Christianity 201

February 2, 2019

Speaking by God’s Authority, Not Your Own

We’re returning again to Biblical Proof, the blog of Alfred Shannon, Jr. As of last month, after 3,000 written blog posts, Alfred will no longer be posting full length written devotionals, but will continue to post some rather unique graphic images, which you might be able to employ on your own social media. This is one of the final written posts.* Click this link to visit the site.

By What Authority Are You Doing These Things?

Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority (Matt 21:23)?

That is a very imperative question that needs to be answered for every generation of teachers and preachers of the Word. Jesus had no intention of answering his critics at that moment in time but his answer would have been clear: It was God the Father who gave him the authority to say and do the things which he was doing.

For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak” (Jn 12:49-50).

Jesus declared earlier that the doctrine He was teaching was not his doctrine but belonged to the Father. Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority (Jn 7:16-18).

Jesus never once spoke without the authority of God. This is the perfect example for each of us to follow today.

Jesus revealed that the Holy Spirit did not speak of his own authority but by the authority of the Father.However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (Jn 16:13).

The apostle Paul declared the very same thing when writing to the Galatians. He said, “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:11-12).

It was Jesus who told his disciples before his impending death that the Holy Spirit would teach them all things. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (Jn 14:26).

Denominations teach the doctrine and commandments of men. Catholics follow the Pope. Baptist follow their man written manual. The Seventh Day Adventist follow the teaching of Ellen White. The Mormons follow the teaching of Joseph Smith, etc. They do not speak with the authority of God but of man. Therefore, there is no power in their words to deliver man from sin or to reward his righteousness. Paul said, And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:4-5).

The gospel of Christ comes with power to save. Paul in writing to the Romans said, For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek (Rom 1:16).

If we as Christians teach the doctrine of the apostles, then we are verily teaching the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of Jesus Christ, and the doctrine of God. Why? Because they all derived from the Father. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).

The doctrines and commandments of men are nothing but vain worship to God. These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt 15:8-9). The doctrines and commandments of men turn us from the truth of God, not toward the truth of God (Tit 1:14). Paul warned us all when he wrote to the Colossians, Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Col 2:8-10).

Therefore I ask you, by whose authority do you teach and preach? Even as the demons once asked, Jesus I know and Paul I know, but who are you?” (Acts 19:15). The gospel of Christ was not taught by the Fathers and Prophets of the Old Testament. If you are tithing, who told you to do so? If you are using instrumental music in your worship to God, who commanded you to do it? The law (of Moses) and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it” (Lk 16:16).

If you are doing anything that is not contained within the doctrine of Christ and His apostles, you have not God nor the promise of eternal life.Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 Jn 9 f; Acts 2:42).


*Go Deeper: The next day, in what was his final written blog post, Alfred addressed what it means to be speaking “as the oracles of God.” Check out Who Dares to Alter God’s Word?

January 2, 2017

“Skip the Truth and Make Us Feel Good”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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Today’s title is from the NCV rendering of Isaiah 30:10

They tell the seers,
    “Don’t see any more visions!”
They say to the prophets,
    Don’t tell us the truth!
Say things that will make us feel good;
    see only good things for us.

The pastor in the church we visited on New Year’s Day started 2017 with a message on sin. Although he used literally dozens of scripture references — many from Romans — this passage in Isaiah 30 (12-14 in particular) was the only verse for which he prepared a slide for us to read. Many people just want to hear things that will make them feel good. Elsewhere, we read about people having “itching ears.”

Today, we’re going to contrast the contemporary language of The Message with the more formal commentary of Matthew Henry. However, where you see italics, I’ve used more modern expressions. Everything from this point on is Matthew Henry.

So, go now and write all this down.
    Put it in a book
So that the record will be there
    to instruct the coming generations,
Because this is a rebel generation,
    a people who lie,
A people unwilling to listen
    to anything God tells them.
They tell their spiritual leaders,
    “Don’t bother us with irrelevancies.”
They tell their preachers,
    “Don’t waste our time on impracticalities.
Tell us what makes us feel better.
    Don’t bore us with obsolete religion.
That stuff means nothing to us.
    Quit hounding us with The Holy of Israel.”  – Isaiah 30: 8-11 (MSG)

They forbade the prophets to speak to them in God’s name, and to deal faithfully with them.

