Christianity 201

June 2, 2021

Equip Yourself in Order to Equip Others

Today we have a brand new writer to highlight. Ron Braley is the pastor of NorthView Christian Church in Tyler, Texas, and writes at both Equipping Believers and Finding Discipleship. This is adapted from parts III and IV of a series on Loving Your Neighbor. You need to love yourself before you can spread that love to others and so as we prepared to post the fourth part as our sample of Ron’s writing today, we realized we needed to reach back to the previous message where he defined some of these elements more fully. Pleeeze encourage the writers we feature by reading their work at their pages, not ours. Click the headers which follow.

Love Yourself… How??

…[B]eing Christian carries the responsibility of remaining healthy in body, mind, spirit, etc., to the best of our ability in obedience to the Father and Son so that we can honor them and help bring the Kingdom of God to others. The good news is that the Bible gives us much of what we need to figure this out in two distinct areas: spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines.

Spiritual formation. Once we say, “I do!” in response to God’s call through Jesus, we’re to embark on a journey of transformation—in all areas of life, which is possible with the Spirit of God. Our change matures and forms several areas:

  • Relationships. If we remember that we’re to treat others with the love of Christ and consider them better than ourselves, our relationships will likely flourish (Philippians 2:3-4). Don’t go to bed angry (Ephesians 4:26) and be sure to ‘turn the other cheek’ to allow reconciliation (Luke 6:29). Finally, remember the ‘golden rule’ (Matthew 7:12).
  • Finances. The Bible has a LOT to say about sound money management. Be cautious about borrowing money and be content with what you have (Hebrews 3:5).
  • Physical health. Eat and drink (if applicable) in moderation. Get off the couch and put your body to work, even if just a bit at first. Remember that God desires to move you to action in His plans.
  • Intellect. Stimulate the brain by reading, studying something interesting, playing games, or assembling puzzles, etc. Say “No!” to the electronic stuff more often!
  • Emotional and mental health. Do what you can to keep your emotions and mind healthy by tending to the body, relationships, finances, and intellect. But, again, do what’s within your control.

Spiritual disciplines.

  • Prayer. It is our communications with (not just at!) God. Use Jesus’ model (Matthew 5:6-13) and Adore God, Confess sins, offer Thanksgiving, and Intercede for others (healing, finances, salvation, etc.).
  • Study. Engage God’s words in the Bible and meditate on them—it’s how we ‘put on Christ’ and become spiritually mature.
  • Accountability. We must bear each other’s burdens and confess sins, at least to one person we trust.
  • Giving (money, time, talents, etc.). The Bible demands it (e.g., Matthew 6:1-4 and 25:31-40; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7). Not only is it a necessary outcome of the Christian faith, but it can also help emotional health too. Giving stimulates the brain and makes us feel better physically and emotionally. It’s also a great way to take our eyes and minds off our troubles.

So, move toward emotional, physical, relational, financial, and spiritual health one baby step at a time in God’s direction as you love yourself. Next… we’ll put self-love to work as we dive into how to love our ‘neighbor.’

Love Yourself, Love Your Neighbor

…As we’ve learned, loving yourself positions you to love others. With healthy relationships (especially with God), finances, mind, emotions, and spirit, you’re armed to help others do the same. But, how does that look? We’ll learn that our love falls into similar categories as the spiritual formation I recently addressed. So, let’s frame my input like that.

Relationships. Our connections are vital! The Bible says much about interacting with others in a godly way to maintain and deepen those connections used to present God’s Kingdom to others. Here are several biblical tips for keeping those connections alive:

  • … be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to angerJames 1:19.
  • BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger Ephesians 4:26.
  • … but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:39-42.

Finances. You cannot help others financially without money! But, once you get your finances under control, you may have resources with which to help clothe, feed, or house others—things on which Jesus said He’ll judge us (Matthew 25:31-46).

Physical health. Jesus told us to ‘go.’ The ‘going’ is necessary to establish new relationships with which to be and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Our healthy relationships also allow us to ‘go’ and help others.

Emotional and mental health. This area affects relationships. When we’re healthy emotionally and mentally, we’ll be positioned to mentor others, listen to them in their pain, aid in healing, etc.

Spiritual. Once healthy, we can be godly models of spiritual practices, including Bible study, prayer, accountability, and discipleship. That’s how others can grow spiritually; spiritual growth positively affects all others!

In summary, loving your neighbor can happen when we love ourselves. Being healthy relationally, spiritually, financially, etc., sets us up to aid others by being godly models, helping physically, ‘being there’ emotionally, and assisting in feeding, housing, and clothing the less fortunate. Here’s the good news: you can still love others even while you’re becoming healthy. Just do what you can, give to others as you can.

 

January 1, 2021

Easy Steps to Being an Unloving Person in the New Year

Nobody sets out to be an unloving person, but if you know how it’s done, then you know what to avoid, right?

I want to take a different look at I Corinthians 13, aka ‘The Love Chapter.’

I know what you’re thinking. Can’t we do something a little deeper? Or look at a passage we haven’t heard hundreds of times? Well, hear me out.

But first a diversion. Did you know the word love doesn’t appear in this chapter in the KJV? I found this out the hard way trying to demonstrate to a pastor how a Bible concordance works. (The fact that I was not a pastor and he was, yet he had never seen a concordance speaks volumes to the type of Biblical education he received; but alas, time doesn’t permit me to share that story.) Anyway, I randomly selected “Love is patient” as my demonstration point but Strong didn’t include that because the KJV uses the word charity instead. So if “love is patient, love is kind” sounds old to you, remember it’s not that old.

The chapter begins,

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

So you’re thinking, if we want to know what it means to be unloving, we just take each descriptor and frame it in the negative. So, “love is patient, love is kind” becomes ‘un-love is impatient, un-love is unkind.’ (And it would get easier, since many of the traits are stated in the negative, so you would just drop the “not.”)

That would make for a simple exercise, and I was in a church study where we did that as an exercise; but keeping the above verse in mind, let’s go adjective-by-adjective but drill down deeper.

STEP ONE: The person without love would need to crave instant gratification, in other words, no room for delayed gratification. In the tech revolution of the 1950s (don’t look it up, there really wasn’t one) the talk was that in the future, everything would be yours at the push of a button; at the flick of a switch. As a more congested transport system leaves us waiting for what seems (but isn’t) forever to board a train, or for a traffic light to change; and as we desire faster download times for internet content, we reflect our hunger for getting everything NOW. Paul taught the Romans that “…endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” (Romans 5:4)

STEP TWO: The person without love would need to have a lack of empathy. You never know kindness until you’ve been shown kindness; and you never know the absence of kindness until you’ve had to experience it, but without empathy, you can’t connect the dots between what you’ve felt and what you’re doing or saying feels like to someone else. Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 7:12)

STEP THREE: This one is central. To not be the person of love Paul is describing to the Corinthians you have to be guilty of constant comparison. Some Bible expositors go so far as to speak of “the sin of comparison.” And I don’t need to give you the reference to remind us all that the 10th commandment is “do not covet which is applied equally to your neighbor’s (marital, in this case) situation, as well as your neighbor’s possessions.

