future day when we join together in one voice.

Some churches have been so fixed on this point that they have refused to meet until singing in church is fully permitted. They are worried perhaps that it will become a performance, rather than an act of worship, shared as a family/community in Christ. I am less sure on this total ban, as I think it removes any chance to meet with others to worship in prayer and to do the other major role of the church – to pray for the needs of the world, and to encourage one another.

And here we reach the second purpose of prayer in the church:

We sing to encourage one another.

In singing to God, we also spur each other onward. One of my pet peeves of modern church is that it can feel very robotic and detached. People come along and sing in their own bubble, but never build a community, never aim to ask about one another’s lives. It can also often feel rather like the music is a performance. The band or choir stand up and play and sing beautifully – or at least very loudly – and at the end people clap.

But the congregation don’t tend to sing as loudly – and the words don’t necessarily make sense of this easier. There are a lot of modern songs which use the first person – I – far more than is useful. (they have sometimes been nicknamed ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ songs). They talk about faith as an individual journey, perhaps suggesting a path independent of everyone else. When, actually, this is a walk we go on together as a church. If lockdown has shown us anything, it is that we need one another. I hope we can take that into our churches, and remember to encourage one another in the faith.

Older hymns speak of the wonder of God, but also encourage others in their journey. We should join in to encourage others that our experience is the same. We sing to be a community.

In the secular world, most of us can remember a song which was connected to a community we were involved in. Be it songs we learnt in cubs, scouts, or brownies, ‘the school song’ (in english or sometimes Latin), songs of a particular social justice movement such as spirituals in the civil rights campaigns, or even a national anthem. These songs speak of our collective goals, aims and desires in that community. We know them by heart, and we sing them to one another with pride (or at least hum the tune because the Latin is unpronounceable and the tune sounds like a merry-go-round)

Singing builds us up as a community, encouraging us that we are not alone.

Christian hymns, psalms and spiritual songs should not be any different – they should be a major part of both our worship and the holding together of our community.

In the Old testament, the Israelites travelling to Jerusalem for the festivals at the temple sang what were called the songs of ascent (because they went up the hill) a number of which are recorded in the Psalms. These are songs of praise to God, listing all that he had done for them. They also include confession of sins, and calling out to God with verses of praise following, reminding the Israelites of all that their God had done for them, and all that he promised still to do.

They include several psalms I have featured in previous blogs. Including 130, and perhaps most famously, Psalm 121 which begins:

I lift my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep

Psalm 121 v 1-4

The Israelites were encouraging one another that their belief was true and God’s love and promises certain – even as they praised Him collectively for His love and promise. They were songs to build one another up in the faith.

This is, I fear, what we lose when we cannot sing together. Yes, we can praise God, and I am sure that being back together as one people in church in silence has developed our reflection, focus and prayer lives.

But, there is a lack of singing together, or being able to build one another up, which begins to chafe as we get to this stage of the pandemic where we so want to be able to heal and build one another back up after the months of hardship. When the case rate was high, this sacrifice made sense. As we come out, we need to look at how we can get singing again.

It is something that does not make sense to those outside of the church – it just seems like a sing song add on to a religious event – nice to look at and listen to, but not something which brings sustenance to the people involved. But this is something which builds us up – and speaks to those coming in to church from outside.

It has been brilliant to focus on the words as we hear them sung to us. It has been a time to strengthen prayer in our lives and our churches.

And now, I think it is time to hold one another up again in song as we praise God together for bringing us through the long night of the pandemic.

That is certainly my prayer for the future.

God willing.

 

 

May 7, 2021

When a Church is Not Producing Real Fruit

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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For a ninth time, we are featuring the writing of Mark McIntyre at Attempts at Honesty. While this one is church-focused, there is definitely an obvious personal takeaway you can gather from this as well. As always you’re encouraged to read these at source, so click the header below, check out other devotionals, and if you like what you see, sign up to subscribe.

No wax fruit

I have a pear tree, an apple tree, and a cherry tree in my yard. If they were not producing fruit, I could go out and buy a bunch of wax apples, cherries and pears and hang them on the trees. This would make the trees look productive to those passing by, but wouldn’t fool anyone who took the time to take a closer look.

In the same way, I have seen churches that manufacture a frenzy of activity that seems to indicate that there is spiritual growth taking place, but upon closer examination, I find only the appearance of fruitfulness.

Jesus said to the Church in Sardis,

“I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.”