They set themselves so violently against the prophets to hinder them from preaching, or at least from dealing plainly with them in their preaching, did so banter them and browbeat them, that they did in effect say to the seers, See not. They had the light, but they loved darkness rather. It was their privilege that they had seers among them, but they did what they could to put out their eyes — that they had prophets among them, but they did what they could to stop their mouths; for they tormented them in their wicked ways, Rev. 11:10.

Those that silence good ministers, and discountenance good preaching, are justly counted, and called, rebels against God. See what it was in the prophets’ preaching with which they found themselves aggrieved.

  1.  The prophets told them of their faults, and warned them of their misery and danger by reason of sin, and they couldn’t take it. They must speak to them warm and fuzzy things, must flatter them in their sins, and say that they did well, and there was no harm, no danger, in the course of life they lived in. No matter how true something is, if it be not easy to listen to, they will not hear it. But if it be agrees with the good opinion they have of themselves, and will confirm them in that, even though it be very false and ever so undeserved, they will have it prophesied to them. Those deserve to be deceived that desire to be so.
  2.  The prophets stopped them in their sinful pursuits, and stood in their way like the angel in Balaam’s road, with the sword of God’s wrath drawn in their hand; so that they could not proceed without terror. And this they took as a great insult. When they continued to desire the opposite of what the prophets were saying they in effect said to the prophets, “Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the paths. What do you do in our way? Cannot you leave us alone to do as we please?” Those have their hearts fully set in them to do evil that bid these accountability monitors to get out of their way. Be quiet now before I have you killed! 2 Chron. 25:16.
  3.  The prophets were continually telling them of the Holy One of Israel, what an enemy he is to sin ad how severely he will judge sinners; and this they couldn’t listen to. Both the thing itself and the expression of it were too serious for them; and therefore, if the prophets will speak to them, they will determine that they will not call God the Holy One of Israel; for God’s holiness is that attribute which wicked people most of all dread.

Now what is the doom passed upon them for this?

Therefore, The Holy of Israel says this:
    “Because you scorn this Message,
Preferring to live by injustice
    and shape your lives on lies,
This perverse way of life
    will be like a towering, badly built wall
That slowly, slowly tilts and shifts,
    and then one day, without warning, collapses—
Smashed to bits like a piece of pottery,
    smashed beyond recognition or repair,
Useless, a pile of debris
    to be swept up and thrown in the trash.”

Observe,

  1. Who it is that gives judgment upon them? This is what the Holy One of Israel says. The prophet uses the very title they find so objectionable. Faithful ministers will not be driven from using such expressions as are needed to awaken sinners, though they be displeasing. We must tell men that God is the Holy One of Israel, and so they will find him, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear.
  2.  What is the basis of the judgment? Because they despise this word—whether, in general, every word that the prophets said to them, or this word in particular, which declares God to be the Holy One of Israel: “they despise this, and will neither make it their fear, to respect it, nor make it their hope, to put any confidence in it; but, rather than they will submit to the Holy One of Israel, they will continue in oppression and perverseness, in the wealth they have collected and the interest they have made by fraud and violence, or in the sinful methods they have taken for their own security, in contradiction to God and his will. On these they depend, and therefore it is just that they should fall.”
  3.  What is the judgment is that is passed on them? “This sinfulness will be to you as a wall ready to fall. This confidence of yours will be like a house built upon the sand, which will fall in the storm and bury the builder in the ruins of it. Your contempt of that word of God which you might build upon will make every thing else you trust like a wall that bulges out, which, if any weight be laid upon it, comes down, nay, which often sinks with its own weight.”

