Christianity 201

January 27, 2023

Loyalty vs. Allegiance

NIV.Mark.14.17 …Herod himself had given orders to have John [the Baptist] arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled;  yet he liked to listen to him.

21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Mark Buchanan is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Ambrose University in Calgary, Alberta, and is the author of several books including, God Walk and The Rest of God. This is the 5th time we’ve excerpted some of his writing here at Christianity 201. You are very much encouraged to read this where it first appeared by clicking the title which follows.

Many Loyalties, One Allegiance

“In your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord.” I Peter 3:15

Recently, a friend asked me to preach at his church on Mark 6:14-29

Well, I thought he was my friend: that’s the story of King Herod’s order, in a perfect storm of folly and ego and hubris and spite, to behead John the Baptist. I complained loudly to my so-called-friend. That is not the kind of text, I said, you assign to a guest preacher, and especially not to one you have shared meals and taken walks with. It’s gruesome. It’s bleak. It’s dark. And – this, I said, to finally clinch the argument – it’s inescapably political. You don’t want the guest preacher wading in on post-Covid politics, do you?

He told me to suck it up.

A few weeks before, one of the students in my preaching class quoted someone to the effect that you can have many loves but only one treasure. I liked that. I wrote it down. And it struck me, as I thought about John in the dungeon of Herod’s palace while all the revelers upstairs gorged and besotted themselves, and watched the grisly pageant of John’s head served on a platter, that something similar is true here.

You can have many loyalties but only one allegiance.

You can be loyal to your school, loyal to your girl, loyal to your guy, loyal to your flag, loyal to your tribe, loyal to your favorite airline, loyal to your political party, loyal to your theological camp.

The heart can hold a thousand loyalties

But only one allegiance.

John the Baptist got that. Herod, he was too clueless and cowardly to even know that.

John pursued the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. Herod pursued the kingdom of self and his own fragile ego.

I think many Christians got confused about loyalties and allegiances over the past few years. Too many of us took hold of a loyalty, or three – loyalty to a political person or party, to a philosophical or medical or cultural view, to an ideology – and elevated to an allegiance.

An allegiance is our one reckoning. It is our single non-negotiable. It is our only priority. It is the sole conviction and passion that controls, moderates and, if needed, displaces all loyalties. Nothing comes before it. All things must bow to it.

It is the hill we are willing to die on.

The hill we are willing to die on. Such a poignant phrase. That gets to the heart of the matter for Christ followers. Our single allegiance is Christ, the one willing to die on a hill for us and, frankly, the only one who commands our sole allegiance.

Christ alone is Lord.

Not left or right.

Not liberal or conservative.

Not socialism or capitalism.

Not anti this or pro that.

Those are all mere loyalties.

And a loyalty must never become an allegiance, or … or, we get the world we have now: divided over a thousand things, many of them little and petty.

Our hope is built on nothing less – and nothing else – than Jesus Christ.

He alone is our sole allegiance. Everything else must bow. 

December 28, 2022

Presuming to be a Teacher

This morning a verse suddenly came to mind:

“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

That’s James 3:1 in the NIV, but it’s the NIV1984, because the version you’ll see posted these days from the NIV2011 looks like this:

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

It’s that phrase “presume to be teachers” I was remembering, and I do regret that it no longer appears.

Why was I thinking of it?

Because these days, it seems like everyone is presuming to be a teacher. It started with a rise in interest among the laity in ecclesiology in the mid 2000s, particularly in church planting. Personally — and this is just my opinion — I believe that anyone can plant a church, but you need qualifications to lead a church. I know stories of churches that started in living rooms and in one case, a picnic table in the park, but the first thing they all did was then find someone with training to be their pastor.

But around the same time there was

  • the explosive growth of blogs (I must include myself in this)
  • the exponential growth of self-published books (published without peer review, proper editing, and the vetting of an established publishing house)
  • the astounding growth of podcasts and vlogs (where, without transcripts, the content isn’t indexed; you can hear things and be influenced by them, but not have a means to go back and locate exactly what you heard.)