Revelation 3:1, ESV

The problem lies in a faulty understanding of what it means to build the church. When Jesus builds the church, he uses the preaching of the gospel to transform individual hearers into children of God. The church’s responsibility ends with the proclamation of the gospel and the “equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). Real growth can only take place when the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit bring about new life in the hearers.

But it seems that in 2021, the “experts” seem reluctant to wait upon God to bring growth so they invent methods to bring people in and make it appear that spiritual growth is taking place. The problem is that the fruit we produce by human methods is wax fruit and not real fruit.

The experts say you need professional musicians, concert-style lighting, slick branding, and polished speakers who won’t offend the hearers, to draw people in and, hopefully, capture their attention. Keep it fun and keep it light.

But when a church spends more effort on its style and branding than it does on teaching its members what it means to live in the obedience of faith (Romans 1:5), then little, if anything, of substance, is taking place.

I suppose it would be prudent to remind us what else Jesus wrote to Sardis:

“Remember then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.”

Revelation 3:3, ESV

When the tree no longer produces real fruit, it may be time to cut down the tree.

When the church no longer produces spiritual fruit, it’s time to find a different church.

Because if they are not producing spiritual fruit, it is evidence that Jesus has already left the building. And, if Jesus isn’t there, there’s not much point in staying.


Bonus link: If you enjoyed this article, Mark has another one from earlier in the year where he also examined a problem that can impact local churches: The situation where leaders pledge or vow to uphold the standards and practices of a denomination and then choose to do disregard those promises and their own thing. Check out Fulfill What You Vow.

March 25, 2021

What is the Greatest Threat Facing the Church in Our Day?

A Shrunk Sermon from John 15

by Clarke Dixon

What is the greatest threat to the Christian Church moving forward in our land in our day?

Is it the pandemic? Some churches have really struggled, but most have been doing okay, we at our church are guardedly hopeful and also thankful for faithfulness among our people.

Is it changing values in society? Values certainly are changing, but the early Christians thrived in a world where people had very different values. Should we be forcing our values on everyone else anyway? The early Christians did not, they lived their lives in honour of Christ, and invited others to do likewise. There was no thought of forcing non-Christians to behave like Christians.

Is it the Internet? Now that people have become used to attending church from home while wearing pyjamas and drinking coffee, will people want to gather? Besides, on the internet people can tune into the exact style of Christianity they want, with the exact style of preaching and teaching they enjoy. On the positive side, people do like to gather, and many will find that what is lost by not gathering is greater than the convenience of online-only worship.

Perhaps the greatest threat is none of the above. Perhaps we find it in the words of Jesus:

If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.

John 15:18-19 (NLT) 18

Is the greatest threat to the Church, to Christianity, hatred from those who hate God?

Let us keep in mind the context of these words. Jesus is speaking to the twelve disciples here. Jesus goes on to tell them what to expect:

I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith. For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God. This is because they have never known the Father or me. Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember my warning. I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer.

John 16:1-4 (NLT)

The religious leaders did indeed think they were serving God by opposing the disciples and their message that Jesus was risen from the dead. Saul, who came to be known as the apostle Paul was a prime example of that. The disciples really did face opposition, as described by Jesus, in a way that I have not faced in my lifetime.

Some Christians do face that same kind of persecution today. For them the hatred is real. Thankfully, so are the promises of God. People are dying for living for Jesus.

But we are not facing that level or kind of opposition today here in Canada. No one [where we live] wants us dead for being believers. There are those in Canada who would be happy to see Christianity stamped out, but they are probably an even smaller minority group than those who attend church regularly. Outright hatred of God, of Christianity, of Christians, doesn’t seem to be big problem here in Canada.

Perhaps there is a bigger problem facing churches in Canada than hatred, a problem Taylor Swift sings about in a song

I forgot that you existed
And I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t
And it was so nice
So peaceful and quiet
I forgot that you existed
It isn’t love, it isn’t hate
It’s just indifference

Taylor Swift • Louis Bell • Adam King Feeney (emphasis added)

Christianity was not likely on Taylor Swift’s mind when she wrote this song, but rather an ex. However, the song does point to a challenge facing the Church in Canada; indifference. People don’t hate us because we are Christians. They just don’t care that we are.

So is apathy toward God, expressed through indifference toward Christianity the biggest threat?

Over this past year I have heard many people say how they can’t imagine how people face these trying times without God in their lives. But some of the words of Taylor Swift’s song ring true for some people who may have been raised Christian but who have now rejected Christianity.