STEP FOUR: Not being boastful begins by not being self promoting. This is critical in our present times, because social media somewhat implores us to put our best face forward on social media. (And tools like Photoshop allow us to edit how that face looks!) We are now even able to quantify our popularity by counting likes or followers.  Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches.” (Jeremiah 9:23)

STEP FIVE: I’ll keep this one really brief since I’ve written about passages such as Philippians 2 so many times here. You would need to have a complete absence of humility. Pride isn’t the issue here, pride is more of a manifestation (or symptom) of a larger problem. Rather, the overarching need for humility is part of a lifestyle that needs to cultivated. Jesus did not see his equality with God as something to be leveraged but chose the path of humility and the role of a servant. (My own take on Phil. 2) “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.” (Proverbs 22:4)

Let’s look at the next verse:

It [love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

STEP SIX: The unloving person would have no problem committing defamation of character. You could be absolutely right about someone, but still dishonor them by not keeping silent. Or you could be exacting revenge against someone and seek to destroy their character for that reason. Or you may just have a callous disregard for others. Romans 12:10 reads, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” The setup for the often quoted Philippians 2 passage begins “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (The CEB offers a gender-neutral expression for brotherly love: “Love each other like the members of your family.”)

STEP SEVEN: Because the previous already covered not boasting and not being proud, when we reach not self-seeking it may seem almost redundant. Could we say the unloving person is status-seeking? Or are they all about building their own empire? I would argue that with some it’s actually lacking transparency. We could also say they have a hidden agenda. They are perceived to be outwardly doing something altruistic, but like a skillful chess player, what outwardly appears a seemingly sacrificial move is coldly calculated to be of personal benefit. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

STEP EIGHT: The unloving person would undoubtedly be prone to knee-jerk reactions. And when have we ever seen this more than in the political climate of 2020? “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” James 1:19

STEP NINE: An unloving acquaintance hangs on to hurts. They’re making a list and checking it twice, and going to remember how many times you’ve stepped on their toes or damaged their feelings. Being forgetful can be a human failing. But it’s also a divine attribute. If we want to be God-like we need to learn how to forget! “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.” – Jeremiah 31:34b

The final verse of this micro-passage ends

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

STEP TEN: I wanted to combine these into a single step to bring the list to ten items. Ten items to avoid. The final one, in being an unloving person, you’d probably be seen a troublemaker. The person who delights in evil has their values turned upside-down and is glorifying wickedness instead of righteousness. Isaiah 5:20 nails this possibility: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” This verse wouldn’t be in our scriptures unless people had done this in Isaiah’s time; unless it were possible for us to be equally value-shifted.

None of these things are outside the realm of possibility. It’s easy to think of people we have known who were self-aggrandizing, deceitful, over-reactive, or just plain troublemakers. But it’s also not impossible to remember times in our own lives where we entered into those categories, or at least skated dangerously close.

In the new year, we want to be loving not unloving.

With God’s help, we can do this.



■ This is not the first time we’ve taken a backwards approach to I Corinthians 13. Check out, from March, 2016, A Personal Character Checklist.

■ Paul does as much himself — telling us what not love looks like — in the setup to the verses we examined. From January, 2014 check out Religious Activity versus Abiding in Christ.

Remembering that the whole Love Chapter is sandwiched between two chapters discussing spiritual gifts; from the 2nd of those articles:

In certain Christian quarters, we tend to treat supernatural gifts as the gold standard of faith, but without humility or love, we come up empty; and all our co-workers, neighbors, or extended family see is a preoccupation with religious things that really don’t appeal…

November 25, 2020

Friends You Can Trust

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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Much of our lives are circumstantial. We live in a particular part of the world at a particular time. We’re part of a particular family. We have particular friends.

The latter is where our story branches out into areas where we seemingly have more choice in the matter: Our friends. Two summers ago I was asked to share a sermon based on Proverbs and I chose Proverbs 13:20:

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.  (NIV)

You can read a devotional based on that message at this link.

The opposite of choosing wise friends, good friends, helpful friends, etc. is finding yourself in a situation where there are toxic people in your life. For more on this, look into books on the subject by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Gary Thomas, or June Hunt.

Even in the church, one can encounter people, the type of which one preacher called “Brother Sandpaper and Sister Sandpaper;” people who cause more irritation than joy.

Both inside and outside the United States, political polarization has caused people to take sides and the sources of potential interpersonal irritation have multiplied. Perhaps people you always thought of as amiable and pleasant have turned toxic.

Cloud and Townsend did a book years ago called Safe People, the definition of which is on their website in this article.

They say that a safe relationship is one that does three things:

  1. Draws us closer to God. (Matthew 22:37-38)
  2. Draws us closer to others. (Matthew 22:39)
  3. Helps us become the real person God created us to be. (Ephesians 2:10)

Let’s look at those scriptures:

  1. Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.
  2. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.
  3. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

In other words, the things that scripture admonishes us to cultivate in ourselves should also be the things that we look for in the people we allow to be part of our close circle of friends.

The article continues,

When John (Townsend) and I asked people to describe a “safe person” to us, they gave us these descriptions:

  • A person who accepts me just like I am.
  • A person who loves me no matter how I am being or what I do.
  • A person whose influence develops my ability to love and be responsible.
  • Someone who creates love and good works within me.
  • Someone who gives me an opportunity to grow.
  • Someone who increases love within me.
  • Someone I can be myself around.
  • Someone who allows me to be on the outside what I am on the inside.
  • Someone who helps me to deny myself for others and God.
  • Someone who allows me to become the “me” that God intended.
  • Someone who helps me become the “me” God sees in me.
  • Someone whose life touches mine and leaves me better for it.
  • Someone who touches my life and draws me closer to who God created me to be.
  • Someone who helps me be like Christ.
  • Someone who helps me love others more.

We all want people in our lives that help us in these ways. But how do we recognize them? What do they look like?

If we are to begin to utilize safe relationships, we need to first understand what a safe person is and why we need that kind of safety.

The best example of a safe person is found in Jesus. In him were fount the three qualities of a safe person; dwelling, grace and truth. As John wrote: “The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Again, I encourage you to finish reading the article, where they talk about the meaning of dwelling, grace and truth.

Here are some additional considerations about safe friendships:

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Col. 4:5,6 NIV)

Wounds inflicted by the correction of a friend prove he is faithful(Prov. 27:6a, The Voice)

The slap of a friend can be trusted to help you(Prov 27:6a NCV)

Rather, let our lives lovingly express truth [in all things, speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly].(Eph. 4:15 Amplified Bible)

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity. (Romans 12:2 Phillips)

We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things… We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer.
(Hebrews 10:24-25 CEV)

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (Psalm 1:1. Yes that’s KJV, but read what’s next…)

How well God must like you— you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon, you don’t slink along Dead-End Road, you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College. (same verse, The Message!)