One minute a young woman is posting rambling content from her bedroom, and the next minute she’s got a bestselling self-published book. (Of one of these, someone recently said something to the effect, ‘In all the time I’ve listened to her, I have no idea where she fits in doctrinally, as her content is mostly about things to which she is opposed.’)

In 2014, Dick Lentz wrote:

While attending a small group Bible study a number of years ago, I became concerned when one of the participants started defending an interpretation of a passage that I knew was very different than the writer’s original intent. I don’t recall what the specific verse was or what he was saying about it at the time. But I noted that several in the group seemed to be persuaded by his arguments even though the content of what he was sharing may have been biblically weak, perhaps because of the skill in which he articulated his viewpoint. After the study I cautioned my friend that he needed to be careful about what he shared as others could be influenced by what he said. I then quoted this verse to support my advice to him:

“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1, NIV).”

My friend responded by saying that since this verse is addressing only those who are in an official position of a pastor or teacher and that he was neither, it didn’t apply to him. Our pastor seemed to support my friend’s conclusion regarding this passage when his sermon some time later focused on this same passage and the pastor said, “Since most of you aren’t teachers, I guess this verse has little to do with you.”

This may be too limiting.

I think that my friend’s understanding of this verse as well as my pastor’s, that it applies only to those who feel called to teach or are in an official position of a pastor or teacher, is too limiting. I believe that this verse is actually addressing anyone who presumes to teach in any fashion, and it seems that there are a lot of situations where we do this without being in the actual position of a teacher…

Click here to read the rest of the article.

On the website BibleHub.com they list related scriptures, and one they share is 1 Timothy 1:7

They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. (NIV)

They want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently. (NLT)

Now that you’ve seen that verse, let’s jump back one verse:

But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions. (1:6 NLT)

Other translations use:

  • meaningless discourse
  • fruitless discussion
  • empty talk
  • purposeless talk
  • endless blabber and nonsense

While there are some excellent podcasts out there, the above words described others to which I’ve listened. At the very least, they constitute a waste of your time.

Dick Lentz concludes:

I believe that we presume to be a teacher anytime we share an opinion and that opinion has the potential of influencing someone else’s thinking or to affect their actions. And I cannot think of very many times when what we say cannot have an effect on someone else Nothing we say can truly be considered trivial or inconsequential. Nearly all our words can affect what people think, can alter how others act, and can change what people feel about themselves, about others, and about God.

It seems to me that this verse is saying that we need to be careful about every word we utter and that we won’t get off the hook or get a free pass simply because we’re not in the official role of a teacher or a pastor.


■ Related content here at C201: Being a Teacher or Influencer Brings Responsibilities. This article begins with 3 scripture texts we’ll add here:

If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.
 – Deuteronomy 18:22 NIV

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.
 – 2 Peter 1:20-21 NLT

Do your best to win God’s approval as a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed and who teaches only the true message.
– 2 Timothy 2:15 CEV

November 18, 2022

Why Was the Widow Down to Her Last Pennies?

In my part of the world the penny (one cent coin) was eliminated several years ago. Not having it certainly speeds up cash transactions, although most purchase payments are done electronically anyway. In the narrative today, a widow is down to her last few cents, and while her response to that situation is to be generous, you have to wonder how she got that low on funds.

Today we’re back for the eighth time at the website Borrowed Light, and for the seventh time with Mike Leake. Click the title to read this where it first appeared.

One Way Spiritual Abuse Happens

“But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.”Mark 12:42

Jesus goes on to tell us that she gave “out of her poverty”. She put in her last two cents. Yes, he commends her. But Mark also wants us to know that Jesus “sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put”. Mark places Jesus in opposition to this whole racket.

This text is not only a commendation of the widow’s offering. It’s perhaps even more an condemnation of the temple system. We should be asking, “why is this widow down to her last two cents?”

This is another one of those places in Scripture where the subheadings distract us from meaning. We’re supposed to read Mark 12:40 with this text: They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers…” As one of the most vulnerable members within what was supposed to be a God-reflecting society, she should have been flourishing and not down to her last couple pennies.