The ruin they are bringing upon themselves is,

  1. Surprising: The breaking shall come suddenly, at an instant, when they do not expect it, which will make it the more frightful, and when they are not prepared or provided for it, which will make it the more fatal.
  2. Total and irreversible: “Your and all you hold dear shall be not only weak as the potter’s clay (Isa. 29:16), but broken to pieces as the potter’s vessel. He that has the rod of iron shall break it (Ps. 2:9) and he will not spare, will not have any regard to it, nor be in care to preserve or keep whole any part of it. But, when once it is broken so as to be unfit for use, let it be destroyed, let it be crushed, all to pieces, so that there may not remain one shred big enough to take up a little fire or water”—two things we have daily need of, and which poor people commonly get in a piece of a broken pitcher. They shall not only be as a leaning fence (Ps. 62:3), but as a broken mug or glass, which is good for nothing, nor can ever be made whole again.

September 11, 2015

Becoming an Engaged Preaching Audience

“He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9).

Today, we pay a return visit to the Christward Collective website. When you are given the opportunity to deliver a sermon, there is no denying that an unusual adrenaline rush takes place. This probably happens to some degree in any public speaking situation. But in a church context, there is the additional rush (for lack of a better word) that you can experience as the Holy Spirit gives you things to say that weren’t in your written notes.

Sadly however, the audience is often very passive. You see people yawning, or reading their bulletin, and wish that every person in the congregation could be as engaged as you. (That’s the dynamic of small group situations that many find so stimulating.) The author below paints a vivid picture of a church service where everyone is equally energized and in a sense part of the teaching taking place.

Of particular interest here is a link at the bottom of the article. Don’t miss this. It’s to a book A Remedy for Wandering Thoughts in the Worship of God, published in 1835 and photographed for the archives of Princeton Theological Seminary. (Click the pages to turn.) If nothing else, read the table of contents to see the various aspects of the study the author made of this.

Meanwhile, click the title below to read today’s thoughts at source.

He Who Has Ears

Some accuse the Protestant emphasis upon the preached Word as pastor-centric and non-engaging, but such an accusation assumes too little about the listener’s responsibility in corporate worship. Every individual in the congregation has responsibilities when the Word of God is preached. As we listen to the Word preached we want to aim at listening to it astutely, attentively, reverently, prayerfully, and responsively.

Astutely: As listeners of the Word, we must insist upon the sound preaching of the Word. We dare not fall into the ways of those who have “itching ears” and accumulate for ourselves “teachers to suit our own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). The temptation to do so is great and subtle. The Word is our nourishment, we live by “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Our souls and hearts will languish apart from “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). The pastor who enters the pulpit should not be able to satiate us with stories, jokes, wandering tales, or dispassionate reflections. We want to hear from God, so we will listen astutely for that living Word (Hebrews 4:12).

Attentively: Our worship is never passive, but active as we engage with the Word preached. Of course, it is not our “laboring” that makes the Word preached effectual; that is the work of the Holy Spirit as He attends to the Word and works faith in the listener (John 3). But a disengaged and passive listener to the Word is no listener at all. As the preacher is accountable for what he says, so the congregation is accountable for its faithfulness in listening.

Reverently: God is speaking to His people and so we are to receive that Word reverently. With the Psalmist, we would say, “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak” (Psalm 85:8). The most blessed of sermons occur when the listener begins to forget the preacher and finds their mind filled with the Word of God, their heart moved with love for Him, and their affections running after Him. We are on holy ground in worship and knowingly hang on the edge of our seats as we long to hear the next words from our Heavenly Father. He speaks and we listen.

Prayerfully: The Spirit must attend to the Word, so we labor prayerfully in the pew as much as the preacher labors at preaching in the pulpit. Prayer paves the way for the Spirit’s effectual moving. We want our hearts to be fertile soil (Mark 4) for this eternal seed of truth. Even as our ears and mind our being stirred with the Word, so we are stirring our spirits in prayer.