To these scriptures and Cloud and Townsend’s thoughts, I would add this question: Are your friends leading you closer to the Cross; closer to Christ?

In today’s heated and polarized political climate, it’s possible some toxic people have emerged in your life. It might mean making some hard decisions to put some relationships on hold. Only you know if this applies to you.

August 9, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: The Church

For the last two days we’ve been looking at what are called The Five Discourses of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

■ Take time now read all of Matthew chapter 18.

The idea of ‘church’ as a building would have been a very foreign concept on the day Jesus had this particular huddle with his followers. Rather, He is talking about the relationships in the new community of believers.

This chapter deals with relationships in the new, emerging community that Jesus is shaping; these called-out ones; followers of what will be called The Way. This is sometimes referred to as The Ecclesial Discourse, and there is an extensive (i.e. quite lengthy) study page on this, including a helpful Q&A approach at this link.

The Greatest in the Kingdom

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  Matthew 18:1-3

This theme is recurring throughout the Jesus narrative. The mother of James and John dares to ask if her sons can sit to the left and right of Jesus, and then we have that embarrassing scene right after He has washed their feet and given them the symbols of his broken body and shed blood:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  Luke 22: 24-26

The answer is always the same, a reminder of the “upside down” nature of His kingdom.

Causing Others to Stumble

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  Matthew 18:6

Here Jesus warns about something that is going to be a great threat to the new community He is building: Corruption from within. How many times have you heard quoted — both from people inside the church and outside — that the greatest stumbling block to Christianity is Christians.

This situation can develop when Christians let down their guard and become lax about moral and ethical standards. However, it can also happen when well-meaning people impose rules and regulations on what Romans 14 calls those whose faith is weak.

Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.  Romans 14:13b

The Sheep Who Wander

While we left the “parabolic” discourse behind yesterday, this chapter does contain two parables. This very familiar one is a continuation of the thoughts above, told in terms of one sheep out of a flock of a hundred who has wandered off. In Luke 15, this story will become part of a trilogy including a lost coin and a lost son.

In the NIV, the first part of verse 10 begins, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones….” The full verse in The Message reads, Watch that you don’t treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don’t you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven?

A Pattern for Confronting Sin

Jesus issues a four-step guideline for dealing with sin in the community, which is totally connected to the idea (above) concerning those who cause others to stumble:

  1. Go directly to the person
  2. If they don’t listen, repeat, but bringing a couple of others with you
  3. If they still don’t respond, bring the matter before the assembly; the congregation
  4. If they are still not repentant, treat them as a pagan.

It’s not step four implies a complete excommunication, though some groups today practice this type of shunning.

This brings us to the verse,

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  Matthew 18: 18

At this point in church history, many different opinions exist as to the meaning of this verse, and we’ve covered (perhaps inconclusively) that a few years ago in What is Meant by Binding and Loosing.

The Forgiven Servant Who Doesn’t Forgive

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Matthew 18: 21

This is the longest section of Matthew 18, running to the end of the chapter at verse 35. Even beginning Bible readers will see a connection between this parable and the familiar words from Matthew 5:

and forgive us our sins,
    as we have forgiven those who sin against us. Matthew 6:12 NLT

The servant is let off the hook, but refuses to do the same in the matter of a much, much smaller debt. As I mentioned two days ago, I owe this attention to these discourses to Michael Card who writes on this passage:

 One of the key concepts of mercy (hesed) is that once we are shown mercy; we become obligated to give mercy. On realizing that the person from whom we have a right to expect nothing has given us everything, we must reciprocate.  –Matthew: The Gospel of Identity p166

There is one more block of teaching to follow. Stay tuned!

August 5, 2020

When Things Are So Very Hateful: Don’t Lose Your Love

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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One of the most-featured writers here over the years has been J. Lee Grady who’s blog is titled Fire in My Bones. Today’s article has been edited for length; you’re encouraged to read the entire piece at Charisma Blogs at the link below. Note: When you click through, you’ll have the option of listening to a devotional podcast At Work With God.

Don’t Let Love Grow Cold in These Hateful Times

…I’ve never known my country to be so hateful.

Anger has reached a boiling point. Passengers are being removed from planes because they started fistfights over leg room. Store customers are going ballistic because other customers aren’t wearing masks. Entitled Americans, always ready to record a cellphone video, are ready to blow the whistle on each other.

We don’t care how our words hurt people anymore. We have become a vicious culture. Jesus warned this would happen when He said that in the last days, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12, NASB)…

…The world tells us that ending a relationship is as easy as hitting the unfriend button. But when I read the Bible, I don’t see any room for outrage, resentment, intolerance or “unfriending.” Jesus calls us to love—and He gives us the supernatural power to do it.

Have you considered ending a relationship recently because of politics? Did you already walk out of a church or break a close friendship because of a disagreement? If so, examine your heart and ask these probing questions first:

  1. Am I giving up too soon? The apostle Paul told the Ephesians they should “always demonstrate gentleness and generous love toward one another, especially toward those who try your patience” (Eph. 4:2b, TPT). Your love will never grow unless it is stretched—and the best way to stretch your love is to show kindness when you feel like slamming a door in a person’s face.

The truth is that we often give up on relationships because we just don’t want to exert the energy to improve them. Relationships require a lot of work. When you unfriend someone just because they hurt you, you are missing an opportunity to become more like Christ.

Show some patience. Choose to love even when you don’t get anything in return.

Ephesians 4:3 (NLT) says we must “make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” The Greek word for “make every effort” means “to be diligent; to use speed; to be prompt or earnest; to labor.” That means you shouldn’t let wounds fester. Act quickly to repair the relationship before it gets worse!

  1. Would Jesus end this relationship? When you end a friendship because of an offense, you are doing the exact opposite of what Jesus did for you. Ephesians 4:32 says “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” You will never understand God’s merciful love if you don’t show it to others.

Jesus doesn’t flippantly write people off. He loved us even when we were sinners, and He patiently drew us to Himself using “ropes of kindness and love” (Hos. 11:4b). Before you end a friendship, judge a pastor, storm out of a church or give someone the cold shoulder, remember how aggressively Jesus pursued a relationship with you. Let His ropes of kindness pull you out of your bad attitude.

When Peter asked Jesus how many times we are required to forgive a person, Jesus answered “seventy times seven” (see Matt. 18:22b). Taken literally, that means 490 times—but Jesus wasn’t putting a limit on forgiveness. He was using the number seven to imply infinity. Stop counting how many times you have been offended and instead thank God for all the times He has overlooked your mistakes.

  1. Am I nursing a grudge? Our divisive political climate encourages people to get up mad in the morning, fuel their anger with hot political rhetoric throughout the day and then go to bed after listening to more arguments on news broadcasts. We are literally poisoning ourselves.