I forgot that you existed
And I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t
And it was so nice
So peaceful and quiet

I forgot that you existed

Taylor Swift • Louis Bell • Adam King Feeney (emphasis added)

Some people have ditched Christianity and reported having a sense of relief. They have experienced a kind of freedom. But have they experienced freedom from God, or freedom from a kind of religion that didn’t help them experience God?

That brings us to one other possibility.

Maybe the greatest challenge facing the church today isn’t hatred, or indifference, or maybe it isn’t what is happening to the Church from outside, maybe it is what has happened to the Church on the inside.

Let us go back to the words Jesus spoke on the night before he was crucified:

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:1-5 (NLT)

Perhaps the greatest threat facing the Church in Canada is a group of people known as Christians. Perhaps we are the greatest threat when we don’t remain in the vine, when our faith is not centred on, and focused on, Jesus.

Jesus said “Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit” (v.5 ). Note that Jesus did not say
“If you double down on being religious, you will bear much fruit.” Doubling down on religion is what we sometimes do, especially when we feel threatened,

Doubling down on religion was the very thing the religious leaders were telling people to do in the days they were plotting the death of Jesus. Doubling down on religion was what the religious leaders thought they were doing when they were looking to kill the apostles. Needless to say, they were not bearing good fruit.

Jesus said “Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit” (v.5 ). Note that Jesus did not say “if you double down on your own understanding of the Scriptures, you will bear much fruit.” There were plenty of differing interpretations of the Scriptures in that day. Jesus did not say “if you double down on this particular interpretation, or that particular interpretation,” but rather “if you abide in me.”

The Scriptures are super important. They point us to Jesus. But they cannot replace Jesus.

I don’t talk often enough about our Baptist distinctives, and I’m pleased that our church family is made up of people from different backgrounds. Two are the distinctives are the “Jesus is Lord” and “The Bible is our authority.” Jesus is Lord, and not the emperor, Queen, or Prime Minister. The Bible is the authority for understanding faith and how we live out the Christian life, not church tradition, nor church hierarchy.

Having my ear to the ground in Baptist circles it seems to me that sometimes we have replaced “Jesus is Lord” and “The Bible is our authority” with “The Bible is Lord” and “Our tradition of how we understand the Bible is the authority,” or worse, “my interpretation of the Bible is the authority.” When we focus on our tradition, our interpretation of the Bible in all its details, we begin to divide. Not long after Jesus told the disciples to abide in him, he prayed for unity. Unity is found when we abide in the vine. Unity is threatened when we abide in our own understanding.

I love the Bible. In fact for years now I have been putting in the extra effort to read it in the original languages. But I don’t want to be known as someone who spends a lot of time in the Bible, though that is something I do. I want to be known as someone who spends a lot of time with Jesus.

The Bible can help us break through to beauty in our lives and in all our relationships, if we read it as people who are Christ-centered. But the Bible can also lead to ugliness if we are not Christ-centered.

Not long before Baptists, there were Anabaptists, a movement of Christians who in searching the Scriptures came to believe that baptism should be of believers, by immersion. They were persecuted by fellow Christians, who sometimes in a cruel joke would tie them to rocks and throw them off bridges into rivers, sending them to death by drowning, claiming that now they really had experienced baptism by immersion.

Now how is that kind of behaviour consistent with people who are abiding in Jesus? It is consistent with people who are abiding in religion, or abiding in a specific interpretation of the Scriptures that is divorced from Jesus.

When people who are not Christians hear about that kind of thing happening, they say “who would want to have anything to do with that?”

The biggest threat to the Church moving forward in Canada today is the same threat that the Church has faced in every time and place – we Christians who are not focused and centered on Christ.


You can watch a full video of the sermon on which this is based, or can see it in the full context of this “online worship expression

February 6, 2021

When There Were No “Mega” Churches, But Many “Super” Apostles

The construction of vast, cavernous auditoriums in which congregations could worship would be such a foreign concept to the people in the Apostle Paul’s day, where they met “from house to house” and everything was “small group” based. How ironic now that during the Covid-19 pandemic, so many of these same large buildings sit empty, which parishioners fellowship in their homes, or in Zoom groups.

The macro has become micro.

But while they didn’t have “megachurches” there is this interesting reference in 2nd Corinthians 11 to “super-apostles.” First, the context, and I’m using the CEB today:

If a person comes and preaches some other Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different Spirit than the one you had received, or a different gospel than the one you embraced, you put up with it so easily!

