Christianity 201

May 31, 2017

When Christians Make a Habit of Wielding Power

Luke 9:51When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village.

About a month ago, someone recommended a devotional blog to us called Comfort and Challenge. We had originally bookmarked a particular column titled Ax to the Roots which is also good reading. Today we caught up with the same website and decided to share a more recent piece with you. Click the title below to read this at source.

Fire From Heaven

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 145, Ezekiel 4:1-17, Hebrews 6:1-12, Luke 9:51-62


When a Samaritan town refused to receive Jesus, the disciples James and John asked, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”  Luke says Jesus rebuked them. They simply moved on to the next town.

Could “rebuked” have been an understatement? After Jesus had taught them about peace, love, and reserving judgment for God, what made a consuming fire seem like a reasonable option?

James and John were just being human: even a little authority and power seems like it’s there to be used. Since Jesus isn’t physically present today to stay our hands, it’s good we can’t summon heavenly fire at will. Yet here in the west, particularly in the United States, many Christians seem to make a habit of wielding power. We take the commandment to make disciples of all nations and twist it into coercion. Never did Jesus force anyone to follow him – or even to respect him. Rather, he let some potential followers know they might not be ready. Have someone to bury someone? Want to finish up a few things? Maybe this isn’t for you yet. This was neither coercion nor rejection, but a free choice. Jesus moved on his way, and they move on theirs.

So why do many Christians today find it difficult, when someone rejects Christ, to move on? We boycott (which may seem like moving on, but is decidedly aggressive), legislate against, picket, and ban people who don’t share our values, then wonder why our ranks dwindle. Such behavior doesn’t just fail to win people to Christ; it distorts the message of the Gospel into something repellent. Jesus warned us we’d be rejected, but now we have the numbers and influence to reject, condemn, and oppress … and too many times we choose to.

As we enter the week before Pentecost, let’s remember the last fire God sent from heaven was the Holy Spirit. Its flame rested visibly on each disciple’s head, and made it possible for all to understand them. Let’s choose our flame more wisely than James and John. Or move on.

Comfort: You aren’t bound by the law of rejection, but freed by the law of love.

Challenge: When fellow Christians speak in terms of rejection, speak up for love.

Prayer: Lord, light a fire in my heart to spread your good news to all. Amen.

Discussion: What’s a memorable example you know of Christians responding in love when they could have chosen rejection?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group.

May 27, 2015

The Church: Rising From the Statistical Ashes

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

Is There Hope for Christianity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

January 25, 2013

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit Continue Today

One of the joys of producing this rather unique approach to devotional reading is that we get to include material from a broad range of doctrinal viewpoints while at the same time insuring that our readers don’t get liberal theology mixed in Evangelical teaching.  Today is no exception.  The view expressed here on the continuing work of the Holy Spirit — the side to which I am somewhat inclined — stands in contrast to the cessationist view that says the supernatural gifts of the Spirit ceased at the end of the apostolic age.

I encourage you to read this at source. You’re somewhat on your own today for scripture look-ups; I recommend Bible Gateway.  The post is from Scott at The Prodigal Thought and is titled Seven Reasons The Gifts of the Holy Spirit Continue Today.

I am one who unashamedly believes that God still speaks today. You can call me charismatic. Or you can identify me by the more politically-correct theological term known as continuationism. But I believe God still speaks-reveals-communicates today, as he always has done and will continue into the age to come.

Why would I believe such?

I list 7 reasons below:

1) God is an actual living, personal being

Almost every Christian would uphold this statement. And, so, one would only expect a living, personal being to be a communicator, a speaker. I am not sure I need to quote a lot of proof texts (though I could). But it is simply a theological deduction from reading the entirety of Scripture.

Living, personal beings are communicators in so many ways. And so, why would we expect anything less from the eternal personal being? Thus, he will continue to communicate, speak, reveal, unveil, illuminate, until all things are completed. Well, and then he will keep speaking even after all things have been renewed in Christ!

2) Christ is the charismatic prophet and his body is to follow

When I use the word charismatic, I mean it in the sense that Roger Stronstad defined it in his work, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke:

I use the term “charismatic” in a functional and dynamic sense. By “charismatic” I mean God’s gift of His Spirit to His servants, either individually or collectively, to anoint, empower, or inspire them for divine service. (p13)

And, as the living Word, Christ was the greatest prophet to ever exist. Yes, greater than Moses or Isaiah or Jeremiah. There has been none like him who spoke and revealed the Father as he did.

Therefore, if Christ is the great charismatic prophet, then by nature, his body is to follow in those same footsteps. The body follows the head. It’s part and parcel to our calling in Christ. It doesn’t mean that everyone is particularly marked out as a prophet today. Of course not. But, via the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and empowering, Christ expects his body to get on with completing that which he initiated. Christ is still continuing that which he began to do and teach (Acts 1:1). Thus, we are now not only a priesthood of all believers, but also a prophethood of all believers.