Many Christians have allowed similar poison in their lives because of church drama. They are mad that a pastor slighted them. They are jealous of someone who took a position they wanted. They are angry because a Christian did something hypocritical.

Resentment is deadly. It actually makes people sick. It also makes us ugly and unpleasant. Unforgiveness puts a frown on your face, wrinkles around your eyes and a sour tone in your voice.

Don’t let today’s culture of outrage infect you. Go against the flow of toxic hate. Make a decision today to work harder at maintaining your relationships. Forgive those who hurt you so your love doesn’t grow cold.

 

 

May 27, 2020

If You Ever Wished You Could Have Done Something, You Still Can

A different meaning for “gifts in kind”

In North America, we usually use the phrase “gifts in kind” to refer to donations people make to charities and non-profits of things other than cash. Someone will donate a valuable sterling silver cutlery set, or an oil painting by a renown artist.

We usually think of such gifts as originating with people who are wealthy — after all, they owned these beautiful pieces in the first place — but it can also be done by people who are too poor to make a monetary gift, but find themselves in possession of something that can be assigned a value and then sold by the organization they wish to support.

Today, I want to consider a situation where the gift was somewhat “in kind” — and I’m borrowing the term here for a different purpose — is being made because it has become impossible to give to the original intended recipient. In other words, person “A” is no longer around to bless, but in their honor, I am giving to person “B.”

2 Samuel 9:1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

2 Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”

“At your service,” he replied.

3 The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”

Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan…”

As the chapter continues, David pours out his generosity to Mephibosheth. The book Men of the Bible by Ann Spangler and Robert Wogelmuth tells us:

…David lavished Mephibosheth with more than he ever could have dreamed: land, servants, and access to the king’s table. Mephibosheth had not deserved the misfortune that had marked his life. But neither did he earn the good fortune that suddenly befell him. Mephibosheth must have been overwhelmed by it all.

There is more to the story to be sure, but I want to return again to verse one:

1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

I’m wondering if there’s anyone reading this who can think of someone who has passed from this life, and there perhaps a wish that you could have done something, or done more to bless that person?

Before we continue, it’s important to note that David and Jonathan had a covenant relationship. Matthew Henry notes:

It is good sometimes to bethink ourselves whether there be any promises or engagements that we have neglected to make good; better do it late than never. The compendium which Paul gives us of the life of David is this (Acts 13:36), that he served his generation according to the will of God, that is, he was a man that made it his business to do good; witness this instance, where we may observe,

1. That he sought an opportunity to do good.
2. Those he inquired after were the remains of the house of Saul…
3. The kindness he promised to show them he calls the kindness of God

At this point, it’s easy to let yourself off the hook and say, “I did not have a covenant relationship with anyone like that.

But is there someone to whom you could say,

  • Your father was a major influence in my life
  • Your mother helped me through a difficult time
  • Your brother was like a brother to me
  • Your aunt and uncle were very generous to me at a critical time
  • Your sister’s encouragement was always both needed and appreciated

and then, in recognition of that

  • invite them over for dinner or out to a restaurant?
  • give them a gift, perhaps even a Bible or Christian book?
  • make a charitable donation in their name or in memory of their loved one?
  • write out the story of how their relative blessed you and print it out for them as a keepsake?
  • failing all else, just simply tell them how much their family means to you?

Verse seven is our model. In light of the deep relationship between David and Jonathan:

7 “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Take a pause here to ask yourself: Is there a Mephibosheth in your life?

May 21, 2020

Conflict and Casting Our Pearls to Pigs

by Clarke Dixon

Needless to say, conflict is a huge problem for relationships and COVID-19 may be making things worse for many. Spouses and family members are not used to spending so much time together! Add in fear on top of stress over jobs, finances, and loved ones, and conflict can lie just below the surface. Conflict can take a lot out of us. Does Jesus say anything that can help us deal with potential conflict? Perhaps this:

Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

Matthew 7:6 (NRSV)

What does this have to do with conflict? This saying of Jesus is often interpreted as meaning either, “don’t be flip with the sacred” to quote Eugene Peterson’s the Message, or, more commonly, the idea of don’t waste your time presenting the good news of Jesus to people who will not listen.

Having just said “do not judge,” it would be rather strange for Jesus to immediately require a judgement, a rather severe judgement, that some people may not be worth the effort. Might there be another way to understand these words of Jesus?

We can get tripped up by the word ‘holy’ and assume that Jesus must be talking about the Gospel, or something like that. What if Jesus uses ‘holy’ here, not as the main focus, but in the same way he uses ‘pearls.’ That is, there is something really, really precious and of great value, something which ought not to be wasted. What is that precious thing Jesus is talking about? What is the focus?

Jesus has been speaking about judgement and inter-personal relationships, which we can read in verses 1-5, so let us continue that line of thought. Just as something that is holy should not be thrown to dogs, and just as pearls should not be thrown to pigs, our best should not be thrown into the judgement of others. Our best includes our time, our effort, our hearts, our minds, and our souls.

As we learned last week, judgement is a two way street. If I come against you in judgement, you wIll judge me in return. The next thing you know two people have taken a stand against each other and conflict is brewing. It is like a stand off between two nations headed for war. All their best resources are called upon to make that stand. People will get hurt if no one stands down.

Likewise, those who take a stand in judgement against another will throw all their resources at the brewing conflict, including time, energy, and huge amounts of space in their hearts and minds. People will get hurt. This is like throwing something holy to dogs, or pearls to pigs. It is worse that useless. They may be torn apart by it all.

Our time and energy is important. Our hearts and minds are important. Why waste them on judgement and conflict? What can we do instead? We look back to what Jesus has just said:

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-6 (NRSV)

First, we take care of the log in our own eyes before judging our neighbours for the specks in theirs. Before we go trying to fix others, we focus on your own hearts and minds. We get our own lives in order. We look for God to do a work in us, to develop and grow our character through the Holy Spirit.

Second, we realize that we are on a journey just like everyone else. So rather than taking a stand of judgement against someone, we look take a step forward in relationship. We can grow together, helping each other with our logs and specks.

There are moments where for our own safety, we may need to take a step back from a relationship. Boundaries can be important. While we will always want to take a step forward with people, sometimes we will need to take a step back. What we do not want to do is take a stand against. The conflict that follows a stand of judgement is going to take too much out of us. It is like throwing what is holy to dogs, or like casting pearls before swine. It is a terrible waste and may end up destroying us.

While we will always want to take a step forward with people, sometimes we will need to take a step back. What we do not want to do is take a stand against.

God shows us how it is done. God wants to move forward in relationship with us:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. . . . God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

Romans 5:6, 8-11 (NLT)

That does not sound like someone taking a stand against us! God could be against us, we have given Him plenty of reasons to do so, however, God is for us and not against us. Throughout the Bible God shows that He wants to walk with us. Through Jesus and the forgiveness of sin, God makes walking with us a reality. Through the Holy Spirit we experience God walking with us.

