Christianity 201

June 9, 2017

Big Ideas

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today a short excerpt from the blog of Youth Unlimited. (This is a different YU than the one associated with Youth for Christ.) Click the title to read at source.

Don’t be Afraid of the Big Ideas

Do you ever feel too small for your big ideas? God loves to use people who don’t seem important enough to do his most important work. Consider these examples from the Bible:

Elijah- He spent some serious time in prayer and it changed the weather for THREE YEARS! You know the weather, that thing everyone acknowledges is totally out of our control… Elijah affected it through the power of prayer and he was just a guy like us.

17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” James 5:17-18

Moses- This guy got asked to do big things by God and had some serious doubts about his own ability.

10 But Moses said to the Lord, ‘Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.’”– Exodus 4:10.

But when he put his faith and trust in the Lord’s power working through him, he was able to lead the Israelites out of Egypt through the Red Sea which he separated to make a dry path. Wow, that is a big dream that God used “un-eloquent” Moses for.

Gideon- Gideon was from a small clan that was being ruled and terrorized by a bigger clan, the Midianites. He was scared and felt hopeless when an angel appeared to him and told him that if he went and stood up against the enemy the Lord would make sure he won! Crazy.

15 And he said to him, ‘Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.’ 16 And the Lord said to him, ‘But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.’” Judges 6:11-16


Bonus item:
Sometimes we return to previous blog posts from other years. One we used a long time ago was the newsletter from author and missionary Elizabeth Elliot.

When she concluded writing in that forum, she ended her last piece with a hymn written by Anna L. Waring in 1850:

Father, I know that all my life
Is portioned out for me,
And the changes that are sure to come
I do not fear to see;
I ask Thee for a present mind,
Intent on pleasing Thee.

I would not have the restless will
That hurries to and fro,
Seeking for some great thing to do
Or secret thing to know;
I would be treated as a child
And guided where I go.

Wherever in the world I am,
In whatsoever estate,
I have a fellowship with hearts
To keep and cultivate .

April 5, 2017

Giving Our Very Best

Jim Thornber writes at what we always call “the other Thinking Out Loud blog” and he’s been featured here many times previously. Click the title below to read at source. There’s also a link to another one of his pieces in today’s link list at what Jim probably calls “the other Thinking Out Loud blog.”

Presenting My Best

“So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, ‘Hurry . . . and bake some bread.’ Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready . . . he served it to the men. ” – Genesis 18:6-8

After reading this passage about Abraham’s hospitality to the Lord and the two angels, it occurred to me that sometimes I am either too lazy or too impatient to give to the Lord in the manner of this marvelous man.

As it happens, one day Abe is sitting in front of his tent during the hottest part of the afternoon, sipping sweet tea and listening to the tree frogs, when he looks up and notices three men standing nearby. He must have figured they weren’t normal beings since one moment no one is there and the next moment they’re standing nearby. Since he didn’t see them approaching from the distance, their appearance is Abe’s first clue to be nice.

Realizing he has heavenly guests in his front yard, Abraham goes into high gear and asks if he may treat them to a chair in the shade, a foot bath and a fresh meal. They say “Okay,” and Abraham rushes off to arrange a nice lunch for his guests.

As I was reading this, I wondered why Abraham would go to all this trouble. Undoubtedly, Abraham and Sarah had food in the tent. They weren’t poor and lacking. With all the people Abraham had in his company, it is inconceivable that there wasn’t some meat and bread in the pantry left over from last night’s dinner.

But that isn’t the way of Abraham. Instead, he makes sure to prepare the freshest food for the Lord.  He didn’t give his guests day-old bread and yesterday’s meat, but warm bread and a tender calf. It was a lot of effort and time, but the Lord is gracious to Abraham and allows him the time necessary to make the arrangements.

I wonder: How often does God get my leftovers because I’m too stingy, lazy, preoccupied or even self-conscious to arrange to give Him my best? Sure, I may be thinking I don’t want to try the Lord’s patience by making Him wait until I’ve prepared, but this scene with Abraham tells me that the Lord is already prepared to wait for me to give my best. I’m the only one who is in a hurry.

I also see that giving my best means I may impose upon others in order to give the best, the way Abe got Sarah and the servant involved in the meal. It means that in order for me to give God the best I have to give, I sometimes need the help of other people. Abraham never hesitated to ask for help in giving to the Lord. That is something I need to learn.

Abraham’s reaction to the Lord’s presence in his home is a reminder that: 1) God knows who I am, 2) God’s knows where I live, and 3) God is prepared to wait for my best. I may be impatient to “get on with it,” but the Lord is not in a hurry to receive my leftovers. If the Lord is willing to wait for me, I should be willing to give Him my best.


