Christianity 201

March 28, 2018

“Open Your Bibles as We Read from the Book of…”

With the 8th anniversary of Christianity 201 happening on Easter Sunday, we’ve been looking at some of the older articles on file; this one is from March, 2012…

I believe the most powerful words with which a preacher can begin any sermon is to say, “Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of…” I love analogies, I love to hear about the context in which the writers wrote, I love it when a preacher quotes contemporary and classic writers, and I need to hear the suggested application of the passage to my life…

…but it all has to begin with scripture.

2 Peter 1:16-NIV For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Verse 21 in the above is key to this discussion. No matter what my will would desire to say, my words must, first and foremost, be guided by the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Eugene Peterson translates the concluding section of the passage:

The main thing to keep in mind here is that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private opinion. And why? Because it’s not something concocted in the human heart. Prophecy resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to speak God’s Word.

The problem we face in the Christian media, including Christian radio and television, and in Christian books, is that you’re hearing a lot of what Peter would call “private opinion.”

Any blogger or pastor or author has to be continually running a check: Is this my opinion or is this what God is saying? Is this my pet peeve or favorite subject or am I letting the passage speak?

In the U.S., there was (and probably still is) a network of radio stations that operated under the corporate name Clear Channel. That’s a radio term originally referring to certain powerful AM-frequency signals that broadcast over a wide area — especially at night — without interference from local stations that were assigned the same frequency.

Being a clear channel of what God means speaking with the power of His Word and not allowing the message to be fuzzy or subject to interference.

Continuing this theme in the next chapter — and remember the chapter divisions don’t exist in the original — Peter goes on to describe those whose signal is “interfered with” as false teachers.

Years ago, I asked a friend of mine who was doing research into cults to explain to our church exactly how does a cult get started. I used the analogy, “How does a rocket, properly aimed and positioned start to veer off course?”

I think it’s not a stretch to look at chapter two of Peter’s epistle as having some origins in what he says in chapter one: It began with someone’s “own interpretation” (NIV) or “private opinion” (Peterson).

A crowd can be wrong. Just because hundreds of people are jumping off a cliff doesn’t mean you should also. But there is a security in both (a) the way the ‘church fathers’ have traditionally dealt with a passage of scripture; established through study Bible notes and commentaries, and (b) the confirmation that comes through the reading of other passages.

In preparing today’s thoughts, I was somewhat astounded by the large percentage of commentary and writing in the Christian quarter of the internet that begins with opinions and stores, compared with the very tiny percentage that begins with a verse or chapter of the Bible. (And yes, my other blog was trending that way so I created this one to give my own life and writing some balance.)

When it’s your turn to be the speaker, make the first words out of your mouth, “Take your Bible and turn to…”

~PW

 

September 29, 2015

The Top Verses: Minor Prophets Edition

Today we pay a return visit to TopVerses.com and a look at scripture verses that are often sought out from the twelve Minor Prophets of the first testament. (Far from a last minute devotional, this is something I’ve been meaning to do for several months, and it took twice as long to format this!) All selections NIV; clicking the reference will take you to a page which shows the verses in context, in 3 different translations. Allow the various passages to speak to you.

Hosea 4:6

Bible Rank: 469
My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.”

Joel 2:28

Bible Rank: 90
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”

Amos 3:7

Bible Rank: 822*
Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.

Obadiah 1:2

Bible Rank: 2,085
“See, I will make you small among the nations; you will be utterly despised.”

Jonah 1:1

Bible Rank: 1,144
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai:

Micah 6:8

Bible Rank: 99
He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Nahum 1:2

Bible Rank: 2,385
The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies.

Habakkuk 1:2

Bible Rank: 1,856
How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?

Zephaniah 3:17

Bible Rank: 1,522
“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Haggai 1:4

Bible Rank: 2,791*
“Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

Zechariah 9:9

Bible Rank: 739
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Malachi 3:10

Bible Rank: 492
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

*The top searched verse in Amos is one of those humorous verses that doesn’t exactly provide the devotional blessing we’re going for here! The top verse in Haggai was similar to the one in Jonah, so we went to the second one. At some point we’ll return and look at second and third ranked verses, but always remember that the verse numbers themselves are an artificial construction that were never part of the original documents.


November 16, 2014

You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This Sermon is About You

The Voice – II Cor. 3:18 Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into His same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it.

The Amplified Bible – II Cor. 3:18 And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.

 

Have you ever been in church and the pastor is preaching and after awhile it occurs to you that the whole sermon seems to be directed at one particular person’s situation? It’s almost embarrassing. It’s like everyone knows the minister is referring to Dan or Shirley or Marg or Jason, so why doesn’t he just go all the way and use their names?

But then, mysteriously, you’re drawn into a long conversation with Dan, Shirley, Marg or Jason a few weeks later, and you get the distinct impression that the sermon hasn’t changed a thing in their life; that whatever it was that made it so blatant to you and everyone else that it was about them, seems to have misfired or otherwise not taken root.