Responsively: As the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of Man.” The Scriptures demand response: faith and obedience. We are to be “doers of the Word and not just hearers” (James 1:22). The fault lies with us if we emerge from a service asking, “Did you get anything out of that sermon?”  Rather, we desire to respond with, “I will believe what God says and will obey Him.” The sermon will never be perfect, because the man preaching it is never perfect. Yet, if the text was read and the text was preached, there is always something for the listener to respond to. Searching our thoughts and lives for where the Word preached that morning is speaking needed truth in my life marks every faithful listener. We dare not excuse ourselves, focus on how much others need to hear this truth, or think we have heard this message too many times. None of us are perfect in any area of our Christian lives, we are all straining forward, pressing “on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Dear Christian, you may be sitting in corporate worship while the pastor is preaching, but this is no idle exercise. We are to be engaged with the Word. The little effect many sermons have upon listeners is less often due to the preacher’s lack of skill in preaching, but rather due to our lack of effort in listening. Listen astutely, attentively, reverently, prayerfully, and responsively. “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9).

 

Richard Steele, A Remedy for Wandering Thoughts in Worship

Joel Beeke, The Family at Church: Listening to Sermons and Attending Prayer

 

 

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?

September 9, 2014

The Preacher’s Dilemma Following a Disaster

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:22 pm
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Those of you who are in leadership at your church, or have done any preaching will appreciate today’s post, from our regular columnist, Rev. Clarke Dixon.  Click the title to read this at source or respond directly with comments.

Disasters: Divine Judgement? Reflections on Luke 13:1-5.

DisastersPut yourself in the preacher’s shoes. There has been a natural disaster of extraordinary proportions in a nation whose sinfulness is well known. Do you stand up Sunday morning and declare that God has divinely judged that nation? Or put yourself in the pastor’s seat. The person sitting across from you has experienced a massive catastrophe and is lamenting that she must have committed a big sin to deserve it. Do you agree with her? Or do you reassure her that oftentimes bad things happen to good people?

Thankfully, we do not need to spend too much time theorizing and theologizing over these questions, for Jesus gives us the answer:

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you;. . . Luke 13:1-13 NRSV
Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them– do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; . . . Luke 13:4-5 NRSV (emphasis mine)

That is a very simple answer to what we sometimes make into a very convoluted question: “no.” When a part of the world experiences a natural disaster, ought we to say “ha, you have suffered more than we do because your sin is greater”? No. When a person we know (and likely don’t like considering our jump to being judgemental) experiences catastrophe, do we say “ha, you have suffered more than I have for you are bigger sinner than me”? No. When we suffer greatly should we assume that our own sinfulness must be overwhelming? No. Jesus was very clear in the two examples he gave that those who suffered greatly did not suffer more because they sinned more. So let us leave off that presumption. Jesus couldn’t be more clear on that.

But that is not all Jesus has to say about the matter:

“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them– do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Luke 13:2-5 NRSV (emphasis mine)

Let’s put ourselves back in the preacher’s shoes following a disaster. Perhaps you do not want to be one of those preachers that says something along the line of “this earthquake happened to these people because they practice voodoo,” and instead you speak on a different kind of line, a fault line along which earthquakes naturally occur. The people leave the church feeling quite reassured that God is nice, and the preacher too. But should a nation deeply into voodoo not repent from their voodoo anyway? Or you do not want to call America to repentance from corporate greed following a massive terrorist attack. But shouldn’t America repent of corporate greed if it is guilty of it anyway? We might tend to wince at the “loose cannon” preachers out there who jump all over every disaster as a sign of divine judgement, yet imagine what this world would be like if people actually listened to them and repented from sin? Imagine what would happen if every disaster were followed by waves of mass repentance. We would find ourselves living in a remarkably different world!

Still wearing the shoes of a preacher, consider what would happen if every funeral service were not treated as a celebration of life for the deceased, but instead a call to repentance for the living? Every death, after all, is a reminder of our rebellion against God and the consequence of that. As a preacher your popularity would go down since people do not want preachers at funerals, but rather officiants. But if every attendee at every funeral were to consider the wages of sin, which is death (see Romans 6:23), and were to repent, the crime rate would fall, addictions would lose their power, sexually transmitted diseases would stop transmitting, broken relationships would be restored, marriages would regain health, and much, much more. We would find ourselves living in a remarkably different world! And best of all, billions of people would experience the grace of God for repentance is not just a turning away from sin but a turning toward God. Jesus could not be more clear on it: “unless you repent, you will perish.” That is the negative way of stating what is very, very positive: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16 NRSV).