Behind the scenes at C201 is my wife, Ruth Wilkinson who is often involved in the preparation of this daily devotional study through discussions about a particular writer’s perspective or additional research into the context or meaning of verses. Also, on the days you see a longer excerpt from a print source, it’s probably Ruth who typed it out. So today I wanted to do something I’ve never done here, which is to say thanks and wish her a Happy Birthday.

August 29, 2016

We’re Wired for More

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 blasted off from Florida and would land on the moon just four days later. While the spacecraft had a very sophisticated computer navigation system, this was the 1960s after all and today, I’m told that I have more processing power and functionality in the small smartphone which fits in my pocket.

Similarly, on the day that I trusted Christ as my savior and promised to make him my Lord, I had only limited knowledge of scripture and awareness of the gifts God had given me, but today, as I endeavor to mature in Christ, hopefully I have much more potential spiritual power and ability to be his witness in the world.

Unfortunately, I will never understand everything that my phone is capable of doing. There are things wired into it (even though I realize there are no actual wires anymore) that are beyond my understanding.

Similarly, there are are things that God has wired me for, so to speak, that I can choose to apply or use, or allow those gifts to atrophy. Sometimes, only as I step out in faith will I know the resident potential that exists.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  -Ephesians 2:10 NLT

In a world before time, God “planned” us for “good things” and the resident potential within us is great.

but the people who know their God will display strength and take action. -Daniel 11:32b NASB

Other translations have

  • shall do exploits (KJV)
  • will stand strong and will act (CEB)
  • shall stand firm and take action  (ESV)
  • will act valiantly (NET)
  • stand strong and prevail (TLV)
  • carry out great exploits (NKJV)

…he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him… -Ephesians 1:4 ESV

Esther 4.14The challenge of course is that few of us know exactly or entirely what God has wired into us. The story of Esther is a story of someone who finds herself suddenly placed into a position which is really the turning point for the entire nation of Israel. Should she step up and take action or act valiantly? Mordecai says to her,

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
– Esther 4:14 NIV

So she takes action, but not the way I might have done it. I would have walked into the king’s chamber and said, “We need to talk.” But instead she proposes a banquet and then another. Her nation is in peril of extinction and she throws a party! Her internal wiring and predisposition is such that she is able to devise a plan and make a difference.

We will never know what we’re wired for and what potential we have until we put ourselves out there and take action.

It’s also good to remember that we are image bearers of a creator God whose attributes we only scratch the surface of understanding.

For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. -Isaiah 55:9 NLT

But as it is written, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” -1 Corinthians 2:9 ISV

I don’t believe that we should start claiming a false promise that we can do what only God can do, nor should we buy into the idea of unlimited human potential, but we need to take the encouragement that we were created by a God of infinite capacity.

Are there things in your internal wiring that you haven’t discovered or haven’t used? A gift God has given you which you haven’t tapped into?

May 5, 2016

The Time for Boasting

This wasn’t planned, or I would have run them back-to-back, but today’s devotional pairs well with the one from May 2nd, Lest Anyone Should Boast. The writer is Mark McIntyre at the blog Attempts at Honesty who has appeared here previously. To read this at source, click the title below.

A reason for boasting

For the most part, I really don’t enjoy listening to postgame, on-field interviews of athletes. If the interviewee is on the winning side, too often the interview amounts to boasting about how he is faster, stronger or smarter than his opponent. We live in a day where self-promotion is encouraged and expected. This is an aspect of our society with which I am not comfortable. Perhaps this is why these two verses in Jeremiah jumped out at me when I read them this morning:

“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”” (Jeremiah 9:23–24, ESV)

For believers, if we are to boast at all, let it be boasting about the God we serve. Let us boast about that God makes himself understandable to us. Let us boast that God allows us to know him and be in relationship with him.

We have a reason for boasting, but that reason is not us. Let us boast about God’s character.

If we understand God’s character and boast about it, some of that character is bound to rub off on us. Please look at the list that is given in the verses above.

  • Steadfast love
  • Justice
  • Righteousness

If ware know God and are in relationship with him, it seems to me that these traits should be increasingly operational in our lives both individually and collectively. If we are seeking hard after God, it should be these traits that define the church.

Ask yourself these questions,

  • Are visitors to my church enveloped by a sense of God’s steadfast love (lovingkindness in the NASB)?
  • Is my congregations known for pursuing justice in the local community and around the world?
  • Do I convey an accurate portrayal of true righteousness, that which is granted by God through a relationship with Jesus Christ?

Not only is this a corporate challenge for us as we gather on Sundays, this is a challenge to us as individuals. We should be in prayer to God and give him permission to work these traits into the fabric of our lives. Paul tells us:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12–13, ESV)

Notice that there is effort required on our part. We need to extend effort toward becoming what God wants us to be. But ultimately it is God who works these traits into us. We need to allow Scripture to shape our desires and submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit. This is a good news, bad news situation.

The bad news is that we fall short in love, justice and righteousness. The good news is that God is not done with us.