I suppose there are a number of possibilities here, of which three are:

  • They were tuned out for most of the sermon; not paying attention
  • The pastor’s remarks registered, but they assumed it applied to someone else, never considering it might be them to whom the sermon was most directly speaking
  • The application and needed next steps registered, but were eventually dismissed or forgotten
  • perhaps the cost of change or the price of obedience was simply too high

The Bible tells us we’re not simply to be hearers of the word, but doers of the word; but sometimes we mess up the hearing part which cancels out the rest.

James 1:22-24 (The Message) Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like

Imagine not knowing what you look like.

People do this everyday however. The middle aged man steps into his souped up sports car, turns the music on the sound system up high, and believes he is still 18. He starts flirting with his assistant at work and with the receptionist at the dentist’s office, and forgets he’s graying; that he has a wife and kids.

He needs a mirror.

The woman who goes out to lunch to with four friends and then spontaneously offers to pick the tab for everyone’s meal before they embark on an afternoon of shopping, slapping down the credit card at store after store, forgetting that the bank has already canceled her other credit card because of too many missed payments, and her income prospects for the foreseeable future are rather dim.

She needs a mirror.

We all need a mirror. An accurate one. One that doesn’t distort the truth. The clearest, most focused mirror is God’s word. It shows us what right living looks like. It tells us where we’ve messed up. What we can do to get back on track. What it will take for us to stay on track. You can read more about this four-fold purpose of scripture by clicking here.

Sometimes the sermon is about you. It’s like there’s no one else there.

…Now then, imagine the same scenario, but it’s more like a bad dream. The pastor preaches a similar sermon, but everyone turns around stares directly at you. But weeks later your life is unchanged.

What would your excuse be?

October 21, 2014

Chewing on the Word

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:43 pm
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Jim ThornberFirst of all, it’s not a reference to Ezra eating the scrolls, but if you guessed that, give yourself five extra points!

Today’s reading is from Jim Thornber whose writing we have shared here several times. For four years, Jim was an Assemblies of God minister who was also a monk. Seriously! Check out his story here and here. To read this at source, click the title below.

Gnawing On God

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” —  Joshua 1:8

I like the word “meditation.” Although some Christians are truly scared to meditate – thinking it is something done by cultic Eastern religions while forgetting that Judaism and Christianity ARE Eastern religions! – Scripture is full of injunctions to meditate upon the Word and Law of God.

The word for “meditation” in this passage comes from the Hebrew haghah, meaning to murmur, to mutter, to sigh, to moan, to roar, to meditate, to muse, to speak, to whisper. The word also describes the low moaning sound of a dove (Isa. 38:14) or the “growl” of a lion (Isaiah 31:4). Eugene Peterson uses the analogy of a dog gnawing on a bone, getting everything it can out of it.

This got me wondering: what is my heart gnawing on? What causes me to moan and growl, to be so totally consumed with God that I’m unaware of any thing else? If people could listen to my thoughts, would they hear me murmuring and musing about God and His goodness? Would they hear me whispering to God the joy and wonder I sense in His ever-present love? Or, would people hear me doubting my place in His Church, struggling with my pride and my desires and wrestling to place my wants into the realms of His eternal agenda?  Depending on when a person tuned in, I know they’d hear a little bit of both.

I want my heart to murmur, sigh, growl, moan and utter the goodness and glory of God. I want to be lost in my consumption of God and unaware of anything but Him. But in reality, I spend too much time thinking about my self and my place, or perceived lack of a place, in the Kingdom. In say I want to consider Him but I end up thinking mostly of my self.

However, meditation is not thinking, which is where I go wrong. Meditation means I’m gnawing on the truths of God. It means I’m taking into my spirit the very nourishment that God knows I need in order to grow into a healthy man. Meditation is the simple act of putting my mind and spirit into the hand of God and allowing Him to take me where He needs me to be. Thinking, on the other hand, is me taking God where I think God and I need to be. See the difference?

I want to wrap my thoughts and prayers around God the way a lion wraps its paws around a piece of meat, savoring and tasting its life-giving goodness. I want to meditate upon God and reap all possible benefits from the encounter. I wonder if this is why the Psalmist encourages us to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8)? Could this be one of the reasons Jesus said we must eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53)? How else could we take into our spirits the nourishment needed for the eternal journey?

Today I purpose to gnaw on the goodness and faithfulness of God. What about you? What’s on your plate?

 


Related: 4 Previous posts by Jim Thornber at Christianity 201.

November 14, 2013

System Status Check

NLT – II Cor. 13:5 Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. As you test yourselves, I hope you will recognize that we have not failed the test of apostolic authority.

The Message – II Cor. 13:5-9 Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it. I hope the test won’t show that we have failed. But if it comes to that, we’d rather the test showed our failure than yours. We’re rooting for the truth to win out in you. We couldn’t possibly do otherwise.