Calamity and death have entered into this world because of rebellion against God. Bad things happen to all people. Yet out of the depths of His grace He saves us. He saves us for eternal life into the future, He saves us for Godly life lived through His Holy Spirit right now. If we see a nation or a person experiencing disaster, let us not judge. But neither let us hesitate to repent.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 6:23 NRSV)

June 20, 2013

Don’t Be Anxious

A few days ago at Thinking Out Loud, I wrote a post called “We’re All Afraid,” and noticed that many of our modern worship songs involve our need to cast our worries and anxieties on God, and that many of these songs are being sung at this particular time in the United States, where weather disasters and gun violence seem a constant threat. You can read that post here, and click through to listen to the songs.

Then I discovered that in addition to BibleGateway.com tracking our verse requests, it’s possible to find out which Bible verses are the most highlighted on eReaders. This appeared on Joel J. Miller‘s blog, and as always, C201 readers are encouraged to read items by other authors at source; this one was titled The Secret Behind The Bible’s Most Highlighted Verse.

The current issue of The American Prospect features a short piece on ebooks and social reading. It mentions in passing that the Bible is the Kindle’s most highlighted book and that the most highlighted verse of all is Philippians 4.6:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

It’s no scientific survey, admittedly, but it seems telling that the most underlined passage in the most underlined book addresses worry, doubt, and disquiet. Maybe we have a problem with anxiety out there. I know I have one in here.

Only half an answer

The passage is a favorite because it offers something for us to do with our worries. We’re directed to take them to the throne of God, and I’m sure that works for some. But the truth is that it’s not a complete answer to our problem.

If we read the simple admonition, it’s easy to see Paul as some sort of Bob Newhart character yelling, “Stop it!” But before you think I’m being flip, let me redirect the blame to the people who first invented our scripture notation system.

Paul obviously did not insert the chapter and verse numbers in his letters as he wrote; scholars in the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries did that. And while this system has its merits, it also creates problems, including accidentally altering the meanings of certain passages — or at least the meanings we take from them.

What we miss

Paul’s statement is not merely a blunt admonition (don’t do it). It actually comes with comes with a rationale (you don’t need to do it because…). But the rationale is one we might miss because of the verse numbering.

If you read commentators before the advent of the numbering system, they do something different with the emphasis and structure of the passage. The end of verse 5 says, “The Lord is at hand.” The start of 6 says, “Have no anxiety about anything. . . .” Ancient commentators like John Chrysostom and Theodoret of Cyrus read these as one verse, not two separate verses. Chrysostom quotes it as, “The Lord is at hand, in nothing be anxious.” Theodoret’s treatment is the same: “The Lord is near. Have no worries.”

Let me repeat that: “The Lord is near. Have no worries.”

That’s what the passage actually says, and what Chrysostom and Theodoret commented on. But the verse numbering causes an unnecessary break and distortion in the meaning, particularly if we read the scripture as granularly as verse-by-verse, expository teaching often leads us to.

The full picture

Read instead as the ancient Christians read it, Paul’s statement is not merely that we should take our anxieties to God, good as that may be. It’s that the judge of the universe is near so we can have confidence that wrong will be set right. It’s not about trying to suppress our worries and trust God, which is for many a necessary but challenging effort that contains within it many of its own worries. That’s the wrong focus. It’s about the realization that God will soon wipe away every reason for worry. It’s a reminder of our real hope.

Our eyes are on the wrong thing if we’re merely praying to have life’s worrisome aspects eliminated so we can carry on stress free. Rather, we have no reason for anxiety because the judge of all the earth is already on his way.

To be clear, it’s easier to write these words than live by them. But if we needed to be convinced of anything, it is not that prayer is a means to reduce our anxieties. It’s that Christ is coming.

“The Lord is near. Have no worries.”

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?