April 8, 2016

The ‘Giving’ of Worship

I normally tell you that you can click through to read these blog posts at the source where they first appeared, right? Well this time, you really should, because there are some graphics that go along with each of the 12 points. Today’s reading is also a scripture medley. We’re returning to Worship Sounds Music, the blog of Cynthia and Travis L. Boyd.

The “Giving Verses” of Worship

When the very living of our lives has become an act of worship, recognizing God’s supremacy and worth in every decision and thought, worship is no longer an action but rather a lifestyle.  It’s a 24 / 7 / 365 … every moment of every day … goal of intentionally expressing God’s glory in all that we do, think, and say.**   In seeking to live out this lifestyle and this heart commitment to the One who has given us His all, we give the only gift that we can give to our Creator and Savior:  the gift of a transformed life that brings Him glory and joy!

Here are The “Giving Verses” of Worship:

1.  Giving God THANKSGIVING and PRAISE!

* Psalm 100:4   “Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, and bless His name.”

* Psalm 9:1 & 2   “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart: I will tell of all Thy wonderful deeds.  I will be glad and exult in Thee, I will sing praise to Thy name, O Most High.”

2.  Giving God GLORY!

* Psalm 86:12   “With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God. I will give glory to your name forever.”

* Psalm 96:6 – 9   “Honor and majesty are before Him, strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.  Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength.  Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts.  O worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness; fear before Him, all the earth.”

3.  Giving God AWE and REVERENCE, acknowledging Him as the Lord and Creator of all.

(In some verses and some translations, “the fear of the Lord”)

* Psalm 111:10   “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”

* Psalm 86:9 – 12   “All the nations You have made shall come and bow down before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.  For You are great, and You do wondrous things; You alone are God.  Teach me Your way, O Lord, that I may walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name.  I give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with my whole heart; and I will glorify Your name forever.”

4.  Giving God BLESSING.

* Psalm 103:22   “Bless the LORD, all you works of His, In all places of His dominion; Bless the LORD, O my soul!”

* Psalm 28:6 & 7   “Blessed be the Lord!  for He has heard the voice of my supplications.  The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts; so I am helped and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him.”

5.  Giving Him EXALTATION!*

From the www.thefreedictionary.com, here are the applicable definitions:

1. to raise or elevate in rank, position, dignity, etc.
2. to praise highly; glorify; extol
* Psalm 34:3   “Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!”
 *NOTE:  The word ‘exaltation’ sometimes gets confused with ‘exultation’, for which the definition is “to rejoice greatly, be jubilant or triumphant (or, as in triumph.  We rejoice greatly or exult in His triumph.)  — same source

6.  Giving Him SERVICE
(giving of our hearts, our time, our gifts, and our lives in serving Him)

* Joshua 24:15   “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

7.  Giving Him WORSHIP!

True worship rises up from the people of God, who are choosing to intentionally express His infinite worth! **

**(see note at end of post)

You have probably noticed by now that there is some overlap in the various types of giving to the Lord.  For example, in singing praise to God, we can bless His name.  In the worship category of giving, there is overlap with all other types of giving.  All of these ways of giving to the Lord are worship (lifestyle worship) when we are giving with the purpose of bringing glory to God and expressing His infinite worth through giving our best to God in every area of our lives.

* Psalm 29:2   “Honor the LORD for the glory of His name. Worship the LORD in the splendor of His holiness.”

* John 4:24   “For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

8.  We are to SING UNTO HIM!

* Psalm 5:11   “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy.”

* Psalm 30:4   “Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His holy name.”

* Psalm 59:16 & 17   “I will sing of Thy power; yes, I will sing aloud of Thy mercy in the morning; for Thou hast been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble.  Unto Thee, O my Strength, will I sing; for God is my defense, and the God of my mercy.”  

9.  Giving Him TITHES and OFFERINGS!

* Malachi 3:10   “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”

* Exodus 35:29   “The children of Israel brought a voluntary offering to Jehovah, every man and woman whose heart prompted them to bring for all manner of work, which Jehovah, by the hand of Moses, had commanded to be done.”

10.  Giving Him HONOR!

* Revelation 4:11   “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

* Psalm 96:6 – 9   “Honor and majesty are before Him, strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.  Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength.  Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts.  O worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness; fear before Him, all the earth.”

* Proverbs 3:9   “Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the first and best part of all your income.”

11.  Giving Him LOVE!

The words of Jesus Himself in Mark 12:30   “AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.”

* Psalm 31:23   “Love the LORD, all you his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.”

* Joshua 22:5   “But be very careful to obey all the commands and the instructions that Moses gave to you. Love the LORD your God, walk in all his ways, obey his commands, hold firmly to him, and serve him with all your heart and all your soul.”

* Psalm 116:1   “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.”