CEB – Jude 1:3 Dear friends, I wanted very much to write to you concerning the salvation we share. Instead, I must write to urge you to fight for the faith delivered once and for all to God’s holy people. Godless people have slipped in among you…

NASB – Jude 1:3 Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to thesaints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed…

Every once in awhile, I believe Christ-followers need to perform a system check. We need to run a diagnostic of all our closely-held doctrines. We need to test our faith against the Bible and against what the church has historically held as orthodox theology.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this stems from a study of one of the ‘marginal’ groups which is sometimes thought of as ‘Christian.’ While this group has a number of tenets that would easily identify them if I listed them here, the one that struck me as most disturbing was the idea of new light. Their head office is constantly releasing new documents which the faithful are required to study and learn. Shockingly, each new document potentially supersedes all that have come before it.

This creates a number of problems, not the least of which is: If you hold to their beliefs and then new light revises that teaching and you do not change as the teaching changes, you can be considered apostate for believing things that were perfectly acceptable just days before.

Another interesting point I heard was this: If a person did not have access to this group’s teachings and simply read their Bible, is there anything they would read in the Bible that would point them toward the same conclusions as this group? Of course the answer is a definite no. The Bible does not lead one toward such doctrinal positions.

Interestingly enough, all this happened a day after another conversation concerning another group which bases much of its teachings on prophetic words from its members. This is far less authoritarian, since anyone who is part of the group can issue forth words which become as binding as core doctrines; and it’s a more Charismatic-flavored version of the other, which is more formal.

But many of the spoken prophecies do not line up with scripture. So the person who told me about this group said he is constantly asking, “Where’s that in the Bible?” “Where’s that in the Bible?” “Where’s that in the Bible.”

The difference is that the first group bases their updates on revisions to their interpretation of the Bible, whereas the second group doesn’t even try to confirm prophetic words with scripture.

That’s why Paul in today’s opening verse, urges the Corinthians to check him out, to engage critical thinking, to verify his words against external standards.

We need to always be doing the same.

ESV- Matt. 22:37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (emphasis added)


C201 is always looking for both submissions and suggestions for sources of material. Use the submissions page in the margin.

Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

July 7, 2013

If Anyone Hears My Voice

Revelation 3 20In looking at Revelation 3:20 yesterday, we stumbled on a blog that offered insights on the passage we wanted to share here in full. We don’t normally spend two days on one verse, but I really appreciated this analysis. This is from the blog Gulf Coast Pastor and appeared in 2011 under the title Revelation 3:20 – Can We Use It In Evangelism?

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me. -Jesus Christ; Revelation 3:20

Some say this verse should never be used to lead someone to the Lord because it was written to a church, not to lost people. Some go so far as to ridicule the ignorance of anyone who would use it in evangelism.

In contrast, many, many Baptist and Christian preachers of the Gospel have preached this verse to not only the saved, but also to the lost. Many a lost soul has been won to the Lord through this passage of Scripture.

It is granted that the verse is primarily written to the church at Laodicea. It is also granted that this verse alone does not present the gospel or the plan of salvation in its totality. (You could even argue that about John 3:16; after all it says nothing about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.)

The plan of salvation includes our sin and separation from God, God’s holiness, His love, Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, His blood being shed for us, and his literal resurrection from the dead. We are to ask forgiveness for our sins. We are to believe and accept Jesus as our Lord (Boss, Master) and Savior. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 3:23; 6:23; 5:8; 10:9-10, 13; John 1:12; 3:16; 5:24)

But when the full plan of salvation is presented, Revelation 3:20 is valid to use in explaining the biblical concept of accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

I and many before me believe Revelation 3:20 is valid to use in evangelism because:

1. We can go too far in saying this verse is not for you. All of the Bible is written as God’s love letter to mankind.

I know you can also go too far the other way; but here I do not think that is the case. For example, Romans is addressed to the saints (Romans 1:7-8). Does anyone argue that because of this the Roman Road verses cannot be used for evangelism? If they so argue, they are wrong.

2. Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:20 are valid for a saved person. They are also valid for a lost person.

3. Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:20 illustrate Jesus’ attitude toward a lost person and what the person must do to be saved. This can be shown from many Bible passages.

Does a lost person have to do something to be saved? Yes. Jesus wholly accomplished the work of salvation. But a man must respond, must believe, must call on the name of the Lord, must reach out and receive the gift of God. (John 1:12; Romans 10:9-10, 13; John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31; etc.) In other words, a man must open the door of his heart and invite Jesus in.

A number of verses reveal that when we are saved Jesus comes to live in our hearts. Other verses refer to the Holy Spirit living within us.  Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 1:27; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Galatians 4:6; 2 Peter 1:19; John 7:38; etc. (also, our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit).

4. Revelation 3:20 is given to whoever will take it. Notice Jesus’ use of the word, “anyone.” That includes the saved and the lost, all the world.

5. Just as today, the church at Laodicea would have included unsaved visitors and unsaved members (Jesus even had an unsaved disciple!)*; especially a lukewarm church like Laodicea.

Jesus would certainly have known this and included them in His invitation. Just as pastors today include the saved and the lost in the public invitation they give in their church.