Do you want to take those steps forward with God? Perhaps you have decided instead to take a stand in judgement against God. God does not want to stand in judgement against you. He wants to walk in relationship with you. We can walk with Him, and learn from Him how to walk with others, in faith, hope, and love. This is much better than giving our best to judgement and conflict, than throwing what is holy to dogs, and pearls to pigs.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

May 14, 2020

Judge Not!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Although I’m not a betting man, I bet that if you went into our local high school and polled the students (thinking back to the good ole’ days a few months ago when students could be found in schools), and asked “who are the most judgemental people you know?” They would say “Christians.”
How can that be? Jesus very clearly said:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.

Matthew 7:1 (NRSV)

Perhaps we Christians don’t need to hear a sermon on judgement, but instead we just need to listen to Jesus!

If we are being honest, most of us struggle with judgemental attitudes. Not me, of course. I’m not judgemental, I just have superior discernment about how other people should live! I hope you realize I am joking, this being an area I can struggle in also.

Jesus tells us to not judge, but does he give us any help in learning how to live without judging others? Let us look at Jesus’ words again:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

Matthew 7:1-2 (NRSV)

Very often we read this to mean that if we judge someone, God will judge us in the same way. However, through Jesus we learn about the grace of God, and how God does not treat us as our sins deserve. Being judgemental is not an unforgivable sin. Also, Jesus does not mention God here at all.

Here is another way to think of it. Suppose I come at you with judgement, something like “you are stupid because you did this.” Will you respond with “Oh, good thought Clarke, thank you for that,” or will you not more likely respond with, “Who does Clarke think he is?”? See what happened there? I judged you, which led to you judging me.

If I come at you with a lot of judgement in a really harsh tone, you will likely respond with a lot more judgement. “Clarke said this, that, and the other thing to me – well, let me tell you this, that, and the other thing about Clarke!” The measure we give will be the measure we get.

The words of Jesus here are neither a promise, nor a theological premise, but rather a proverb. This is how judgement and judgementalism usually goes. Judgement is usually a two way street. The path of judgement is not a path you want to go down. It does not lead to a good place. There is a better way of handling our relationships. What is that better way?

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5 (NRSV)

The better way is to focus on tidying up our own house.

We now have a vegetable garden in our yard, or at least space allocated for one. We could look over the fence and be judgemental about the neighbours’ vegetable gardens, except we don’t know what we are doing and have much to learn. Likewise, we can’t go picking on people for their lack of spiritual growth and life skills if we are lacking in spiritual growth and life skills ourselves.

However, do we have the right, perhaps even the obligation to judge others once we have achieved spiritual maturity? Perhaps we feel justified in saying “I am not judgemental, I just have great discernment about how other people should live”? Let us turn again to the words of Jesus:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:10-14 (NRSV)

Our garden is never that great. Just when we think we are doing well in spiritual maturity, pride kicks in. After all, we are not just doing well in our spiritual maturity, we are doing better than others. In fact, thank the Lord we are not like others! How quickly we become the Pharisee.

But what if we actually do have discernment about other people’s situations? I know how that feels. We have three teenage boys, so my discernment is through the roof as to how they should live! Surely we have an obligation to help people steer a good course if they are headed for rocks and we know where those rocks are?

We go back to what Jesus has already taught in the Sermon on the Mount, namely, that it is not about rules, but about character. If we have a rules-based way of looking at life and spirituality then we may jump all over people for breaking the rules, especially the rules we keep well, or more likely, only the rules we keep well. However, if we are focused on walking with Jesus on a journey of character formation, then we will offer to walk with others on their journey of character formation. We are aware that we ourselves still have some distance to go.

Those who seem to have farther to travel along that path may actually be further along than we are in some respects. Walking together along a path of mutual growth is far better than running down the two-way street of judgmentalism.

We want to minimize the roadblocks on the journey toward maturity. One’s sinful nature is a speed-bump which becomes a roadblock through judgement. It does not matter how amazing my neighbor’s garden might be, if he pops his head over the fence and starts coming at me in a judgemental way for my gardening, I am probably not going to listen. He does know better, but the judgemental way he expresses it leaves the gate wide open for me in my pride to reject his discernment. But if he is simply a friendly and helpful neighbour who has a great garden, I might go to him and ask “how’d you do that?”

Are we good neighbours? Are we progressing down that path of character formation? What fruit is growing in our lives? Have we been nurturing judgemental attitudes which can grow like weeds, or “love, peace, kindness, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22,23). Developing such fruit of the Spirit is done by walking with Jesus. That is how we tidy our gardens. That is what will enable us to help others with theirs. We want to be helpful, not hurtful. To quote Carey Nieuwhof “very few people get judged into life change. Far more get loved into it.”

Are you judgemental? Or just highly discerning like me? Ahem. The best way to get a handle on our judgemental attitudes is not by fixing everyone around us so there is no-one left to judge, but by sticking close to Jesus on a journey of growth. We have a long way to go, but we have a lot of help along the way, from God through the Holy Spirit, but potentially even from those we might want to judge.

The best way to get a handle on our judgemental attitudes is not by fixing everyone around us so there is no-one left to judge, but by sticking close to Jesus on a journey of growth.



Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

May 11, 2020

Have You Been Conscious of God’s Love in the Past Week?

This is an excerpt from Healthy Me, Healthy Us: Your Relationships Are Only as Strong as You Are by: Dr. Les Parrott and Dr. Leslie Parrott releasing later this month with Thomas Nelson. To read the full excerpt go to Devotions Daily. Learn more about the book at this link.

How to Change Your Negative Self-Talk

…In the 1700s, Jonathan Edwards used a simple analogy: “There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet and having a sense of its sweetness.” You can know honey is sweet because someone tells you, but you don’t really know its sweetness until you’ve tasted it.

We’re talking about opening your heart and allowing the sweetness of God’s love to be experienced. This is more about your heart than your head. It’s what John Wesley was getting at in pondering God’s love when he described his heart as being “strangely warmed.” Pascal, who was a mathematician and scientist as well as a philosopher, said his heart was “directed into the love of God.” It’s a feeling at the center of our beings. It’s beyond knowing with your head. In fact, it’s beyond comprehension. How can you wrap your head around being loved by the Creator — so much so that you feel it?

When I (Les) was a graduate student in seminary, a professor asked a class of more than fifty students: “How many of you experience God’s love?” He quickly added, “Don’t raise your hands on impulse. Think about it and only raise your hand if you know the feeling of being loved by God.” Out of this room of students preparing for ministry, how many hands went up? Fewer than a dozen. Those who didn’t raise their hands gave answers like “I know I’m supposed to say that I have… I know the Bible says He loves me… but I don’t feel it.” Some even admitted that God felt cold, aloof, and demanding — not loving.

The professor wasn’t surprised. It wasn’t his first time to pose the question to a class of students. He followed it up with another: “How many of you have been conscious of God’s love for you, personally, in the past week?” No hands went up this time. He waited a couple of beats and continued: “How many have been conscious of God’s disapproval of you this week?” Hands shot up all around the room.