June 7, 2011

Going Deep into Depth

There are presently two strains of evangelical preaching emerging.  Some preachers prefer the “one thing” approach; providing a rhythm and cadence to their preaching which leaves their listeners remembering a clear message and a clear application.  The classic, “It’s Friday Night… But Sunday’s A-Comin'” is a message you’ve probably heard, or at least heard alluded to, that is based on this type of teaching.

The other style is the kind of message that gives you much information about context and history as well as cross-references to at least a dozen related scriptures.  There are multiple points and various information sidebars.

The problem is that sometimes the people in the second camp, feel that the people in the first camp are not giving their people enough “depth.”  This came up in the Elephant Room Conference where Steven Furtick used hyperbole to indicate the degree to which he did not want to aim for going deep on Sunday mornings.*  

And it comes up here in this exchange between John Piper and Rick Warren.   You might prefer to go direct to the YouTube page and click on some of the other subjects covered in this series.  I’m sorta hoping you will!  Some of the clips will also run in playlist form, allowing you to just sit back as the videos play in succession.

“Simple does not mean shallow.”  “Simple does not mean simplistic.”  What is deep?  Warren says he taught series on sanctification and incarnation without actually using the words; is that possible?

*For your interest, here is the discussion between Steven Furtick and Matt Chandler, moderated by James MacDonald.  It gives you some insight into how pastors wrestle with the “deep” question.

April 16, 2011

Reproducible Ministry

Today’s post is from The Leadership Institute’s Alan Fadling.  It appeared on his blog Notes from My Unhurried Journey under the title, Discipleship – Reproducing Life and Ministry.

I recently heard again the saying:

“Give someone a fish and they eat for a day,
Teach them to fish and they eat for a lifetime.

What kind of a ministry do I provide. Am I making people dependent on me for their daily bread, or am I teaching men and women to listen to God for themselves in ways they will be able to continue over their lifetimes? This is the difference between producing and reproducing ministry.

One way I’m learning to reproduce ministry in others is to invite them into the processes I use to planning an event or gathering. I need to have thought deeply about the rationale and reason for what I do.

One key to reproducible ministry is profound simplicity in what I teach, counsel, and plan. I’m not talking about being simplistic. I’m talking about what Thomas Kelly called “the simplicity that lies beyond complexity.” He says that “the last fruit of holy obedience is the simplicity of the trusting child, the simplicity of the children of God. It is the simplicity that lies beyond complexity. It is the naïveté that is the yonder side of sophistication. It is the beginning of spiritual maturity, which comes after the awkward age of religious busyness for the Kingdom of God–yet how many are caught, and arrested in development, within this adolescent development of the soul’s growth! The mark of this simplified life is radiant joy.”[1]

When we are simplistic and reductionist, we don’t inspire many to reproduce what we are doing. Being profoundly simple inspires people to try their own hand at ministry. Profound simplicity inspires people to believe, “Hey, I could do that!”

Ministry is reproducible when it flows with integrity out of my own life. Instead of thinking of ministry merely something I prepare to do, I am learning that ministry is rooted in who I am becoming and how I am relating with others. I reproduce ministry when instead of only sharing the finished product of my preparation process, I share the process. I can prepare a Bible study and then creatively walk students through the basic process that I went through (on a smaller time scale), rather than just giving them the fruit of my study. Reproducible Bible study would be discovery-oriented, not just delivery-oriented.

Reproducible events or gatherings would involve not just planning them behind closed doors and then delivering the finished product. It would involve doing some groundwork, then walking through the process together with a few who are willing, even hungry to learn.

Reproducible ministry will appeal to external motivation, but seeks to influence through modeling, inspiring and other increasingly internal motivations.

Reproducible ministry is more cooking school then chef, more cultivating learners than just teaching, more developing leaders than just personally leading. This is a paradigm shift. It always feels faster to do it myself than to teach another to do it, whatever it is.

Reproducible ministry requires a healthy sense of self-esteem and confidence in God. If my leadership is the means by which I try to establish my value and importance, I won’t be willing to share that role with others. I won’t want to share my “trade secrets.” I may resist reproducing ministry out of fear that someone else might do it better than me!

Father, help me learn to be one who reproduces ministry in the lives of those around me, even as I learn to receive from You a reproduction of Your own ministry in my life. Reproducible ministry is “Christ in me.”