So like so much of the content in the New Testament epistles, this is going to be about false teachers. This is a theme that runs through these letters to the point that you cannot escape noting the problem this was for the early church. Remember, you didn’t have to look back far to the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, so everything was in its infancy; there weren’t hundred of years of Christian tradition.

Then our key verse emerges:

I don’t consider myself as second-rate in any way compared to the “super-apostles.”

While knowing the Greek usually helps with literal translation, you could still miss the sarcasm. That the phrase is in quotation marks ought to give us a clue.  Some translations use “chiefest apostles,” or “most eminent…apostles,” or “superlative apostles;” but even there many add the quotation marks to help the reader get the intended snark. Paul is not impressed, not by the number of books they have published or the size of their television audience.

Okay, they didn’t have those metrics, but there’s no great imagination needed to picture there being teachers who were the most-talked-about “flavor of the month” with the people. They gravitated to these people in the same manner in which people today gravitate to the larger churches, the ones led by small-c charismatic personalities.

I must confess personally that in the days when we traveled to the United States, if we were seeking out a church for weekend worship, we always chose the well-known large congregations. Seeking out a medium-sized assembly where God is really doing great things through the congregation probably would have required some research.

Furthermore, such medium-sized congregations will attest to the truth that the megachurches, by their great influence, are setting the agenda for all churches in North America. The pressure to conform to the programs and ministry philosophy which is so obviously working is immense.

Additionally, these are often the churches and church leaders which fail spectacularly. A few weeks ago, on our other blog, I took the time to list all of the churches, pastors, authors and Christian leaders who had suffered damage to their brand in 2020. It’s a very long list.

Some of the translations for verse 5 are more obvious with Paul’s intended remarks: “big-shot ‘apostles,”'” or “grandiose apostles,” the latter which makes me wondering if they’ve spent too much time at the all-you-can-eat buffet; which is a suggestion that could be supported by empirical evidence.

Later in the chapter, Paul makes his use of satire completely obvious; not the phrase in parenthesis at the end:

20 You put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone places themselves over you, or if someone hits you in the face. 21 I’m ashamed to say that we have been weak in comparison! But in whatever they challenge me, I challenge them (I’m speaking foolishly).

What comes next? Paul defines his own “super apostleship” and it’s not a job description that would have prospective apostles lining up:

23 Are they ministers of Christ? I’m speaking like a crazy person. What I’ve done goes well beyond what they’ve done. I’ve worked much harder. I’ve been imprisoned much more often. I’ve been beaten more times than I can count. I’ve faced death many times. 24 I received the “forty lashes minus one” from the Jews five times. 25 I was beaten with rods three times. I was stoned once. I was shipwrecked three times. I spent a day and a night on the open sea. 26 I’ve been on many journeys. I faced dangers from rivers, robbers, my people, and Gentiles. I faced dangers in the city, in the desert, on the sea, and from false brothers and sisters. 27 I faced these dangers with hard work and heavy labor, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, and in the cold without enough clothes.

What led me to this passage, and the whole chapter today, is something that John Stackhouse wrote just a week ago in a piece titled Expectations for Christian Leadership:

Here, Paul says, is what genuine apostolic ministry entails. You can expect to be beaten—beaten hard, beaten often.

From Nigeria to China today, pastors are being beaten. Even rank-and-file believers live under the shadow of imminent physical danger of the worst sorts.

I wonder how many pretty-boy pastors would sign up for that job if instead of looking forward to affording excellent sneakers they could look forward to a beating. And then another. And another after that.

Likewise, I wonder how many students would aspire to become public teachers of Christianity—theologians and such—when such a position would require being punched, not just disagreed with or even maybe (horrors!) disrespected.

We live in crazy, mixed-up times, and while the people in Paul’s day didn’t have to deal with the dominance of enormous (and currently empty) megachurch buildings, they certainly faced the related cult of personality.


Dig Deeper: I encourage you today to take an extra few minutes to read the whole chapter.

September 1, 2020

Keeping a Sense of God’s Holy Presence

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Far too often true, humble worship is lost in the shadow of giftedness.

With so much clamor and movement it is hard to sense the otherness and grandeur, the holiness and authority, of God, His voice and His Spirit – the Divine Presence

 ~ Arnold Reimer


Today we return to the writing of Arnold Reimer, for many years the pastor of Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto, and his blog titled Finishing Well.