If you want to experience God’s love, if you want to feel it deep in your spirit, you’ve got to admit that you are indeed inadequate — that you haven’t and will not ever earn God’s love. It’s an impossibility.

You can only receive it as a grace gift. When God tells us,
Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His presence continually.
— 1 Chronicles 16:11 ESV

He is not merely making a suggestion. He designed us to live with Him. That’s where we find health, wholeness, and fulfillment. Jesus underscored this when He said,
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
— John 10:10 ESV

You may feel as though a million hurdles stand in your way to experiencing God’s love — guilt, shame, blame, perfectionism, legalism, inadequacies, hurts — but be assured that nobody has or ever will earn the love of God. Each of us is undeserving. But when we open our hearts to receive it and continually walk with God to experience it, our internal dialogue forever changes…


Taken from Healthy Me, Healthy Us: Your Relationships Are Only as Strong as You Are by: Dr. Les Parrott and Dr. Leslie Parrott Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

January 18, 2020

The Difference Between a Friend and a Brother

Today we return to Before the Cross, written by . This makes a great and timely point. Click the title below to read at source.

Real Community Shows When There’s Trouble

Our Community Group right now at Austin Life Church is going through the book of Proverbs each week. Recently we were covering Proverbs 17 and 18 and there was a part in chapter 17 that stood out to me.

Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

Other translations say a brother is born for a difficult time, or to help when trouble comes.

There’s a couple of things that stand out to me from this.

There’s A Difference Between A Friend And A Brother

After the invention of social media and the increase of technology, we find ourselves with many “friends” these days, but we know they aren’t really that close to us. They aren’t actual real relationships that experience life together. I’m afraid we are getting farther and farther away from real relationships with people, even though we crave this and want real community with others.

A “brother” (or sister), is someone who shows up. An actual real relationship that does life with you. He/She is someone you see or talk to with frequency. Someone you can be vulnerable with and not be afraid about being “the real you.” There’s a huge difference between someone who likes your picture online vs the person who’s in the picture with you.

Do you have someone like this in your life?

There’s Going To Be Times Of Trouble

As we follow Jesus, we are never promised a life free of issues. In fact, sometimes things can feel like they are getting “worse” because we see the real war that is taking place between making Godly decisions vs sinful decisions each and every day. In this life, in this sinful and broken world we still live in, with sinful and broken people, there will be times of trouble.

What is clear Biblically, is that we are not to isolate ourselves and do life alone. We are all different members of the same body (the church) and so when we isolate ourselves, we intentionally separate ourselves from the body.

We absolutely need brothers and sisters to walk with us in times of adversity. When trouble comes into our lives, we need help and encouragement to spur us on to love and good works

…let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24).

I’m convinced we all need a few of these close people in our lives as followers of Jesus. Not only for ourselves, but also to be that person for someone else or for multiple people. This is how the whole body of Christ works together.

If you don’t have people that close to you in your life, why not? Are you holding back? Afraid to be real with one another? Not connected to the local church? Been hurt by past friendships?

Let me encourage you that regardless of your past, you have full freedom and forgiveness from what Jesus has done for you and you have the power from the Holy Spirit to step into those close relationships, without fear of what “could happen.” It’s a step of faith on building these relationships around you, but Christianity is all a step of faith. Plus, you have so much to offer because God sees value in your life and He has wired you to compliment the body of Christ so we all have a role to play.

The fact is for all of us who follow Jesus, we are all going to be in heaven together for all eternity anyway, so we might as well get to know each other today.


Friendships: A Warning

While preparing today’s devotional, I found another reference to the Hebrews text presenting another approach. I thought it worth sharing here for those who want to look at this in an entirely different light.

“…spurring one another on towards love and good deeds.” (Heb. 10:24)

Bizarrely, the closer some relationships are, the more permissive they can become; and our passion to do what is right is diluted. As we feel able to relax completely with trusted friends, we can abuse the sense of ease by letting our behavior slip. Gradually language that we would never use in public slips into the conversation and off-white humour that we know is inappropriate becomes part of the common currency of our friendship, because we feel able to let our hair down. The friendship has now become one that gives permission (where we give each other a license to compromise) rather than providing exhortation (where we encourage each other towards character and excellence).

~Jeff Lucas, writing in Lucas on Life, devotional reading for Jan 20, 2005.

Friend Counting: Also in our blog archives this quotation:

I think about the number of friends I have who are that way, who would answer the phone if I were to call at 2 a.m. (and who may well get such a call before peace returns), who would listen and love me no matter what I say, what I do. At the drop of a hat I can tell you roughly how much money I own, the approximate amount of equity in my house, exactly how many frequent-flyer miles I have. But it takes some thought to conjure up the number of true friends, because I don’t think on them as often as I should.Their number is far greater than I deserve, and maybe just enough to carry me through to the end.

It’s worth doing such a heart’s accounting, now and then, to remind yourself how many people love you, how many people would welcome you into their homes, how many pray for you and think about you and take joy in knowing you are well.

And then to ask yourself how many people would consider you such a friend.

~Tony Woodlief

December 14, 2019

Different Types of Kisses

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Sam describes himself as “a minister, teacher, husband, dad, artist, basketball fan, Ph.D., computer geek, and SG-1 fan.” He’s been blogging for about a year now at Word-Centered Living. This is our first time highlighting his writing here at Christianity 201. He’s currently in a series in 2 Samuel.

What kind of kiss are your kisses?

“And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him.” (2 Samuel 20:4-13, NASB)

What kind of kiss are your kisses in life?

Not every kiss in life is a kiss of peace, friendship, or affection. Had Amasa understood this, he might have survived the assassination attack by Joab. King David commissioned Amasa the newly appointed general to rally the people to go after Sheba the troublemaker. But Amasa took too much time in carrying out the order that David re-delegated that order to Abishai and Joab.

When Joab met Amasa in the field, he came in a friendly manner and brutally killed him. It says, “And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Amasa was not on guard against the sword which was in Joab’s hand so he struck him in the belly with it and poured out his inward parts on the ground, and did not strike him again; and he died.

His motive for killing him was probably to remove him as a rival to his position in the army (2 Sam.19:13). While the killing itself was disturbing enough, the way Joab went about killing Amasa was even more disturbing. Joab came to him offering friendship and used it to deceive and attack him. He greeted, “Is it well with you, my brother?” Then he took hold of his beard as if he was about to kiss him and killed him.

Kisses of people can come in many forms—hugs, praises, gifts, or arm around the shoulder. The Bible says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov.27:6). Even our Savior was betrayed with a kiss by his friend and companion Judas Iscariot.

Do not be deceived by the kisses of people for not are all kisses of love and respect.

How about you? Do you use “kisses” to manipulate others, gain friendship, or even hurt others? Betraying people with a kiss is a cowardly act and something that Christians should avoid at all costs. As Christians, we are commanded to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom.16:16). It means that the kisses we give in life ought to be a genuine, sincere, and sacred act. We may not be able to control the kisses of people around us, but we can control how we are going to use kisses in our own life.