If Revelation 3:20 cannot be used for the lost because it was given to a church, then it would be invalid for pastors today to give a salvation invitation in church. After all, if they are in church, they surely must all be saved!

6. It could even be argued that Jesus knocking at the door and us inviting Him in is more valid for a lost person that for a saved person.

A person is welcome to disagree and use their own verses in evangelism. But those who use this verse in evangelism are not doing so out of ignorance.

David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, October 4, AD 2011.

*  Of course, every member of a Baptist church should be a believer.  The requirements to be a member of a Baptist church are usually two:  You have personally received Christ as your Savior, and you have subsequently been Scripturally baptized (Beleiver’s Baptism by Immersion).  But we all know there are those who have made an outward profession of faith without meaning it in their hearts.

Saved By The Sinner’s Prayer
The Roman Road of Salvation
Unlimited Atonement, Jesus Died For All

December 7, 2012

Jesus Began With Text

Well Marked Bible

The gospels provide us with a number of snapshots of Jesus teaching in what we would consider informal situations. Most are outdoor. In one he is in a boat. His longest recorded sermon takes place on a plateaued section of land that earns it the title of Sermon on the Mount (Matthew) or Sermon on the Plain (Luke). One is in a location so remote that food for the crowd becomes an issue.

But we don’t see anything of Jesus teaching, as we would say it now, “in church.” Except of course for Luke chapter 4.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.

Although the Biblical text doesn’t use ellipsis (or I suppose the plural should be ellipses) we get that dramatic moment when he says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled…”  Then we get the oft-quoted line about a prophet not being honored in his own country (or county, or hometown). And then we get a hint in verse 26 and 27 of more of his message that produces the reaction in verse 28.

My point today is simply that in the only “church” sermon we have from Jesus, he began with text.

‘But;’ you are thinking, ‘That’s how they did it back then; that was the order of service so to speak in that synagogue.’

I’ll grant you that one.

But as someone who tries to prepare these daily devotionals drawing on the best of the Christian blogosphere, I am somewhat grieved by the volume of words produced each day that do not begin with any particular reference to Biblical text.

Some days, I spend upwards of 30-minutes scanning online for something that fits the albeit traditional Bible-based format here; without of course resorting to reblogging the same authors week after week; something I believe they would tire of eventually. (In nearly 1,000 posts; only once have we been asked to remove something.)

Instead, I find all manner of articles; many of which I enjoy; many of which inform me; many of which make it into the link list at Thinking Out Loud, but mostly all of which are inappropriate for what we’re trying to accomplish here.

Did nobody read a verse of scripture which impressed them in a new way or perhaps even for the first time? Did no one find that like “a word fitly spoken in the right time” a scripture verse opened up at a key moment in life held both deep personal meaning and broad general application?  It has been said,

Of all the major religions of the world, Christians are the least acquainted with their own sacred writings.

Perhaps we’ve been sufficiently offended by the bibliolatry of fundamentalists, that we’ve marginalized The Good Book somewhat. The general sense you get in the Christian blogosphere is that the traditional examination of scripture is somewhat passé and even a little boring.

I’m not trying to be a dinosaur here. On the ‘exegetical versus topical’ debate, I land clearly in the middle. I love edgy. I love refreshing. I love new forms.

But I clearly believe that most of the things being posted online today simply won’t matter much in five months, let alone five years.

Of course, Jesus had a special anointing on his ministry. Only he could have said the line that literally rocked the house, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

But you and I can do that on a different scale. We can mine the vault that is God’s word, we can examine the various refractions of light in the jewel that is God’s word, we can plot a course on the map and compass that is God’s word; and then we can say to the world, “This was written for you, today.”

For those who aspire to preach, the most powerful and authoritative words in any given church service are these:

“Take your Bible and turn with me to the book of…”


Read more about the transformative power of scripture.

September 6, 2012

The “Write” Kind of Scribe

NIV Deut:1118 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

The picture above is of a scripture passage my oldest son chose to write out by hand almost a year  ago and post on his bedroom wall.  It’s remarkable for two reasons, the first being that a few years earlier his struggle with cursive writing would never have produced anything so legible, the second being the love that he has for the Word of God, evidenced by the time he spends in scripture each day.

Writing out Bible passages by hand has become somewhat archaic in a world of word processing.  But it’s just one of a number of subtle changes taking place in terms of our relationship with the printed word:

  • Many of us leave our Bibles at home on Sundays, finding it more convenient to use Bibles provided at weekend services
  • Many choose to use Bible apps on their smart phones instead of following from a print text
  • Many have their devotional and Bible study time driving to work using a devotional on CD
  • Scripture memorization has become less commonplace in our children’s and youth ministry programs
  • People like myself often ‘absorb’ scripture throughout the day through online articles and blogs but don’t directly read anything at source
  • Our worship music is ‘vertical’ which can derive from psalms and similar passages, but is therefore less reliant on the ‘Scripture in Song’ type of choruses that were based more directly on scripture
  • The giving out of tracts has died as a practice; many of these began with scripture and contained several Bible passages
  • The reading of Christian books has diminished in a screen-saturated world.
  • Scripture plaques, often seen in the living rooms and kitchens of homes have been deemed inadequate in a world of interior decorating and replaced by “inspirational” wall art with single word admonitions like “dream,” “believe,” “hope,” etc.
  • Where once people would add a scripture verse by hand to a greeting card, today we purchase Christian cards with a verse already included

Combine all these, and the handwriting my son did might seem rather quaint. But I’ll bet that taking the time to do this means he knows this passage well.