12.  Giving Him OUR WHOLE HEART AND LIFE!

* Psalm 86:9 – 12    “All the nations You have made shall come and bow down before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.  For You are great, and You do wondrous things; You alone are God.  Teach me Your way, O Lord, that I may walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name.  I give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with my whole heart; and I will glorify Your name forever.”

* Colossians 1:10   “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”

* Psalm 56:13   “For you have rescued me from death; you have kept my feet from slipping. So now I can walk in your presence, O God, in your life-giving light.”

* Mark 8:35   “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.”

* Romans 12:1 – 2  “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

For us, giving these to God (worship, blessing, exaltation, thanksgiving, praise, glory, awe and reverence, love, honor, service, tithes and offerings, songs, and all that we are in life and in our hearts) is our gift of worship and devotion to Him.

Giving is about worship, and worship is all about giving.

“Honor and majesty are before Him, strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength.  Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts.  O worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness; fear before Him, all the earth.”   Psalm 96:6 – 9

GOD HAS GIVEN HIS ALL… and continues to give in every moment of time.

May we follow His example.

November 28, 2015

Go. Serve. Love.

Today we look at another blog that is indexed with Faithful Bloggers. Morgan Murphy blogs at Look Upon The Light, and posted this in September. To read more click the title below, and then click the “home” button at the top to look around at other articles.

Why I Believe in Going to Haiti (or Wherever)

I leave in a couple of days for a trip to Haiti. I have been out of the country a couple of other times for mission trips, and every time before I go the responses I get about my upcoming plans are generally the same:

A) “That’s cool, but I could never do that.”
B) “That’s good and all, but there’s people here that need help, too.”
C) “Why would you want to go there?”
D) All of the above.

So here’s why I believe in going to Haiti (or wherever)…

I believe with all my heart in the Great Commission. Jesus’s last words should be our first priority. In Matthew 28, He says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age.” There is plenty of work yet to be done, and not enough willing to just go. We have to start taking Jesus for his word.

I believe that someone can’t do everything, but everyone can do something. It is impossible for a single person to go to every place that needs the Gospel. As followers of Christ, we are all called to do something. Every person’s calling won’t take them across the country or around the world, but we all have a mission field. It might be the classroom, hospital, football field, study group, office, gym, wherever…the opportunities are endless. The important thing is to discover what you love and use your passion to fulfill your potential and God-given purpose.

I would rather be in dangerI believe in being dangerous to the kingdom of darkness. In 2 Corinthians 11 and 12, Paul talks about things he has suffered for the sake of the Gospel. He was stoned, beaten, imprisoned, and shipwrecked. He was in danger from rivers, robbers, his own people, Gentiles, the city, the wilderness, the sea, sleepless nights, and more (see verses 23-28). Let me tell you…I would rather be in danger while chasing Jesus than safe while chasing the American Dream. I don’t believe in playing it safe when something as serious as eternity is on the line.

I believe that our God is global. John 3:16 says that God so loved this world. It does not say that God so loved the United States of America. We tend to be really ethnocentric, but the love Jesus has for all of us transcends any and all borders. It reminds me of the children’s Bible song that says red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight…it really is true. I am aware that there are people in America that need help. There are people in our own backyards that need Jesus, and we should treat these people no different than Haitians or Ugandans or Indians or whoever. We can’t get so caught up in the ethnicity or geographical location that we neglect the status of the heart or knowledge of the Gospel.

I believe in the sovereignty of the Lord. With Him, I have everything. Without Him, I have nothing. He will never misguide or mislead me. They say that the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will, and I so believe that. If Haiti is where I am supposed to be, then I am safer there than here. People die in motor vehicles accidents every day, but that doesn’t keep us from getting in our cars every morning. We have to stop letting fear dictate how we live our lives. Fear is not of the Lord. I trust the Lord with every bit of my heart, so I can rest assured that He is always with me…whatever happens will be okay as long as I know I am following the Lord. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

All of this and more is why I believe in going to Haiti. Thomazeau, Haiti will be my mission field. When I get home, things will be different. My mission field is usually the intensive care unit where I am a nurse. The key is to go with the flow and serve wherever the Lord leads you. Be the hands and feet of Jesus however and whenever possible. Let someone know that they are loved and chosen and accepted. Step up and do your part because we are living in critical times…the possibilities and opportunities are endless. Whatever your calling, let others see the wonder of Christ in you. That is what will make all the difference.

So wherever the Lord may lead you…in your neighborhood or around the world…

Go.
Serve.
Love.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send our laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:37-38

 

November 20, 2015

Making Your Church a Better Place

CEB* Romans 12:3 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful.

Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord!

Today we pay a return visit to the blog of B. J. Rutledge, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Paradise, Texas. Click the link below to read the article at source.

7 Things That Would Make Church Better

Romans 12:1 & 2 have long been favorites of mine, but today as I was reading Romans 12, I got really focused on the next few verses and had to admit I’m not doing as well with them as I’d like.  If we’d all work on them, I think church would be even better than it already is!