What kind of kiss are your kisses?


Read more: The Joab story continues in Talk It Out Before Fighting It Out.

May 14, 2019

Evangelism is More Showing Than Telling

Today we’re featuring an author who is new to us, Heather Goodman who writes at All Things Are Yours. This the beginning section of a much longer article, so you are encouraged to click the header below.

Evangelism and Genuinely Liking People

Forget apologetics.   Forget signs and wonders.  If you really want to excel at evangelism, there is one golden key worth more than all the others – LIKE the people you are reaching out to with Jesus.  Since we often get really messed up with doublespeak when we talk about what it means to “love”, I’d like to submit that the real issue is whether or not we LIKE “them.”  In general, we can’t bring people to Jesus that we don’t like.

What is evangelism, first of all?

A student of Greek will quickly explain that evangelism involves sharing good news, being an ambassador, etc etc.  And that’s all good and true.  Evangelism is part of our kingdom role of being priests and kings.  Malachi talks about one of the jobs of a priest:

“True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. 7“For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.”  (Malachi 2:6-7)

Sharing the knowledge of God both with believers and nonbelievers is incredibly important and is our honored role in the Kingdom.  I’ve heard people often quote, St. Francis in saying, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.” But the reality is that words will always be necessary.   We are to help people UNDERSTAND things about God, and share knowledge.

BUT –  if our view of evangelism is just about TELLING people something, shoving a sign or a tract or a well-rehearsed message at someone, I don’t think we’re going to get very far with real humans with that approach.  At least, I never saw much come of my own efforts at evangelism when I approached people with that mindset.  Evangelicalism for a long time has I think based much of its lifeless attempts at sharing the good news with people on a misapplication of one verse:

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”Isaiah 55:11

This verse is often used to justify completely violating or at completely impersonal attempts at sharing Christ with people.  Under this mindset, all that matters is making people hear words.   It doesn’t matter if the message comes to them in any real understandable form, or if it has any personal connection to them… simply shouting at them is good enough, for God will make any words we shove at them “not return void.”  Though an explanation of why that’s a bad way to read that verse is well beyond the scope of this blog post, that’s not what this verse meant when it was written, and I don’t think its what it means for us today.

LEARNING A DIFFERENT WAY

My relationship with being an emissary of the gospel really started to change a few decades back when I stopped trying to be a “good witness”  (which is evangelicalism-speak for “hiding all your sins and faults from nonbelievers in order to supposedly attract them with the perfection of your life now that you are a believer in Jesus”) and instead let a non-Christian friend see me “for real,” as I shared with him the depths of the depression I was in, as well as my intense struggles with God at that time.  When he suddenly up and decided that Christ was real and he wanted in on the Kingdom when I was contemplating how best to hurt myself, I started realizing that my first “convert” was teaching me something about how Christ makes Himself known to people – and it wasn’t by me being fake and seemingly having it all together in front of non-believers.

I also started learning that it wasn’t about shoving impersonal sentences at people that supposedly were “the Word of God that won’t return void” to them.  Some wise person shared with me that every person in existence is already in a relationship with God, and that He has been dancing with them their entire lives, carefully cultivating a conversation with them.  I started to understand that my job as an evangelist was not to plod on into that conversation like a bull in a China shop, but to respect it – and to learn to peer into how God has already been engaging with that person, and that person with God – and to enter appropriately into THAT conversation.

Just as the Holy Spirit is one who “comes alongside and helps” I started to see my job as a colaborer with Christ by the Holy Spirit, agreeing with the Holy Spirit in coming alongside a person being drawn to Christ, rather than coming at them.  Good evangelism is midwifery, and while some babies are born on their own, much of the time someone helps the baby along…

…continue reading at this link

 

April 18, 2019

Compelling Grace, Part 2

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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How Loving Others Points to God

by Clarke Dixon

For a worldview or religion to be compelling you would expect it to nurture good relationships. This is especially true where offence is involved. Where there are relationships, there are hurting people, for people hurt people. We are human. If a worldview or religion is true, we should expect that it will help us relate to one another and navigate the nasty quirks of our humanity.

Does Christianity provide a compelling vision for relationships including a method of dealing with offence? Some would say “no, Christianity is all rules which makes people get all judgemental.” Others would say, “no, Christianity is all forgiveness which turns people into doormats.” So which is it?

Last week we looked at the compelling way God relates to us. To summarize, God’s relationship with us is based on His grace, not our performance. How are we to relate to others?

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)

As God relates to us, we relate to others; with love and grace. Consider the following verses:

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . .
10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. . . .
16 God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.  We love each other because he loved us first.
 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. 1 John 4:7,10,16-21 (NLT)

We are to relate to others in the same manner God relates to us; with love and grace. There are some things we can say about this . . .

First, grace provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships. Some relationships are like sailing in a thunderstorm or like walking on eggshells. Fear is a constant. However, “perfect love expels all fear.” God drives out our fear for He does not treat us as our sins deserve (see Psalm 103), but rescues us, and relates to us, by his grace. What is true with our relationship with God can also be true in our relationship with others. Grace provides a great fear-free atmosphere for people to thrive in growing relationships. In marriage, in family, among friends, at the workplace, in teams, the experience of grace given and received provides a great atmosphere to live, work and play.

Second, grace provides a compelling response to offence. People often deal with offence by either “fight or flight.” Neither work well. The Christian is to do neither. Rather than lash out and risk an all out war, we are to turn the cheek. Some will say that is not at all compelling. Won’t people will walk all over us and take advantage of our grace? Well, no, grace provides for a flexibility in responding to offence.

Suppose a spouse is abused again and again, and each time the abused spouse is expected to forgive the abuser as if nothing ever happened. Is that compelling? No. I call this “doormat grace.” Some would say this is the vision of Christianity in dealing with offence, but it is not. The Bible teaches the need for grace, love, and forgiveness in relationships, yes, but the Bible also teaches the need for wisdom. The Book of Proverbs is still in the Bible! We need not offer doormat grace, but wise grace. Grace toward offenders means wanting the best for them, it does not mean putting up with the worst for yourself. When you respond with grace, you do not seek the destruction of the offender, but neither do you open yourself up for destruction. The gracious person turns the other cheek instead of hitting back. The wise person also takes a step back.

Grace, when applied with wisdom, sounds like this: “I will not seek your harm, though I think you deserve it, however, I do not trust you and so have set boundaries so that you can not harm me further. There may be opportunities for changing these boundaries in the future, but right now I discern these to be appropriate for my own safety and well-being.” Grace leads to not seeking revenge. It does not lead to acting as if the offence never happened, that trust has never been broken. Wisdom considers trust. Grace considers the possibility of future relationship. Wisdom considers the possibility of future harm. Grace leads to treating people better than they deserve. Wisdom leads to not letting people treat you worse than you deserve.