Of course, more than writing scripture on the doorframes and gates of our houses, God desires for us to write his words on our heart. But how we do this if we don’t know the passages and precepts in the first place? God is revealed to us first and foremost in scripture; this is the primary revelation of God in our times.

So here’s the challenge.  Take a passage and write it out by hand today.  I did this a few weeks ago with Titus 3: 3-8 or you might consider Colossians 1: 9-14 or the Galatians passage above, or a passage of your choosing.  (Those are just two that I’ve done myself, so I’m not asking you to do anything I haven’t done.)

And then allow the words to be written on your heart.

March 28, 2012

“Take Your Bibles and Turn With Me…”

I believe the most powerful words with which a preacher can begin any sermon is to say, “Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of…”   I love analogies, I love to hear about the context in which the writers wrote, I love it when a preacher quotes contemporary and classic writers, and I need to hear the suggested application of the passage to my life…

…but it all has to begin with scripture.

2 Peter 1:16-NIV For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

 19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Verse 21 in the above is key to this discussion. No matter what my will would desire to say, my words must, first and foremost, be guided by the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Eugene Peterson translates the concluding section of the passage:

The main thing to keep in mind here is that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private opinion. And why? Because it’s not something concocted in the human heart. Prophecy resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to speak God’s Word.

The problem we face in the Christian blogosphere, on Christian radio and television, and in Christian books, is that you’re hearing a lot of what Peter would call “private opinion.”  

Any blogger or pastor or author has to be continually running a check: Is this my opinion or is this what God is saying?  Is this my pet peeve or favorite subject or am I letting the passage speak?

In the U.S., there was (and probably still is) a network of radio stations that operated under the corporate name Clear Channel. That’s a radio term originally referring to certain powerful AM-frequency signals that broadcast over a wide area — especially at night — without interference from local stations that were assigned the same frequency.

Being a clear channel of what God means speaking with the power of His Word and not allowing the message to be fuzzy or subject to interference.  

Continuing this theme in the next chapter — and remember the chapter divisions don’t exist in the original — Peter goes on to describe those whose signal is “interfered with” as false teachers.

Years ago, I asked a friend of mine who was doing research into cults to explain to our church exactly how does a cult get started. I used the analogy, “How does a rocket, properly aimed and positioned start to veer off course?”

I think it’s not a stretch to look at chapter two of Peter’s epistle as having some origins in what he says in chapter one:  It began with someone’s “own interpretation” (NIV) or “private opinion” (Peterson). 

A crowd can be wrong . Just because hundreds of people are jumping off a cliff doesn’t mean you should also. But there is a security in both (a) the way the ‘church fathers’ have traditionally dealt with a passage of scripture, and (b) the confirmation that comes through the reading of other passages.

In preparing today’s thoughts, I was somewhat astounded by the large percentage of commentary and writing in the Christian quarter of the internet that begins with opinions and stores, compared with the very tiny percentage that begins with a verse or chapter of the Bible.  And yes, my other blog was trending that way so I created this one to give my own life and writing some balance.

When it’s your turn to speak, make the first words out of your mouth, “Take your Bible and turn to…”

~PW

The graphic at the top of the page is from Till He Comes, and really doesn’t have a lot to do with today’s topic directly other than that I liked it!

January 2, 2012

The Seed in God’s Plan

This actually appeared as an Advent study on the blog of Del Tackett who some of you know from The Truth Project DVD series.  But the initial verse was one we’d been discussing last night as a family, so I decided to included this here today.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” Genesis 3:15

When God spoke the earth into existence, it was formless and void—a lump of clay, so to speak, ready for the Hands of the Craftsman to begin the creative work of fashioning a garden teeming with flourishing delights: birds and fish, animals and plants, things that flew and swam, wriggled and ran, or simply stuck their roots into the perfect soil and brought forth fruit and vegetables, nuts and berries, nectar and flowers and shade and…well, all kinds of beautiful and life-enhancing stuff. But more than all of this, each of these living things was given the privilege and responsibility to recreate themselves. Birds laid eggs that brought forth baby birds that would grow up to lay their own eggs; animals gave birth to baby animals that would grow up to give birth to their own babies; plants produced seed that would fall onto the soil and grow into mature plants that would, in turn, produce their own seeds.

This was the grand plan of God.