3) The Spirit continues the same work of Christ

This really connects with the former point, but it’s the Spirit who continues the work of Christ. It is he that comes to empower the people of God, all that we might be vehicles by which Christ continues his work. I know this sounds like the A, B, C’s of pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit), but the charismatic Christ sent the charismatic Spirit to gift the charismatic ekklesia-church. One cannot get away from the reality that the work Christ began so long ago was to continue through the current age.

4) The positive affirmation in Scripture that such gifts would continue

I share much more here, but suffice it to say that there are actual Scripture passages that teach such works and gifts would continue. In the article I have linked to, I specifically take time to look at four positive Scriptural affirmations: John 14:12; Acts 2:17-18; 1 Corinthians 13:8-12; and Ephesians 4:11-16. There are plenty more one could look at and consider, but those are a very solid starting point as to specific passages.

5) Inaccurate interpretation from cessationists

There are the ‘usual suspects’ passages brought up by cessationists. These passages become pointers as to why certain gifts (or ‘sign gifts’) would cease once the full testimony of Christ and the gospel was completed in the New Testament canon. But that’s just it – Scripture actually doesn’t tell us to expect some gifts to cease.

Four very often quoted passages are 1 Corinthians 13:8-12; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 1:1-2; and Hebrews 2:3-4. I have spent some time considering these passages in this article, which you can click to read more thoughts if you’d like.

As a side point, it is also quite interesting to note that phrases like ‘word of the Lord’‘word of God’, or ‘word’ do not usually refer to the graphe or written Scripture. It can refer to such, but not normally. God’s word – not just that in the text of Scripture – was always being spoken, even if it wasn’t recorded in the canon of Scripture (e.g., 1 Sam 10:10-13 and 1 Tim 1:18-19). Again, it’s part and parcel to be a living, personal being that desires to communicate. Here are some other examples below where the above phrases do not refer to the written Scripture:

  • Word of God – Luke 3:2
  • Word of God – Acts 4:31
  • Word of God – Acts 6:7
  • Word of God – Acts 12:24
  • Word of the Lord – Acts 13:44, 48-49
  • Word of the Lord – Acts 19:20
  • Word of the Lord – 1 Thess 1:8
  • The are countless times the word ‘word’ arises and does not refer to Scripture

6) God spoke through those who were not prophets or apostles

Even if one wants to argue that apostles and prophets do not exist today, there are still plenty of examples of others who were used to speak forth prophecy or used in other extraordinary gifts. Here is a smattering from the New Testament:

  • Stephen (Acts 6:8)
  • Philip (Acts 8:4-7)
  • Ananias (Acts 9:17-18)
  • The 120 believers at Pentecost (Acts 2:4)
  • Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:46)
  • Agabus (Acts 11:37-38; 21:10-11) – he was not an apostle, but was a prophet
  • The Ephesian disciples (Acts 19:6)
  • The Galatian believers (Gal 3:5)
  • The Corinthian believers (1 Cor 14)

This should give courage to those of us who are not actually apostles or prophets (most of us!). God wants to utilise his people in such ‘charismatic’ activities since he has been doing such from the beginning.

7) The great testimony of the charismata in church history

I have already written on this topic before, which you can find here. But suffice it to say, there are plenty of examples of God, by his Spirit, speaking and acting out the charismata as found in 1 Corinthians 12.

And, a great resource to look at would be The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal by Vinson Synan. He takes time to chronicle what has happened over the past 100 years or so with the rise of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. In today’s world, it is estimated that there are some 500 million believers associating themselves within the Pentecostal, charismatic or neo-charismatic branches of the church. And the accounts of God’s activity by his Spirit continue on into the 21st century.

Also, another book I have been made aware of, but have not yet been able to read, is Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church by Ronald Kydd.

So, suffice it to say, I find it extremely hard to argue for the cessation, or ceasing, of certain gifts of the Spirit. For me, there is an overwhelming biblical, theological and historical positive case for the continuation of such.

~Scott Lencke

April 28, 2012

A Veteran Pastor Shares Biblical Insights

Lots of scripture today!  I thought it would be fitting to share some excerpts from the blog Murray’s Musings. Murray and his wife Nancy are friends of our family, and for the past few weeks Murray has been excerpting some notes that his father-in-law, Rev. Morley G. Clarke, wrote to share with his men’s group.  On learning today that Morley had passed away yesterday,  I thought I would include seven samples of the 21 “Moments With Morley” here at C201; you may choose to read one, several or all.