  1. Choose Humility (v. 3)

Filter every thought about yourself through Christ; don’t compare yourself to anyone else.

  1. Give Each Other Grace. (v.4)

We belong to one another; we’re family and we don’t all have the same function. Family is difficult at times because we’re so different & grace is needed because we don’t all respond the same way…and by the way, God set it up this way (so go figure).

  1. Use The Gifts God Gave You (v. 6)

We all have gifts – given to us by God through His grace, so whatever gift we’ve been given IT’S FROM GOD & THAT’S GOOD!  Quit desiring someone else’s gift & be thankful for what God gave you, and USE IT!

We’re to exercise our gift(s); that is – put them/it to use. Failure to use our gift(s) – or simple negligence is like saying to God – “Don’t get me anything for Christmas; Your gifts aren’t that great.”

  1. Love One Another (v. 9)

We’re to love each other; it’s that simple and profound. This reminds me of a question Andy Stanley posed a while back: “What does love require of me?” In other words, RIGHT NOW – IN THIS INSTANT – IN THIS SITUATION – WITH THIS PERSON…What Does Love Require of Me?

  1. Hate Evil; Cling To What’s Good (v. 9)

This should be self explanatory!

  1. Be Devoted To One Another (v.10)

Christians, we’re not just to ask: “What does love require of me?” WE’RE TO BE DEVOTED TO ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE.   Oops; how are we doing with this? We’re to be so devoted we actually GIVE PREFERENCE to ONE ANOTHER – and HONOR ONE ANOTHER. Let’s give this a lot more effort this week – month – year – and begin today!

  1. Don’t Be Lazy (v.11)

DON’T BE LAZY in using what God’s given you when it comes to SERVING HIM & HIS CHURCH.   Diligence has to do with our ACTIONS.   BE FERVENT IN SPIRIT has to do with having an enthusiastic attitude about serving Christ! Serving Christ through His Church is one of the greatest privileges in the world so demonstrate your gratefulness in Action & Attitude and get busy SERVING!


*I frequently refer to the Common English Bible. Published just a few years ago, it’s target market is the more liturgical Protestant churches who have historically used the NRSV.

May 21, 2015

Remember Who?

Forgotten Apostles

by Clarke Dixon

I grew up watching wrestling, specifically the show “Maple Leaf Wrestling.” Part of what I remember is how predictable most of the matches were. The first contender would be be announced, usually a man no heavier than myself, nor taller, nor more muscular. Then they would announce the “big name,” someone like Big John Stud or Andre the Giant who would go on to decimate them. The outcome was always predictable. I’m not sure why the small guys even bothered to get into the ring, except of course that they were being paid to lose. And don’t ask me their names for they were forgettable as wrestlers next to the giants.

Perhaps we may feel that our performance as Christians is meagre, even forgettable. We may feel that it makes no sense to step into the ring for there are spiritual giants who do the Christian thing so much better than we do. We can think of the call to witness to a seeker, the call to righteousness, the call to investing our lives in the lives of others, the call to getting over ourselves, the call to love, the call to forgiveness, and the call to prayer. We can think of people who do these Christian things so much better than we can, they are spiritual giants. Let them enter the ring since they have so much more to offer. We may choose therefore to make Christianity a spectator sport and never get into the ring ourselves.

If you feel your Christian service is forgettable, you are in good company. Consider Matthias who was chosen to replace Judas in the earliest days of the Christian Church. Matthias was chosen for an extremely important role and he had the right qualifications:

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us– one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” Acts 1:21-22 NRSV

Since Matthias fits this description we know he was well versed in the teaching and life of Jesus. He could attest personally to the death and resurrection of Jesus. He also had the Lord’s blessing on his choice as Judas’ successor:

Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. Acts 1:24-26 24 NRSV

The interesting thing about Matthias is that he just disappears from the pages of the Bible. Despite amazing credentials and the Lord’s blessing we never hear about him again. His work for the Lord, his response to God’s every call has, apart from a few mentions outside the Bible, been forgotten by history. He was not a “spiritual giant” like Paul, or Peter, or John. In fact, the service to the Lord of most of the disciples in New Testament times has been forgotten. And down through the centuries, though there has been a rich tradition of spiritual giants like Spurgeon, Carey, C.S. Lewis, and others, the vast majority of the Lord’s servants have been forgotten.

If you know Jesus as Lord and Savior, consider the men and women God has used to reach you. You have heard the Gospel from someone who has heard it from someone who has heard it from someone, and so on down through a long line of mostly forgotten servants of Christ. For the most part, the Lord has not used spiritual giants to reach you with the Gospel, but forgotten servants. Or perhaps you did come to faith in Jesus through the ministry of a spiritual giant, through a Billy Graham crusade for example. Yet even in the “spiritual ancestry” of Billy Graham are a lot of unknown and forgotten Christians. Or maybe you came to faith through reading the Bible, with no one to help you at all. Yet how many forgotten and unknown scribes can we thank for preserving the Word of God for us. God has used hundreds, if not thousands, of unknown servants to make the Gospel known to you. We can be grateful to God that they did not stay out of the ring just because they were not spiritual giants.