I imagine this widow to be a sweet and devoted woman. We have several of these women in our church. They are often the backbone of our ministries. Often they are bound by duty and dedication. It’s no surprise that Jesus commends this widow’s offering.

If we were to interview her about this gift she’d likely say something like, “it was my duty to do this. The leaders have told us that this is a way in which we can honor God. So I give because I love God. This offering is a gift to my LORD, and a reminder that He will take care of us.” As she says this she points to one of the religious leaders—adorned in gold, flowing robes, sitting at important seats and places of honor—“they help us know how to obey God”.

What is Spiritual Abuse?

What I’ve just described to you is spiritual abuse. Here are a few of the better definitions (source):

“Spiritual abuse happens when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds.” (Ken Blue, Healing Spiritual Abuse, 1993)

“Spiritual abuse is when a Christian leader causes injury to others by acting in a self-centred manner in order to benefit themselves.” (Nelson, Spiritual Abuse: Unspoken Crisis, 2015)

“Spiritual abuse happens when people use God, or their supposed relationship with God, to control behaviour for their benefit.” (Diederich, Broken Trust, 2017)

You can see each of these definitions at play in the story of the widow giving her final two cents and Jesus’ words of condemnation for the Pharisees who are devouring widows’ houses. They used their spiritual authority for their benefit and not for hers.

Spiritual abuse is one of those things that happens not only at the hands of one particular person but it can happen through multiple hands within an unhealthy church culture. And often it is subtle. It can, at times, be hardly recognizable.

There are many ways in which spiritual abuse can happen, but today I will share with you one way in which it subtly happens within churches and communities of faith.

How does spiritual abuse happen?

We are on the road to spiritual abuse whenever we equate our ideas with the Bible’s imperatives. Let me explain.

Hebrews 10:25 tells us that we are to “not neglect to meet together” but instead we should be “encouraging one another”. From, this text you are safe to give this general principle: gathering with other believers is a vital component to being encouraged in the faith. Or to put it more bluntly, we are commanded by Scripture to encourage one another.

Biblical imperative: encourage one another through gathering together.

That is a non-negotiable. But watch what happens…

As a pastor I come along and take that biblical imperative and match it to a ministry idea:we should meet in weekly small groups for the purpose of encouraging one another in Christ.

Ministry idea: Small groups help us encourage one another through gathering together.

I might say something like, “at Calvary we believe God calls us to gather together to encourage one another, we obey this through weekly small groups.”

That sounds good, right?

Except nowhere in Scripture does it say, “obey this through weekly small groups”. It’s a great idea. I think it does help you obey this imperative. But the ministry idea itself does not have the authority of Scripture.

It turns into spiritual abuse whenever we use our authority (whether it be pastoral authority or the church’s cultural authority) to force obedience of a biblical imperative through our ministry idea. And people are wounded by this type of thing all the time. They experience loads of false guilt.

These things are subtle too. It is incredibly easy to merge a biblical imperative with a ministry idea, so that over time the ministry idea become synonymous with the biblical imperative. It happened to the Pharisees. And it happens within so many of our churches.

Conclusion

There are, I believe, two main solutions.

First, it would be good for leaders to slow our roles. We are not to be faith handlers. We must have the humility to acknowledge that our suggestions for how to obey an imperative do not carry the same weight as Scripture. We can be firm on what the imperatives are, but we must be humble in the specific way these are carried out.

Secondly, it is good for all of us to stop and ask questions of every thing we assume is an imperative. What exactly did God say? Part of the deception for the first couple was when they added, “we shall not touch”. God never said that.

As we begin to melt away some of the dross it is important for us to remember that imperatives really do matter. We should have a heart to obey what Christ has commanded us. But also the humility to let ourselves and others relationally work out what obedience actually looks like.

I am His.

So are you.