Murray’s introduction:

It amazes me (but it really shouldn’t) to realize that as Dad was writing these thoughts as he was battling the last stages of cancer and during the early stages a year earlier had lost a daughter to suicide as a result of a chemical depression.  Morley truly knows of suffering, but he also knows of the comfort that only faith in Jesus Christ can bring to the situation.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Morley’s Comments

The first verse put suffering it its proper context.  God does not provide a way around suffering but does give His faithful promise to provide His sustaining presence as we walk through it together.


Acts 3:1-10

 1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2 Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Morley’s Comment

This is the day that Peter realized that his Lord had bestowed upon him the spiritual gift of healing but he was sufficiently wise and humble enough to disclaim all credit for the miracle.  He made it clear that Jesus, working through him, was the one who had performed the loving miracle.

Someone has said that a person can truly do a lot of good if they are unconcerned with who gets the credit.


Acts 2:1-4

 1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.

Morley’s Comments

Here is the fantastic fulfillment of the promise given by the living Christ in Luke 24.  During those wonderful three years Jesus walked beside his disciples.  Now He will walk within them.  They will be filled with His Holy Spirit.  That took place on the Day of Pentecost when the Lord poured the Holy Spirit into the hearts of His 129 followers, and the church and the Body of Christ was born with great rejoicing.


Ephesians 3:14-21

 14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Morley’s Comments

As I see it, this is the finest prayer in the Bible, although it might well be argued that the Lord’s Prayer in John 17 has equal claim.

The amazing description of praise in verses 14 to 21 is one of the most beautiful and inspiring that I have ever encountered.


Rev 3:20

20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

Morley’s Comments

Jesus never forces himself upon us, but He does make His presence known, pleading with humanity to open their hearts that they might come in, hearing such blessings as joy, hope and peace.

This door opens from the inside!


John 1:29-34

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

Morley’s Comments

This is John’s record of Jesus’ double baptism.  First, how he was baptized by John with water and secondly, how he was baptized by His Father with the Holy Spirit and with power.  From there he went forth on His mission of preaching, teaching and healing, enabled by the Holy Spirit of God – to enable us to fulfill our mission, to put into action our ministry of using our spiritual gifts.

We too, need that in filling available and it is available to us.  Indeed, Paul issues a command.  “Be filled with the Holy Spirit” on the day of Pentecost as described by Luke in Acts 2:1-4.  The church should celebrate Pentecost with no less fervor than we do Christmas and Easter.


Paul’s note:

Murray posted this as a final “Moment” over two weeks ago. It seems so fitting to be reading this today…

Revelation 22:1-5

1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Morley’s Comments

What a beautiful image, filled with a portrayal of Heaven.  When a minister stands at the grave of a Christian, how wonderful it is that he has a sure word from God, a word of comfort, a word of hope!

Thanks be to God!!!


Read the entire series of Moments With Morley – click here.

November 17, 2010

Rested In or Rested On

I was lying awake at 4:00 AM this morning thinking that perhaps I have more in common with Old Covenant believers than I do with New Covenant believers.    At least in this respect:  Sometimes I feel that just as the Holy Spirit would rest on certain people then, I don’t always feel like the Holy Spirit is dwelling in on a 24/7 basis.

Now before you write me off as a heretic, let me explain this more.   I know that positionally I am indwelt by the Spirit.  That’s a given.   I believe in both the receiving of the Holy Spirit at Salvation and also in subsequent, post-conversions overflows of the Holy Spirit.*   I believe I have experience both.   I’ve also known — many times — what it is to be sharing my faith, or just speaking with someone generally, and have the Holy Spirit take over, giving me words to say that I was not at all planning on speaking.

But like more of you than care to admit; I have moments when I am simply living in the material world and am not specifically conscious of the Spirit’s presence as I check the tire pressure on my car, or brush my teeth.

At this point, my wife interrupts to remind me that in the Old Covenant days, it was certain people (i.e. the prophets) on whom the Holy Spirit would rest.  I’m not claiming to be a prophet.  I was just trying to find words to express that sometimes I seem to sense the Spirit working in my life more than at other times.

But perhaps her comment is key to understanding what I do experience, even in those moments when the world is looming larger than it should; namely that under the current arrangement, the Holy Spirit is available to everyone, both for those moments when we don’t know what we should say, and also for that ongoing, abiding sense of His presence.

The great difference for New Covenant believers is not an issue of on versus in; but rather a celebration that it’s an issue of all versus some.

And we’re part of the all.

-=-=-=-

* Someone explained it to me this way:  Consider a can of pop/soda.   Open the tab and look inside.  The can is filled.   It can’t be more filled if it’s already filled, right?   Now put your thumb over the opening and shake it really hard.   Now release your thumb.   That’s the overflow I’m talking about.