Christianity 201

October 14, 2018

The Pastor Who Wouldn’t Worship

“My ego always struggles with acknowledgment. I not only want my left hand to know what my right hand is doing (Matt. 6:3) I want them to get together and start an avalanche of applause because I’ve done it.”
~Jim Thornber at (the other) Thinking Out Loud.

The above quote isn’t directly connected to today’s thoughts, but it was contained in one of four posts I read yesterday at Jim Thornber’s website, Thinking Out Loud. This is his eleventh time here at C201. Click the title below to read at source, to read a small piece of Jim’s story, click here.

Got Character?

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Hebrews 1:3)

A few years ago, a church I attended in Arkansas hosted a Thanksgiving service to raise money for the ministerial alliance. The alliance asked our church to lead in the praise and worship, and I played the piano on the worship team. Looking over the congregation, I noted a pastor from another church who, no matter what we sang, refused to either clap his hands or raise them in worship. He simply sat in his pew with his arms folded.  That struck me as strange, because outside of church he was a happy, vivacious, demonstrative man.

I have never been known for my extreme subtly or bashfulness, so as we gathered for refreshments after the service, I questioned him his about posture. “Why, when Scripture instructs you to lift up holy hands to the Lord, and you have a chance to do so in a public service, did you sit with your arms folded across your chest?”

“Well, you see,” he began to stammer and laugh, “I’m a . . . .” and he named his denomination. I cut him off and said, “Are you a denomination first or a Christian first?”

At this point, he began to look around for help from the people who had gathered, including my pastor. He asked, “Is he always like this?” to which my pastor replied, “Hey, he’s going easy on you.” And everybody who had gathered around laughed.

I find it sad that many church members (or goers) around the world are more concerned with offending their denomination and the people in the next pew than they are in obeying the Word of God. The congregation led by the pastor in my story will have trouble obeying Scripture because he was not setting an obedient example. In a simple sense of the word, this pastor lacked character.

Regarding His eternal relationship to God, Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the exact representation of his being (1:3). James Moffat says He was “stamped with God’s own character.” The phrase “exact representation” translates the Greek word charaktēr, which gives us our English word “character.”

Originally, this word meant to cut, to scratch, to mark. It indicated the tool or agent that did the marking, and eventually came to mean the mark or the impression that was made. It also indicated an impression made in a wax seal. Or, think of a coin: its image, numbers and letters bear the exact image of the raised numbers and letters of the original die from which the coin was cast. To see a dime or a quarter is to know exactly what the original die or stamp looked like.

Jesus said, Anyone who has seen me has seen the father (John 14:9). This is true, because He was the “exact representation” of God, “stamped with God’s own character.” To see Jesus is to see God, for He is the exact image of God, the perfectly engraved representation of the very nature of God.

This brings up a very difficult question, especially for me: “If to see Jesus is to see the Father, then, when people see me, do they see Jesus?” As I was looking for the Christ-like qualities in that pastor, I began to wonder:

  • When I am at my church, what do people first see in me —   ­­­­­­­­­the Kingdom of God or a denominational version of God?
  • Am I stamped with the very character of God?
  • Do people see Jim or Jesus?
  • As a disciple of Jesus, am I exhibiting the character of Christ the way that Jesus the Son bore the character of God the Father?
  • When people see the church out working in the world, whose character do they perceive? Are they seeing the compassion, mercy, patience, and love of God, or do they see the values of MTV, ABC, Wall Street, Hollywood, Cosmopolitan, and Men’s Health?

We must all ask those tough questions if we are going to live the character of Christ and represent God in all we say and do. Jesus said,  Now I want to be able to say, “Anyone who has seen me has seen Jesus.” Maybe one day, at my funeral, some kind soul will say, “Jim was the most Christ-like person I’ve ever met.”  Then I’ll know I got character.


 

November 15, 2013

Bible Study Isn’t to Win God’s Approval

Bible Study 2

Today, years later, I can still remember the reference, in fact I can still hear the cadence of my Sunday School repeating it slowly in unsion:

“Second Timothy Two Fifteen”

The verse, as we learned it, was “Study to show yourself approved unto God, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”  Actually it was “shew thyself.”

But while Bible study is important, the verse wasn’t translated as accurately as it might have been. Being “approved unto God” isn’t about study, in the more academic sense we think of it. Other versions have:

  • Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him (NRSV, NIV)
  • Work hard so God can say to you, “Well done.” (Living Bible)
  • For yourself, concentrate on winning God’s approval (Phillips)
  • Do your best to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker  (God’s Word, also CEB)
  • Do your best to be the kind of person God will accept  (ERV)
  • Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of (Message)
  • …do everything you can to present yourself to God as a man who is fully genuine (The Voice)

The Voice Bible sets up the broader context:

11 Here’s a statement you can trust:

If we died with Him,
    we will live with Him.
12 If we remain with Him,
    we will reign alongside Him.
If we deny Him,
    we will be denied by Him.
13 If we are unfaithful,
    He remains faithful,
For He is not able to deny Himself.

14 Remind others about these things that I’m telling you. Warn them before God to stop their useless bickering over words. After all, splitting hairs does no good; it only ruins those forced to listen to their meritless arguments. 15 Timothy, do everything you can to present yourself to God as a man who is fully genuine, a worker unashamed of your mission, a guide capable of leading others along the correct path defined by the word of truth. 16 Stay away from ungodly babbling because it will only lead deeper into a godless lifestyle. 17 Once these empty voices start to speak, Timothy, they infect and spread; and soon the body is consumed with its cancer…

In context, winning God’s approval is this passage is about character, and behavior; not about Bible knowledge.

There’s nothing wrong with Bible study. Every Christian should own several Bibles, a Bible Dictionary, a Concordance; or access to similar resources online. I only have to say, “Search the scriptures,” and immediately many of you think of the Bereans, who are commended in Acts 17:11 for their diligence in Bible study.

NIV Acts 17:11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

If you were raised with the two or three translations that use “Study to show yourself approved;” that’s not exactly bad advice. And it won’t throw you off track spiritually. But today we have the benefit of translations that will help us see passages in ways that more accurately reflect their context. In other words, you’ll discover that the section in II Timothy isn’t about studying the Bible if you… well… study the Bible.

We often do translation passage comparisons here, and facilitate that using BibleGateway.com; although I do own a multitude of translations and commentaries in print. Today at Thinking Out Loud we’re doing a feature on the variety of Bible versions available, so I want to invite you to continue reading at Bible Translation Families. I’m hoping it will shed some new light on how the various translations fit into the broader picture.