The Divine Presence

One of the most amazing promises of God to His people is: “Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.” To His threatened prophet, Isaiah, God declared: “You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you. Do not fear, for I am with you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

In spite of His people’s oft waywardness, God led them through forty years of wilderness, with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, assurances of His presence with them, His protection of them, and His purpose for them.

When Jesus told His frightened disciples He was going to leave them, He also assured them, “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you. After a little while the world will behold me no more; but you will behold Me; because I live, you shall live also. In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me and I in you.

What could be more awesome and reassuring than to know the Creator of the universe, God Almighty, Sovereign over all, is with us, even in us? That is the reality for all who believe in, and receive, the saving work of Jesus Christ. What security and boldness that gives to our going out and coming in! What comfort in the face of trial and hardship! What meaning that brings to each new day! The eternal, all-wise God is with us. His Spirit indwells us, teaches us, leads us, enables us, provides for us, protects us. It is as He promised, “Lo, I am with you always.”

I cannot think of many things more important than this truth. It is vital to our physical, mental and spiritual well-being that we do not forget or belittle this reality. Our need and sense of the Divine Presence puts purpose and urgency into our daily reading of the Bible. It motivates and focuses prayer. It emboldens godly living and witness. It encourages fellowship with the saints. It directs worship and stimulates desire to serve God and others.

Few things are more important to the gathering of the saints than the preparation for, the hope and sense of, the presence of the Lord. Jesus declared, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.” Knowing human nature, its tendency to neglect, and its prone-ness to fear, God gave to Israel clear signs of His presence: the cloud, the fire, the tabernacle/temple, the ark, the altar, the bread and wine, the priesthood, the prophets, the apostles, elders, and His Word full of promises. All of it speaks of Him and His holy presence.

It is a sad loss to the church today that for the most part we have put aside the few visuals that once served to remind us of the Divine Presence – the familiarity, instruction and beauty of hymns, the reading of Scripture, the communion table, the pulpit, and the stark simplicity of a wooden cross. Of course, God is bigger than all of that, but each of those symbols spoke volumes to gathered saints. Their absence tends to exaggerate/glorify the role of persons and gifts rather than the Spirit and truth. Sadly, we rarely sense or experience the awe-inspiring Divine Presence. Far too often true, humble worship is lost in the shadow of giftedness.

The emotion and movement of creativity, commonality, noise, immodesty, darkness and technology have replaced the support of melody, harmony, humility, light, familiarity and quietness. With so much clamor and movement it is hard to sense the otherness and grandeur, the holiness and authority, of God, His voice and His Spirit – the Divine Presence. Perhaps, during this time of upheaval, we need to re-think many things.

Those who trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever. . . . Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts.

 

June 9, 2020

Jesus and the Kingdom: Matthew 5

I was really hoping at some point this month to share an excerpt from Skye Jethani’s new book, What if Jesus Was Serious? (Moody Press) and review it on my other blog, but after several attempts, it was not to be.

Still you can see some aspects of where I think he was heading in a 9-day reading plan that was posted at Bible.com several years ago. To read this click this link, and then cycle through the 9 days of devotions from The Sermon on the Mount along with the powerful hand-drawn images that Skye also uses in the new book. (These excerpts are from days 3-6.)

Skye speaks with a unique authority among Evangelicals, and the timeliness of these excerpts was not overlooked as I tried to decide what to include. See also the information below for the With God Daily Devotional, or click this link.

by Skye Jethani

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . .THEN HEAVEN IS ALREADY HERE.

JESUS REFERS TO HEAVEN regularly in the Sermon on the Mount, including in the opening sentence: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” What is the kingdom of heaven? If we misunderstand what Jesus meant by this phrase, then we are likely to misunderstand the whole sermon— and probably Jesus Himself.

First, the kingdom of heaven is not the church. Some assume a local congregation is a “church” but collecting all the churches together is what constitutes God’s “kingdom.” But that is not what Jesus meant.

Second, the kingdom of heaven is not where God’s people go after death. Jesus was not speaking about the afterlife in the Sermon on the Mount. In English, the word heaven carries all kinds of supernatural and spiritual meanings, but the actual word used by Jesus was plural (literally, heavens) and more like how we might use the word skies to describe the atmosphere. The air isn’t a distant realm; it’s all around us. Likewise, Jesus used the word heavens to speak of the nonphysical, invisible, but very present realm where God dwells.