But, something happened…something bad, something evil. Now, the garden produced weeds and thistles and thorns. Rather than delight in life, the Evil delighted in death; rather than beauty, it loved the vile; rather than fruit, it bore poison. It is hard to imagine how instantly a garden filled with light could become so cold and so dark so very, very quickly. And it appeared as if there were no remedy, no fix, no hope to get it back to the way it was before the darkness descended…descended upon everything…everything.

That’s when God told us about the Christmas Seed.

He didn’t say much. In fact, it wasn’t a whole lot more than a hint, a clue, a mere glimmer of hope. But with God, whose power and might is infinite, a whisper of promise is as sure as it gets. If He said He was going to take care of it, then we didn’t need a lot of details.

Was it mysterious? Yes, but it carried the promise that God, through this Seed, was going to destroy the Evil that had turned the light off in the garden. And if that happened, then maybe, just maybe, God also planned on turning the light back on as well.

But for sure we knew that before this Seed came, there was going to be war, and the war was going to rage between the seed line of the Evil one and the seed line of the woman.

And boy, did it ever! Abraham was granted the understanding that the Seed was going to come through him. Later on, David was given the same promise. And the war to destroy that seed line was furious. It came from within and it came from without. There were times when it looked as if the Evil line had won. But it hadn’t. Even at the moment when the heart of the Seed stopped beating, when it appeared to all as if the Promise had died, death itself was insufficient to stand in the way of the plan of God to destroy the Evil one.

But why “the seed of the woman”? Isn’t this backwards? Isn’t it the seed of man that propagates the race? Certainly everywhere in Scripture where it speaks of human “seed” it is used of the man. Why such a strange element to this promise?

Well, hindsight is certainly better than the best glasses or binoculars or microscope. If all humanity was tainted with the “death” of Adam, then the Seed couldn’t come from the seed of man. But if He couldn’t come from the seed of man, how would it be possible for Him to come at all?

Ah! That is why He is the Christmas Seed!

That is why He had to be born of a virgin, born of God.

That is why Matthew and Luke, in their genealogies of Jesus, take care to make sure the reader understands that Jesus didn’t come through “man” but through a “woman”. Matthew begins with Abraham and repeats over and over again the phrase “the father of”…until he gets to Jesus. He does not say “…Joseph, the father of Jesus” which is how one would expect this genealogical treatise to conclude. No. Matthew takes a sharp turn and says “…Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ.” Luke traces Jesus’ lineage back to Adam, using the phrase “the son of” over and over again. But for Jesus, he states it this way “He (Jesus) was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph.”

The seed of the woman, not the seed of a man.

On Christmas, the mystery was no longer a mystery.

It wasn’t until years later, however, that God would move Paul to write these fascinating words, words that put a final bow on the promise made to Abraham 2000 years earlier and, I believe, connects to the mysterious promise made 2000 years before that in the garden:

“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ…Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.” Galatians 3:15-19

God made a promise to mankind that He would bring forth the Seed to destroy the Evil one and eventually restore all things. He protected that seed line from Eve to Mary. He protected it through the flood, with Noah. He protected it from Pharaoh and Ahab and Jezebel. He protected it from the Babylonians and the Assyrians. He protected it from Haman and Herod and Pontius Pilate. And then He protected it from the enemy’s final stand and snatched it from the clutches of death and the grave.

Oh, the wonder and grandeur of God who has given us a Savior, Christ the Lord!

~Del Tackett

November 26, 2011

Post 600: Forgetting What You Look Like

Today is the 600th post at Christianity 201; though regular readers know that I write only a small fraction of them.  I thought I should write number six hundred, however…

Have you ever been in church and the pastor is preaching and after awhile it occurs to you that the whole sermon seems to be directed at one particular person’s situation?  It’s almost embarrassing.  It’s like everyone knows the minister is referring to Dan or Shirley or Marg or Jason, so why doesn’t he just go all the way and use their names?

But then, mysteriously, you’re drawn into a long conversation with Dan, Shirley, Marg or Jason a few weeks later, and you get the distinct impression that the sermon hasn’t changed a thing in their life; that whatever it was that made it so blatant to you and everyone else that it was about them, seems to have misfired or otherwise not taken root.

I suppose there are a number of possibilities here, of which three are:

  • They were tuned out for most of the sermon; not paying attention
  • The pastor’s remarks registered, but they assumed it applied to someone else, never considering it might be them to whom the sermon was most directly speaking
  • The application and needed next steps registered, but were eventually dismissed or forgotten
  • perhaps the cost of change or the price of obedience was simply too high

The Bible tells us we’re not simply to be hearers of the word, but doers of the word; but sometimes we mess up the hearing part which cancels out the rest.

 James 1:22-24 (The Message) Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like

Imagine not knowing what you look like.

People do this everyday however.  The middle aged man steps into his souped up sports car, turns the music on the sound system up high, and believes he is still 18.  He starts flirting with his assistant at work and with the receptionist at the dentist’s office, and forgets he’s graying; that he has a wife and kids.

He needs a mirror.