We may be less like Paul and more like Matthias, likely to head into obscurity in just a few generations. But there are two things to note:

  1. God’s impact through you may grow long after you are forgotten. Because you have responded to God’s call on your life, people may be influenced by people who have been influenced by people who have been influenced by someone you have influenced. God may reach people for many generations to come because you got into the ring.
  2. You may be forgotten by history, but you will not be forgotten by God. You may not make it into the history books, but as a follower of Christ you will have your name in the God’s “Book of Life.

Most of God’s servants throughout history have been forgotten. But God has accomplished amazing things through forgotten people. You may feel that your contribution and participation in God’s Kingdom work is meager, even forgettable, but don’t stay out of the ring just because you are not a spiritual giant. Get into the ring with your words. Get into the ring with your actions. Get into the ring with your presence. Get into the ring with your time, talents, and treasures. Get into the ring with your prayers. The Lord is already there waiting for you.


May 17, 2015

Wherever You Serve God, Be All In

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Romans 12:11

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…
Ecclesiastes 9:10a

Today we pay a return visit to Done With Religion by Michael Donohoe. To read this at source, click the title below.

What’s Your Passion?

My wife and I have some friends who are very much involved and active in certain areas of ministry. We were recently talking about the passion these friends have for their particular ministry.

That got me to thinking about passion. The dictionary says passion is: ‘a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything’. This certainly describes our friends and we are happy that they are involved so much.

We both stated that we felt we did not have a passion like this for any particular thing. It actually made us feel a little disappointed and wondered why we did not seem to have a passion like our friends.

I think passion is great. In some ways, passion for the wrong things or done in extremes can be very tiring and frustrating. A passion for money can cause a person to work many hours, consuming their energy. Passion like that can take your strength and drain you of all energy. Yet, people who have passion for showing God’s love, helping others and use it in moderation see their lives enriched, strengthened and seem to have endless energy.

The only trouble I see with passion is that it can sometimes become an obsession with the ones involved, and they can begin to expect everyone to have the same passion they have for the same thing. This is where we have to realize that God designed each of us with different gifts, abilities and passions, and they are displayed differently in each of us.

I think each of us has a passion for what God designed us to be. We may not be as outspoken or even act the same way as others with passion, but God works through us in a way that is effective according to the personality and gifts with which he designed us. We may not even realize the passion that shows through us to others, but rest assured, God will work through us to touch others with his love.

We are all designed differently, and we all act and respond in our uniqueness. I think it wrong to think we are not useful to God because we do not act like someone else. God works in us and through us based on the way he created us, each unique temples of the Holy Spirit, each making an impact on those we have contact with, through the power and love of God within us.

August 21, 2014

Your Part in the Chain of Grace

1David summoned all the officials of Israel to assemble at Jerusalem: the officers over the tribes, the commanders of the divisions in the service of the king, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of all the property and livestock belonging to the king and his sons, together with the palace officials, the warriors and all the brave fighting men.

2King David rose to his feet and said: “Listen to me, my fellow Israelites, my people. I had it in my heart to build a house as a place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, for the footstool of our God, and I made plans to build it. 3But God said to me, ‘You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.’

4“Yet the Lord, the God of Israel, chose me from my whole family to be king over Israel forever. He chose Judah as leader, and from the tribe of Judah he chose my family, and from my father’s sons he was pleased to make me king over all Israel. 5Of all my sons—and the Lord has given me many—he has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel. 6He said to me: ‘Solomon your son is the one who will build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. 7I will establish his kingdom forever if he is unswerving in carrying out my commands and laws, as is being done at this time.’

I Chronicles 28; NIV; to read any verses in other translations, click the verse numbers

I wrote a few months ago about the idea of the “chain of grace” and compared it to the children’s plastic toy/game known as Barrel of Monkeys!  It’s a very popular theme when I am speaking with people but I was surprised to see how little it’s reflected in my blogs. We are part of a very huge, overarching story in which we are recipients of grace and agents of grace. We pass that on to others.

Moses led his people but only to the edge of the promised land. David served God, but did not see his dream, the building of the temple, through to completion. Acts 13:36 tells us,

We all know David died and was reduced to dust after he served God’s purpose in his generation  (The Voice Bible)

Our responsibility is to serve the purpose of God in our generation.

What got me thinking about this was the following excerpt from Love Well: Living Life Unrehearsed and Unstuck by Jamie George. How willing are we to build up the ministry of others instead of feeling we need to do it all? He tells the story of feeling directed to take a drive out in the country where God would speak with him.