It is the realm where God rules and evil is powerless. Jesus announced that this kingdom was now “at hand,” meaning it is within our reach. The kingdom of the heavens has broken into our world, and a new way of life is now possible. In the Sermon on the Mount, therefore, Jesus is unveiling a new ethic for those who belong to a new kind of kingdom that is not of this world.

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . .THEN WE WILL MAKE ROOM TO CRY.

IS THE CHRISTIAN LIFE only for happy-clappy people? Where are the doubters, the grievers…? While a church pastor years ago, I read a popular book at the time advocating for the best way to operate a church. The author insisted that all weekend gatherings be called “Celebrations,” and he said the tone of these gatherings should always be upbeat, energetic, and focused on the victorious Christian life. (It’s difficult to read a book that makes your eyes roll as much as that one did.)

The problem with this nonstop celebration model, apart from being inauthentic, is the way it ignores the example found in the Bible. The book of Psalms, for instance, served as the prayer book and worship liturgy for God’s ancient people. It’s the prayer book Jesus and His disciples would have used in their worship. Psalms includes many songs of celebration, but there are even more prayers of lament, complaint, and even cries for justice. “How long, O Lord?” is a frequent prayer in the psalms, and it shows that the human-divine relationship has many dimensions. Ancient worship, it seems, could be celebratory, angry, mournful, repentant, or contemplative. So why do we think our worship should only be one dimensional?

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn.” This addresses those who are experiencing grief, but it can also include those who mourn alongside others in their pain. Where do we make space for this legitimate part of the Christian life to find expression in our communities? We must not fall into the delusion that God has called us to a perpetual state of ever-increasing happiness. Jesus reminds us that God is also with us when we mourn, and because this is a broken world mourning is to be expected. But we do not weep as those without hope.

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . . THEN WE WILL TRUST GOD MORE AND POLITICS LESS.

WHO ARE THE MEEK and why will they inherit the earth? First, we must understand Jesus’ context and how His audience would have heard this statement. The word translated as “earth” can also be translated as “land,” which is probably a better reading. Throughout the Bible, the relationship between God and His people was linked to the promised land. Faithfulness to God meant they could dwell in the land in peace, but unfaithfulness to God meant losing the land and being forced into exile.

Centuries before Jesus, the Jews had returned from exile to the promised land, but they did not fully possess it. The Romans, who were pagans and idolaters, ruled over the land, which was unacceptable and humiliating to the Jews. In a sense, they were still in exile because they remained under the thumb of a foreign power.

This provoked a growing number of Israelites to become Zealots—violent revolutionaries. To the Romans, the Zealots were terrorists. To many Jews, they were freedom fighters. The Zealots believed in using the world’s violent ways to achieve what they believed were God’s goals. Their goal was to “inherit the land” by force. By announcing that the meek were blessed and would “inherit the land,” Jesus was condemning the tactics of the Zealots. He was proclaiming that it was not the powerful, violent, or angry who will accomplish God’s purposes, but the gentle, peaceful, and those who put their trust in Him rather than the sword.

This is an important reminder for those of us living in a divided land where everything has become politicized between “us” and “them.” Like the Zealots, we can be tempted to use the world’s ways—coercion, power, and fear—to “take back the land” for God. Instead, Jesus calls us to put such things aside and discover the power of God available through meekness. It is by trusting the Lord and the meekness of His ways, not through the sword of politics, that the land is won.

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . . THEN A DESIRE FOR JUSTICE SHOULD BE AFFIRMED.

“IT’S NOT FAIR!” With three kids, I hear that a lot in my household. Although the phrase is often misapplied—a fact my wife and I point out often to our apparently persecuted progeny—it does not diminish the strength of their instinct for justice. We all carry a sense that the world is not what it ought to be, and we also have a profound desire for this wrongness to be made into rightness—or what the Bible calls “righteousness.”

The word is often used to describe a properly ordered relationship between God and His people. Violating this relationship makes one unrighteous, while faithfulness to God results in a declaration of one’s righteousness. The word, however, carries a much broader meaning. It can also apply to right relationships between people, between the government and the governed, and between humans and creation. That’s why the same words often translated as “righteousness” in the Bible are also regularly translated in English as “justice.”