The woman who goes out to lunch to with four friends and then spontaneously offers to pick the tab for everyone’s meal before they embark on an afternoon of shopping, slapping down the credit card at store after store, forgetting that the bank has already canceled her other credit card because of too many missed payments, and her income prospects for the foreseeable future are rather dim.

She needs a mirror.

We all need a mirror.   An accurate one.  One that doesn’t distort the truth.  The clearest, most focused mirror is God’s word.  It shows us what right living looks like.  It tells us where we’ve messed up.  What we can do to get back on track.  What it will take for us to stay on track.  You can read more about this four-fold purpose of scripture by clicking here.

…Now then, imagine the same scenario, but it’s more like a bad dream.  The pastor preaches a similar sermon, but everyone turns around stares directly at you.  But weeks later your life is unchanged.

What would your excuse be?

November 19, 2011

N. T. Wright on Enjoying the Bible

Thanks to blogger and friend Jon Rising for getting me on to a N. T. Wright video binge today.   Check out Jon’s posting of a recent piece, A Parable About a Parable, especially if you don’t have time for what follows.  Today’s piece is a 30-minute television program produced at Calvin College in Grand Rapids.

October 31, 2011

Abiding Eradicates Doubt

Yesterday we looked at spiritual complacency.  Another similar malady that manifests itself in the life of the believer is doubt.  Doug Wolter looks at this at his blog, So That Others May Know, in a short piece entitled, The Mystery of Abiding.

Why do I doubt God? Why do I expect so little from him? After all, if I really am his child, if I really do have access to his throne, if I really have his Son and his Spirit interceding for me, then why am I not asking more of God and believing he will answer? Jesus, you say, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Really? Are you serious? Do you really want me to ask and believe with that kind of boldness, with that kind of heart, expecting you will answer? 

I guess that’s where it starts – with my heart being united with your heart and my words in prayer sounding strangely familiar with your words in scripture. Is that what abiding is all about? When you and me are so intimately connected, so unified as one, that the process is as natural and effortless as a branch bearing fruit?

In the end, it’s a mystery–one that I can’t analyze and figure out, but only experience. Abiding, praying, and seeing the Holy Spirit move in my life is something I cannot comprehend but what I long for more and more for your glory and my good. So teach me to remain in you. Cause me to slow down. Remind me that you are a real Person that I am joined to. And set me free to believe you for great things.

~Doug Wolter

October 18, 2011

Inspiration for Scripture May Have Rested on a Larger Number of Contributors

Ryan Peter lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is the latest blogger to join the Alltop Christianity Page.  This article will greatly expand your view of how the Pauline epistles, in particular, were written. He gave it the much more concise title, Paul’s Use of Scribes, Scriptural Interpretation and Scribes Today.

Many people might not have noticed that Paul, quite clearly, employed the use of scribes in his letter writing. Rom 16:22, for example, shows that Tertius wrote the letter (on paper) but the letter is authored and sent by Paul. There are other references and clues to this all over his letters. Just go to the end of each of them and see if you can find them (for example, Paul highlighting how he is writing a certain part of the letter in ‘his own hand’.)

But now why is this important? I’m going to come at this from three angles:

1) It has something to say about the inspiration and the authority of the Scriptures, I think.
2) It has something to say about how scribes can be (and perhaps should be) used in the church and apostolic teams today.
3) It has something to say about certain letters where Paul’s authorship is disputed.

I’m a writer myself and something of what I do each day fits into what scribes used to do in Paul’s time (and even before, as we see Jeremiah also dictated his prophecies). Scribes used to either write a letter on behalf of someone else word-for-word (dictated); edit the letters of their client, getting sign-off once they were done; take down notes to get a general idea of what their client wanted written and compose the letter themselves, getting sign-off from the client; or, in extreme cases, write something they know their client would say and send it off without even getting sign off as there was a trusted relationship between them.

In the world of PR and communications this happens in various levels and many people, when they get into this world, are shocked to find out that the CEO of whatever company didn’t actually say what a newspaper article says he said, but rather the PR company wrote what the CEO would (or probably should) have said and he just rubber stamped it. He doesn’t have the time to think of all the right words to say, he pays someone to do that for him. Well, in the old days, kings and queens and Caesars and even the common person (who couldn’t write) would hire scribes to do pretty much the same thing, to various degrees, and Paul himself either hired a scribe or had scribes on his apostolic team. In fact, I think the latter is more probable, given the fact that Tertius feels at liberty to butt in and send his own greetings at the end of Romans.

Now, what does this say about scriptural authority and interpretation?

I’m coming off the back of a very interesting article written by Andrew Wilson from King’s Church Eastborne who thinks that the biggest theological debate for the next 20 years will be about how we read, understand and apply the Bible. It’s a very good article and point, and I have an inkling that the debate might be made a lot easier if we can understand how scribes would have worked with Paul in composing those letters.

The idea of a scribe ‘working with’ Paul has a number of implications for this topic that might not be immediately clear.