My conversation with God went like this:

“I know You wanted to meet with me today.  Sounds like You have something in mind.  But before You get rolling, do you mind if I say something?”

Sure.

“Thank you.  One basic, overarching question.  Why did You send me to plant a church in Franklin, Tennessee?  It seems like there is a church on every corner.  I mean, people introduce themselves here and ask, ‘What church do you go to?’  This is crazy.  Why didn’t You send me to Brasil?  Seriously, why am I here?”

Are you finished?

Love Well - Jamie George“Uh.  Yeah.”

Wrong question.

“Huh?”

You need to get over yourself.

This is My story, not yours.

I will send you where I wish.

Jamie, all of your life you have told people you want to ‘change the world for God.’  And at times, your motives were pure.  But all too often, you wanted to change the world for Jamie.

I know your story.

No friends in middle school, a misfit in college, an underdog mentality from an underdog town.

Let’s be honest, much of your life has been about proving your worth.

“Oww. Okay. Yeah.

Can’t deny it.

I am sorry.

I repent.”

Rather than change the world, I want you to touch the life of someone else who will change the world.

This statement would alter my life forever.  I stared for a while at this point – at the trees, the sky, the leaves.  There was something solemn about the moment.

Touch the life of someone else who will change the world.

Do you understand what I am saying?

“Yes, I think so.  I’m supposed to empower other people and let them get the credit.  As much as I love ‘the stage,’ I am supposed to lean into subtlety and move away from the ‘big show’.  Rather than a bold and brash, clean and shiny church, we are supposed to become a quiet but confident family of faith.  Rather than wave the banner and give the cheer, we will invite the broken and steadily serve whomever we find in need.  And along the way, You will use someone other than me to influence the world.”

You have the idea.

“God, I have spent most of my life trying to become a great leader, and very little of it learning to become a great listener.  Starting today, I’ll begin seeing people not as chess pieces to move around in a grand strategy, but rather as stories that are unique and magnificent, individuals to be released to their God-designed life.”

June 24, 2014

Serving God in Your Generation

“When David had served God’s purpose in his own generation he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed” (Acts 13:36).

Barrel of MonkeysThere was a toy years ago called Barrel of Monkeys where you dump out a small barrel containing plastic monkeys, each one having a leg reaching down and a hand reaching up. You use the leg of one to pull up the hand of another — or take turns doing so — and then keep adding new monkeys to see how many can be lifted at one time. You end up with a whole bunch linked together, the foot of one holding the hand of the next.

The “overlap” aptly describes how each generation passes on the ways of God to their children, and then they teach these things to their children. In this case by “children” I also mean spiritual children, the next generation at your church or in your community. We’ve also looked at this concept as a “chain of grace” here and here.

I was drawn to this verse after it appeared a few days ago at DailyEncouragement.net.  Stephen and Brooksyne write:

Our life is a part of the overall fulfillment of God’s purpose. Consider the first part of the second daily text, “When David had served God’s purpose in his own generation.” In the historical books we have a lot of information on David. Apart from Moses, we may have more biographical information on David than any other Old Testament personality. But the apostle Paul, preaching in a Jewish synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, makes a simple statement concerning David’s life, “When David had served God’s purpose in his own generation.”

God places us all on this earth for a season, a period of time known as our “own generation.” The amount of time we have varies; some die young, others in their middle ages and yet others at a “ripe old age”, one of the most colorful descriptions of age in the Scriptures! (See Genesis 25:8.) But like David, all of us (except the final generation) will eventually fall asleep (die) and our physical bodies will decay though our spirits will soar.

We can live our life for self or in consecration to God’s purpose.  Many of you have heard the saying, “Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” Today, let us, like David, seek to serve God’s purpose in our generation! I ask you, how are you impacting others for Christ and eternity?

Authors Kerry and Chris Shook write about this passage. Be sure to read this in context by clicking the link.

…Every generation must face that same challenge. David accepted it in his day. The Gospel writer, Luke, records it in Acts 13:36 when he wrote, “David served God’s purpose in his own generation….” We’ve seen how he courageously stood against the giant Goliath, became the greatest King Israel ever had and led them to become the most powerful nation in their day politically, economically and spiritually. Think about it. David could have simply coasted out the rest of his days in ease! Yet, there was one longing, unfulfilled dream in his heart. David passionately pursued his desire to build a Temple for God, a permanent resting place for the presence of God to dwell among the people of God. Up to this time, Israel still worshipped out of a tent that went back to their wilderness wanderings with Moses. Now was the time, he thought! “This will be a lasting legacy of faith for generations to come to secure the spiritual welfare of Israel!”