~Alan Fadling


[1]Thomas Kelly. A Testament of Devotion. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1941, p. 36-37.

June 24, 2010

Re-reading Noah

I spent a number of years attending an Assemblies of God type of church in Canada, where the AG is known as the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.   It was also the denomination my wife grew up in.

As a result — and don’t ask me why this is — she has a much better handle on parts of the Old Testament than I do.   In the short time I attended a PAOC church in Toronto, most Sunday mornings we opened our Bibles to O. T. texts.

And oh… what great messages they were able to derive from those texts!  (My non-Pentecostal friends might say, “Where did they get that from?”)  If you haven’t been exposed to Pentecostal preaching, there ain’t nothing like it.

I was reminded of that today as I read this post on the blog, Thoughts for Daily Devotions.

“The flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lift up above the earth” (Gen 7:17).

alignleftWhen Noah obeyed God’s Word and entered into the ark, it gradually lifted him up from the earth. This is amazingly true in our spiritual life also. Our ark is Christ. As we respond to the gospel-call and enter into Christ or as Christ enters into our life, He lifts us up from the earthly sphere to heavenly heights. The higher we rise the smaller the things of the world seem. The things of the earth no longer seem glamorous and attractive. Things which once held us in allure now hold little appeal for us. “The more of heaven we cherish, the less of earth we covet.”

The more the ark was lifted up, the higher Noah went. Similarly, the more we lift up Christ, the more we are lifted up for the glory of God. We become the light of the world, a ‘city set on a hill’; seeing our light, men glorify the father in heaven (Matt 5:14,16).

“The mountains were covered.” As we go higher in our spiritual life, the mountain-like problems that once loomed large before us, disappear from our view. Our life is now a joyful song – a song of worship, praise and adoration.

May 10, 2010

The Difference Between a Teacher and an Exhorter

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Some classic Ben Arment from July, 2009:

A TEACHER

  • Values the study process more than the communication of it.
  • Knows exactly what’s going to be said
  • Would have loved to pastor the Bereans
  • Starts with Scripture and tests the wisdom of the world against it. Of course, Scripture wins each and every time.
  • Sees effectiveness as building a “wall” of biblical precepts sermon-by-sermon
  • Invests in conventional study tools
  • If anyone complains, it’s about boredom

AN EXHORTER

  • Values communicating over studying for it
  • Knows the general outline, but fills in holes along the way. Counts on it, in fact
  • Would have hated to pastor the Bereans
  • Brings up the wisdom of the world and tests it against Scripture. Of course, Scripture wins each and every time.
  • Sees effectiveness as moving people to action with the Bible
  • Invests in unconventional study tools
  • If anyone complains, it’s about not getting fed

April 16, 2010

Gold!

If you want to mine the internet for nuggets of gold, find some people who have been committed, faithful bloggers and go back through the archives and learn what they were writing about when they first started.

I really enjoy the short quotations on Jim Upchurch’s blog, Christ, His Work and His Word.  Here are some classics from Jim’s early posts:

Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us.

— Tim Keller, The Reason for God

Both Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Edwards were known to arrive home with a couple dozen hand written notes pinned to their jackets. Yes, they looked like dorks, but we remember them hundreds of years after their deaths and don’t even know the names of the cool people anymore.

— JD Greear, pastor of The Summit Church on the value of writing stuff down.
The righteous have no claim on Christ; it was to save sinners that he came (Mt. 9:12-13). Seen from this angle, even the condemnatory function of the law is all of grace.
— R. Alan Cole, commenting on Galatians 3:21-22 and the purpose of the law in his commentary
  1. How often is Jesus mentioned?
  2. If Jesus is mentioned, is he the subject of the verbs? In the sermon is Jesus and his work proclaimed… or is someone else and their work proclaimed?
  3. What are those verbs? Are they that Jesus came, lived, died, rescued, saved, and the like? Are they biblical terms?

– Todd Wilkin of Issues Etc. uses a three-question test to determine whether or not a sermon is Christ-centered