Grace in relationships is compelling. It provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships and a compelling response to offence which includes flexibility in applying wisdom in responding to offence. Within Christian relationships there is space for growth, reconciliation, boundaries, and safety for oneself. Christianity when practiced in emulation of God, in the Spirit of Christ, and keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, provides a compelling vision for relationships, including a compelling method of dealing with offence. The manner in which Christians are to relate to others is really compelling. This is no surprise of course, for it comes from a real God.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

 

February 6, 2019

Why We’re Not Hearing Each Other

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re back once again sharing the thoughts of Pastor Kevin Rogers who is, one of the longest running and perhaps the most frequently cited devotional writer/blogger here at C201.

Why Can’t We Hear Each Other?

When I have talked to couples or family members that are struggling with understanding each other, there is often a failure to have communication at that deeper level. It is possible to have lots of words or nearly none and be at an impasse with each other.

I have relationships like that. There are those that I would like to have more understanding and meaningful conversation with, but somehow lack the right words or the right connection. If you are on a cell phone and the signal is breaking up, you eventually give up and try again. You disconnect and dial again. That is assuming that you want to have the conversation.

In face-to-face encounters, we may have some people that we do not want to talk with. Why is that? We can choose to avoid them, but that is not always satisfactory. Sometimes we know that there are good reasons to be connected to them and there is a communication breakdown repeatedly.

Sometimes you cannot hear the voice of the other because the voice inside you is hurt, angry and insecure. The voice competing with real communication is telling you it’s time for fight, flight or freeze. This not only happens in human relationships, but also with the Divine. We cannot communicate with God when something else is interfering.

Would you like to have better communications? I know that I would. Let’s pull back the curtain and see what is going on behind the scenes.

James 1.19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

James identifies a core problem that affects all of our relationships. He says to get rid of everything that is sinful. Get rid of the evil that is all around us. Human anger does not produce the holy (healthy and fulfilled) life that God wants for us.

There are lying, hurtful, selfish things that lie at the heart of our failure to communicate. (Either in myself or in you—likely in both of us). I cannot start to connect with another until I first see what barrier is preventing that closeness.

I would like to blame you for the ways you are not meeting my needs or how you are insensitive toward me; but, that world of resentment and hurt inside me has a way of convincing me that it’s all you or that I am incapable of real meaningful connection. And so, my sin becomes unworthiness, self-pity and angry frustration.

Guess what? I will not breakthrough until I am willing to see the barriers that exist in me. By acknowledging my distorted perception, I can find God’s help to deal with my stuff. Maybe that will include me making amends, confessing my faults and relieving you of the awkward tension that comes from my fuzzy thinking. If it does nothing for you, I still need to get right in my understanding and live in God’s grace.

Let’s look at ways that we can move toward healthy communication and connectedness.


Kevin continued in these same verses in James in three consecutive posts:


For today’s text in The Passion Translation, click this link.

January 5, 2019

Relationship Imperfections Remind Us of What Only God Can Fill

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re back with Gary Henry at WordPoints. After a long internal debate as to which of these I should run, I decided to use both of them — Gary presented them both the same day — as I felt that the subjects were integrated. Click the title to read either at source and then navigate from there to check out the other great topics on the site.

Our Need for Relationship

“That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

A NEED FOR RICH PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP IS DEEPLY EMBEDDED IN OUR CREATED NATURE

We owe our existence not to impersonal forces, but to a personal Creator, and it was the Creator Himself who said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We are personal beings, and we were designed for full, vibrant relationship.

But sin destroys relationship. It severs us from God and from others, cutting us off from this thing that is so necessary to our na­ture. So there is perhaps no sy­mptom of sin any more obvious than the deep, gnawing pain of isolation. And in sin, there is no groaning more desperate than to be freed from our loneliness.

But however much we need relationship in general, our most vital need, the only one we can’t survive without, is our need for relationship with God.

“In every man there is a loneliness, an inner chamber of peculiar life into which God only can enter.”
(George MacDonald)

Our craving for God is a dependency we were meant to have. It is a profound need for perfect relationship, and to try to fill this need with our flawed connection to other human beings is not only wrong; it is hopeless.

If we fail to let God fill our need for love — if it is not in Him that our loneliness is taken away — then we will force an impossible mandate on the imperfect people around us. We will demand from others a satisfaction they aren’t capable of providing for us in this broken world. Only the infinite God is able to relate to us perfectly. And even with God, what we can have in this life is only a foretaste of the perfect union that heaven will provide.

When we find that even our most intimate earthly companions can’t provide the depth of relationship for which we were created, bitterness may be the tempting reaction. Yet there is a healthier response. We can see the imperfections in our own relationships as a salutary reminder. God alone is the One to whom we must look for life and unfailing love. To forget that is to lose the path that leads back home.

“Didst thou give me this inescapable loneliness so that it would be easier for me to give thee all?”
(Dag Hammarskjöld)

Refuge

“It was a dark and stormy night.”
(Edward Bulwer-Lytton)

TWO DIFFERENT TIMES COME AROUND SOONER OR LATER: (1) TIMES WHEN WE NEED A REFUGE, AND (2) TIMES WHEN SOMEONE ELSE NEEDS A REFUGE WE CAN PROVIDE

“Dark and stormy nights” are a fact of life, and when we find ourselves in the middle of one, our hearts need a safe place in which to shelter. It’s important to appreciate the shelter that others have given us in the past, and even more important to make our hearts a place where they’ll find a welcome when they’re the ones who are scared of the storm.

Having a heart that provides refuge for others takes some learning. Not many of us have such a heart naturally. Caring perhaps comes naturally, but showing compassion in ways that actually do some good is a skill that has to be learned. It’s not rocket science, maybe, but it does take a little education in the school of caregiving. We have to watch and listen. We have to apply good judgment. We have to learn from well-intentioned mistakes that we’ve made. In short, we have to grow in the quality of the mercy that we extend.

Men, especially, have to learn how to be a refuge to others. Since the simple gift of “nurturance” is not normally our strong suit, we have to exert extra effort to learn it. The strong masculine tendency to “fix” whatever’s wrong has to be reined in. To have hearts in which others find refuge, we must learn to see when a safe harbor is all that’s needed — and not a dry-dock facility for ship repair.

Who are those that need from you the gift of refuge? The answer would probably surprise you. If you knew the hurts that those around you carry with them every day, you would be astonished. You may never know those hurts. Your friends may never choose to confide in you about them. But you would do well to assume that most of the people you deal with are hurting. Be ready. Be prepared for the time when they might consider seeking some safety in their relationship with you. If that time ever comes, you will have bestowed on you one of life’s greatest privileges: the privilege of showing compassion.

“Discouraged people don’t need critics. They hurt enough already. They don’t need more guilt or piled-on distress. They need encouragement. They need a refuge. A willing, caring, available someone.”
(Charles R. Swindoll)


Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
  Colossians 3:12 NIV

We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love.
 2 Corinthians 6:6 NLT

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