November 17, 2022

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service: Inclusion and Exclusion in the Church

by Clarke Dixon

No shoes, no shirt, no service. We are used to seeing such signs on business doors, we are used to the idea that some people should be excluded from some places. When I joined Air Cadets I had to get my hair cut and agree to wear a uniform. The uniform was a sign of who was in and who was out. There was an expectation of uniformity among those who belonged. While one rarely sees a “no shoes, no shirt, no service” sign on a church door, do we have an expectation of uniformity among those who belong in the Christian Church?

We might have expectations of uniformity with regard to behaviour. For example, in days gone by everyone knew that Baptists don’t dance. We might have expectations of uniformity with regard to belief, with such beliefs being drawn up into a statement of faith. If you don’t act and believe just like we do, you don’t belong. But is that the way it should be?

Here is a Scripture that will help challenge our tendency toward uniformity and exclusion:

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.
Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Matthew 9:9-13 (NLT)

There are a few things for us to notice here.

Jesus welcomed all who were sinners but who showed up to meet him.

Jesus called a tax collector, Matthew, to become his disciple and then he hung out with and ate dinner with Matthew’s tax collecting friends. Tax collectors collected taxes from Jews for the Romans and were known to give in to the temptation to exploit the situation. They were therefore despised as sinners, as greedy people. In those times eating with someone was taken as a sign of showing acceptance of, and solidarity with them. The religious leaders were not impressed with the Jesus’ lackadaisical approach in considering with whom he was willing to associate:

For John didn’t spend his time eating and drinking, and you say, ‘He’s possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.”

Matthew 11:18-19 (NLT)

Jesus welcomed all who thought differently but who showed up to meet him.

We can get caught up in the perceived sinfulness of the tax collectors as compared with the perceived righteousness of the Pharisees. But the difference goes beyond sinful versus righteous behaviour. The tax collectors thought differently than the Pharisees, they had a different perspective.

Pharisees saw Rome as the enemy and expected God to cast the Romans out of the land when he came to bring the Kingdom. Therefore Rome was not to be served in any way, including collecting taxes for them, In fact doing so would displease God and cause him not to act. Tax collectors, on the other hand, saw Rome as a fact of life, so why not make the best of it, and hope, as we all do today, that at least some of the taxes collected would benefit the people. They could point to the prophecy where Jeremiah told the Jewish exiles to settle in and pray for the peace of a far worse enemy from that day, Babylon (Jeremiah 29:7). So collecting taxes is what God would want us to do! That is a big difference in perspective.

When tax collectors and Pharisees were together, it was like Republicans and Democrats getting together in America today complete with a mixing of theology and politics, plus a desire to exclude one another. Pharisees and tax collectors would not welcome or eat with one another. Jesus welcomed and ate with tax collectors. Jesus also welcomed and ate with Pharisees.

Jesus invites us to his table.

We might get the impression that with Jesus anything goes. But that is not the case:

But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.
“Which of the two obeyed his father?”
They replied, “The first.”
Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.

Matthew 21:28-32 (NLT)

It is not anything goes, nor is it strict adherence to standards of uniformity. It is an invitation to life in the Kingdom of God. It is an invitation to take our place at the table with Jesus.

At Calvary our aim is not to make everyone look the same, think the same, and behave the same, but to help people walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. There’s a big difference between demanding uniformity to religious traditions and inviting people to walk with Jesus.

With a focus on inclusion and exclusion we are thinking about hospitality which is the next topic of our series “What Kind of Church.” In this series we have been considering the cultural statements of Open Table Communities and today’s is:

A Culture of Hospitality
We nurture a culture of openness to everyone, including those who are different from us. This is accomplished through opening up our lives and homes to others. We choose to live in the tensions that come with inclusion rather than the barriers created by exclusion.

Open Table Communities


Clarke Dixon — who is celebrating a birthday today — is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario. Before appearing here most Thursdays, his sermon summaries appear at Thinking Through Scripture.

November 1, 2022

Allies in Kingdom Advancement

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

Whoever Isn’t Against You is For You

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

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

John 9:49-50

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Harvest Really is Plentiful

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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
Tags: , , ,

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.

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