…Jesus affirms our longing for justice: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice/righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” He equates the soul’s desire for justice with the unrelenting physical desire for food and water. It is an inescapable aspect of our human condition, and He promises that it will be quenched. We can be assured that, in time, God will set all things right. The desire that God placed in our hearts will ultimately be satisfied. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”


Again, a reminder that these are excerpts from the middle section of a 9-day reading plan and are missing very helpful illustrations. To read the whole sequence, starting at Day 1, click this link.

Longtime readers here will also remember that for several years we carried a link in the sidebar for Skye’s With God Daily Devotional. It can land in your in-box daily for as little as $3 per month. Go to this link to learn more.

 

 

January 8, 2020

To The Church in Ephesus

Over the past ten years, Canadian pastor Kevin Rogers has been a staple for readers here at Christianity 201. I follow him on Twitter as well, and get a frequent update as to what he’s writing about. He recently did two blog posts based on two verses in Revelation 2, the letter to the church at Ephesus. Here are both articles with the headers below so you can click through to read one or both.

But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Revisiting ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’

So Jesus and the church of Ephesus were on the same page in this regard. The Nicolaitan sect were teaching and doing things that were destroying the integrity of their relationships.

While historians do not know much about this group, it appears that there was a movement led by a man named Nicolas. They were rejected by the mainstream church and mentioned again in Jesus’ word to the church in Pergamos. Instead of teaching and practicing faithfulness to God, they compromised with the world in ways that destroyed their integrity.

Roman rule required sacrifice to their gods. Emperors such as Decius attempted to weed out Christians by enforcing sacrifices to various Roman deities. Those who resisted faced persecution and possible execution.

The Nicolaitans appeared to conform to this Roman culture, and seemed to encourage Christians in Ephesus to do the same in a time of dire persecution (1 Corinthians 6:12). In eating the food given to the idols, this implies they had gone to the temples to receive this food and would’ve had to engage in the immoralities there to acquire this meat.[1]

God loves the world he created, but Jesus hates the way some people act. This is not the same kind of hatred that develops because of racial bias, petty disagreement or annoyance. This hatred is an active opposition to ways that destroy people.

In the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, he showed what his love for a sinner looks like. He was not condemning her but turned the attention to the conscience of the accusers. Their demands were destroying the woman and giving her no way to reconcile her failure. Jesus removes accusation and opens the door to her freedom to live reconciled to God.

You can hate what crystal meth does to people in the name of love for the user. The well-worn cliché is to hate the sin and love the sinner. This idea has been largely challenged today relating to sexual ethics, but is exactly what Jesus does. He does hate the sin and love the sinner. The sin is that which takes people away from unity with God and their neighbour.

A Change of Diet

Jesus always tells us what will be gained if we patiently endure and overcome the pressures set against us. Anyone who has victory over sin will eat from the tree of life.

Overcoming sin is not so much starving ourselves as it is changing our diet. The meat offered to idols and the infidelity that went along with worshipping the Empire provided people with a sugar high. It was a fleeting sense of addictive pleasure but it also bonded them to the domination of Rome.

Jesus offers them another kind of food without oppression and bondage. Fruit from the tree of life is offered as a diet for those who hunger and thirst for union with God. Taste and see that the Lord is good.

What do you have an appetite for?

As the [Western European and North American] church continues to decline, there is a way for those who remain to patiently endure. We can survive if we return to our first love. We need to name those things that erode our relationships and turn away.

In this time of tectonic shift, we will need to change to a diet of truth and grace. We cannot love the things that God hates and we cannot hate that which God loves.

If we keep looking for understanding and affirmation from the Empire, we will eventually drink the Kool-Aid. Don’t you hate that? God does…


The Ephesians are also the ones who Jesus said had ‘lost their first love.’ Kevin writes on this in Light Exits When Love Dies.

 

November 13, 2019

Playing ‘Parishioner of the Week’ at 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. 3 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,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5 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. But it’s not unique by any means.

The problem of favoritism toward the rich obviously was an early church problem. 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.

The two areas of potential transgression are simply horses of a different color. It’s all about showing preference to person “A” and indifference to person “B.”

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.

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 including 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.

February 9, 2019

Trashing Our Own House of Worship

We’re back for a second time at John Rothra’s website. There were a number of articles I looked at today, I hope you’ll visit by either clicking the link in the previous sentence, or the header for the article which follows.

Dear Church: We Have Much to Rebuild

Under the leadership of Titus, Roman soldiers destroyed the Jewish Temple in AD 70, fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy from a few decades earlier (Luke 21:5-6). Since that time, Jews have longed to rebuild the Temple. The Temple Institute was created and has been constructing many of the items used in in Temple ceremonies, including building the sacrificial altar (this is not the same one you’ve probably seen all over YouTube, which was constructed and dedicated by “Temple activist organizations”).