Firstly, it means Paul might not have dictated all this ‘word for word’, which means we can’t be too technical when it comes to his use of certain words across all of his letters. Secondly, it may also mean that it was not only Paul who was inspired by the Holy Spirit in writing those parts of the Bible, but also his scribe. Now that says a great deal about Paul’s own scriptural authority and inspiration, apostolic authority today, and a great deal about writers today, but we don’t have space to unpack all the implications in this one post (I might unpack it as I do more research).

That also perhaps wouldn’t be seen as much of an issue within Jewish culture, given the authority scribes seemed to have (many were seen as Rabbis). Now I’ll even take it one step further because, given what I see written at the end of some of Paul’s letters, and the style of the book of Hebrews and some of Paul’s letters, letters may have not just been composed by Paul and his scribe but letters could have been a collaborative effort by Paul and his apostolic team. I’m thinking of Paul in prison here, mostly, where we see a lot of greetings at the end of the letters.

Paul was the leader of an apostolic movement but he had many people on his team. Letters sent “from” Paul are sent carrying his authority as the leader of an apostolic movement, but what if they were composed collaboratively? Paul was there to OK the letter but he didn’t come up with the whole thing, rather doctrine was discussed, how things were to be communicated was agreed upon, the scribe wrote down what the team wanted, did some editing to make it more clear, less confusing, and a letter was sent? This means that Paul, although the leader, was not the only one inspired by the Holy Spirit to write scripture. This throws some interesting light on how scriptural inspiration could have happened, which greatly increases the authority of Scripture in my mind (it’s not just coming from one guy but from a team of guys who all have the Holy Spirit).

This also throws light on the role of scribes today. As a scribe myself it helps me understand the seriousness of what I write and how I write and it shows me how my gifting can be used apostolically and in the Church today. Many pastors and apostolic guys today aren’t good at writing well, and it’s not as if I think they should be, I’m not very good at half the things they do. They also don’t have the time. But a scribe can take the heart of these guys and, also being inspired by the Holy Spirit and carrying a certain authority, convey it in written words for them, which is necessary in an information driven world that is being dominated by the Internet.

That makes me excited. I’m also here to perform my function in the church and this function is a serious one. We leave it up to the pastors to lead, envision, and even write books. Why? Why aren’t we seeing more scribes do that? This is perhaps a lost art form that I think is much needed in the church today. Writing is not just about selling millions of books (and generally it’s only the big name pastors who sell lots of books anyway) but about helping leaders in the church to communicate effectively. No one really knows the name Tertius but he was perhaps an incredibly important cog in the scripture writing process. It’s not about having a big name but about being effective.

As to number (3) above, this article at the Religious Study Centre answers that, and I think pretty well. It also clears up a lot of how scribes used to work and I recommend it for further research.

I realise I haven’t unpacked everything I could in this post, but I probably will as time goes by and I give this all a think and more research.

~Ryan Peter

September 22, 2011

Timothy Keller: Information from God is on a Need-To-Know Basis

In this video clip, Timothy Keller affirms that he knows of no other way to find God than through Jesus Christ.  He’s really clear that if some other way exists, nothing we have in scripture affirms or suggests this.  It’s a 6-minute clip worth watching, because the interviewer drives his questions really hard and if anyone is equipped to be in that situation, it’s Tim Keller.

However, you may notice that in the video title Keller is referred to as “hedging” as to whether or not Jesus is the only way.  I checked out other videos uploaded to YouTube by the same person, and it’s important to note that we’re dealing with a self-styled discernment ministry person who is, basically looking for problems.  You can read a good short quotation on this by C. Michael Patton;  or my own article about people and ministries that seem to want to believe the worst about everyone.  Steven Furtick — a frequent target of this type of person — had some fun with a rap video response to the people he calls ‘haters’ which I posted at the end of this article.

I found this originally because it’s a fairly recent clip and hasn’t had a lot of online visits. I agree that the uploader collected some strange preaching clips — not sure what the motivation is here when there are so many other possible uses of YouTube — but I don’t think Keller belonged in this particular collection. Besides, sometimes you can’t help notice the glass is half-full, not half-empty.  And in this case the always eloquent Tim Keller is worth watching, no matter what the guy titled the video; the glass is full and by more than half. 

Many people are obsessed with the question, “What does God know and when does he know it?”  I think an equally good question is, “What does God choose to reveal to us and when does He choose to reveal it?”  Timothy Keller is sufficiently convicted of the truth of God’s word to fully trust it, but humble enough to realize that we “see through a glass darkly;” and that we “understand in part.” Nonetheless, whatever might be revealed at some future date, our responsibility is to live 100% in the light and revelation that we now possess.

Furthermore, this is the approach that needs to be taken with the furor over Rob Bell’s latest book that erupted this year. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions — if we don’t obsess on them — but our ultimate responsibility is to live in response to what God has told us in scripture. So when we look at God’s character, and see things that seem to create conflicts, we need to proceed on the basis of what he has revealed, and in so doing, we are basically learning to trust his character, even when we find things unsettling. To do differently is to undermine the idea that he has chosen what and when to reveal to us concerning the totality of his master plan.

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