As we learn from Scripture, though (and taught by the Jew of Jews, Pharisee, and zealous defender of the Torah, Paul), the House of the Lord isn’t a temple built by human hands (Acts 17:24). Rather, God makes his home in the hearts and lives of every believer in Christ Jesus as the risen Savior (Eph 3:17; James 4:5).

We, the Church, are the House of the Lord.  Yet, throughout history, we’ve found ways to tear the temple down.

The Church Often Tears Down the Temple

Over the centuries, the Church has persecuted and killed people they deemed heretics.  If you dare deviate from what a priest thinks you should believe or do, then you faced torture and death.  The Church even persecuted fellow believers for reading the Bible in their own language.

Supposed Christians decided to rescue Jerusalem from infidels (mostly Muslims), and attacked and slaughtered many during the Crusades.  Of course, they also killed Jews and other Christians they considered heretics.

And all this in the name of Jesus.

Although some things may have changed over time, the Church still finds ways to tear down the true temple.

In America, self-proclaimed Christians have used the Bible and Jesus to justify racism, segregation, slavery, and other evils (cf. Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women, Herald Press, 1983).  Today, many preachers continue to swindle people out of their money by making unbiblical promises of health and wealth.  The Church spends much effort making sure the world knows everything we oppose and how sinful people are, while often neglecting our own faults and sins.

Christian leaders and local churches attack other Christians over small matters that don’t really affect the biblical gospel.  If another Christian doesn’t hold to our opinions, interpretations, and personal tastes, then they are somehow lower than us, less holy, or outright non-Christian.

One need only look online at how Christians often behave toward each other and the world.  Egotistical pride abounds and ad hominems are standard rhetorical practice.  We cry victim anytime someone does something we don’t like or that we believe impedes our freedoms, yet often refuse to grant those same freedoms to those of other beliefs.

And all in Jesus’ name.

We Have Much to Rebuild

As the bride of Christ, and as the true House of God, we need to speak the truth in love rather than in judgment.  We need to help the downtrodden and helpless (Gal 6:2; Jas 1:27).  We need to preach and practice the gospel, letting love, mercy, and grace flow in and through us.

As God commands us through the prophet Isaiah,

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause.

Isaiah 1:16-17

We need to show the world not merely what we oppose, but whom we love.  We need to go out into the world rather than wonder why the world won’t come to us.  We need to seek the lost, comfort the hurting, and care for the needy.  Only then will we start to repair what we so often tear down.

We are the House of the Lord, and we have much to rebuild.

 

December 12, 2017

Thinking about Different Types of Congregational Worship

But if all of you are prophesying, and unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your meeting, they will be convicted of sin and judged by what you say. As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, “God is truly here among you.” 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.
I Cor. 14:26 NLT emphasis added

It’s been six months and a good time to make another visit to Seven Minute Seminary. This is a 7-minute video teaching today. I don’t like defaulting to videos, but this particular organization, Seedbed, always provides us with material that leads to deep thought. Rev. Glenn Packiam is Senior Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. He sees the three paradigms in use in our gathering services as being (1) Encounter, (2) Formation, and (3) Mission. “While it’s tempting to privilege one model over the other, a deep theology of the Holy Spirit can help the church keep these purposes of worship in healthy tension.”


Bonus item for those of you who like church history:

While deciding which video to include today, I was interested in the title of this one, “The Birth of Band Meetings.”  If you want to hashtag this, the category would be Pietism.  He describes it as a Protestant movement that predates Protestantism itself. John Hus (aka Jan Hus) was key to this movement, as was Count Zinzendorf (aka Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf.) And you thought church history was boring.

“The band meeting was a form of discipleship that helped small groups of men and women practice intense vulnerability and confession of sin together. It helped sustain the Methodist revival in the 18th century, which was preceded by other versions of this spiritual renewal across Europe. Watch this Seven Minute Seminary video by Dr. Scott Kisker [professor of History of Christianity at United Theological Seminary] as he traces the history of this powerful spiritual discipline.”

Other hashtags here would include The Moravian Church and The Religious Societies Movement. And Oxford Methodism. And John Wesley. Hey, one movement leads to another. Watch this. It’s really fascinating if you’re a religion nerd like me.

 

 

 

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

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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.

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