David’s love for God extended far beyond his own lifetime and personal comfort. He wanted future generations to know God and love Him as well. In Psalm 22:30-31, David wrote, “Our children will also serve him. Future generations will hear about the wonders of the Lord. His righteous acts will be told to those not yet born. They will hear about everything he has done.”…

A few years ago, Australian blogger Susan Tumut wrote on this passage:

God chooses to use people to do the many different tasks that he wants completed. God doesn’t have to use people. After all he could have created robots or puppets but rather he gives us the privilege of being involved in his plans. Since God’s plans are eternal we are involved in something that has lasting significance. We can “leave our mark” on the world by being connected to the One with who has already left, and continues to leave, His mark on the world.

The tasks God gives us are not impossible. In this chapter we read that “As John was completing his work…” (v.25) and “David had served God’s purpose in his own generation” (v.36). John the Baptist and David completed the tasks God gave them to do. Vastly different tasks but both God initiated tasks. Not always done perfectly, David made many mistakes in his personal life. Yet God looked at his heart and said, “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do” (v.22).

John the Baptist had moments of doubt. He testified that Jesus was the Son of God, “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me…” (John 1:32-34). However later he was not so sure: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3). Yet ultimately John completed the task God gave him.

Likewise, we can complete the tasks God gives us.

Go Deeper: For more, listen to a podcast by Dr. Os Guinness teaching on three principles from the life of David derived from this single verse.

We’ll also have more on this verse tomorrow.

 

 

December 7, 2013

The Person God Elevates

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Ps. 75:6 No one from the east or the west
    or from the desert can exalt themselves.
It is God who judges:
    He brings one down, he exalts another.

Every day here I always encourage you to read the various devotionals we find at their source blog. Today that is a necessity, because the original is very long, but very good (and it’s almost entirely scripture). It’s about the culture of celebrity pastors which now, dare I say, plagues us in North America.  The two excerpts below do not comprise the entire article, which also ends with a prayer. So here is the link to: Celebrity Pastors and the Glory of God from the blog Feeding on Christ by Joseph Randall.

…The Biblical and historical fact of the matter on celebrity pastors is this:  The LORD sovereignly chooses to make people great in the eyes of the world for the purpose of making His own name great and to be a blessing to the world through the Gospel.

He did so with Abraham:  “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.’” (Genesis 12:1-2)

He did so with Joseph:  “The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master.  His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands . . . But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison . . . The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.” (Genesis 39:2-3, 21, 23)

He did so with Moses:  “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh . . . .’” (Exodus 7:1)

He did so with Joshua:  “The LORD said to Joshua, ‘Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.’” (Joshua 3:7)

He did so with David:  “Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel.  And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.’” (2 Samuel 7:8-9)

He did so with His own beloved Son:  “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)

He’s done it with Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, and many other faithful preachers and theologians in our own day.

And He does so now with whomever He pleases:  “The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.  The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.  He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.  For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world.” (1 Samuel 2:6-8) …

 

The article continues:

1.  Let us remember that the LORD doesn’t need us:

“Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” (Psalm 135:6)

“Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear.” (Isaiah 59:1)

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:24-25)

“God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” (Matthew 3:9)

2.  Let us remember that the LORD grants all mercies, ministries, and positions in His Church as He sees fit:

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Romans 9:15)

“For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3)

 “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.” (2 Corinthians 4:1)

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ . . . But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose . . . But God has so composed the body . . . And God has appointed in the church . . . .” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 18, 24, 28)

3.  Let us remember that the LORD delights in and lifts up the humble:

“The LORD lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground.” (Psalm 147:6)

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” (Isaiah 57:15)

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)

“The greatest among you shall be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)

“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

4.  Let us consider all other preachers (and people!) better than ourselves:

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)

5.  Let us seek the LORD to build our ministry or all is vanity:

“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Psalm 127:1)

6.  Let us forget about ourselves and exult in the glory, beauty, and satisfaction of Jesus Christ alone – Who is the greatest and most famous One, but was made nothing on that cross so that we might have all in all in Him!

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)

December 5, 2013

Daily Devotional Writing

Today I decided to share my heart with readers on some of the struggles of putting C201 together, but in the process discovered a number of interesting Biblical principles.

Luke 14:28 in The Voice Bible:

Just imagine that you want to build a tower. Wouldn’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to be sure you have enough to finish what you start?

When you embark on a project like this — writing every day of the week including weekends — it’s important to count the cost of what you’re getting into. I believe strongly that weekends can be a very lonely, depressing time for some people, so at various times at Thinking Out Loud, I actually added an extra post on the days that many bloggers were taking the weekend off. So the commitment here has been 7-days a week, though sometimes I do feel crowded into a box, even if I don’t actually write each post. (Sometimes the editing and selection process is more time-consuming than if I write something original.)

It’s important to know that God’s wants joyful service from us. He is not more blessed, if we do something that is drudgery. His desire for relationship precludes anything that would push us away; He longs to draw us close.

II Cor. 9:7 says:

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (NIV)

  • You shouldn’t give if you don’t want to. You shouldn’t give because you are forced to. (NIrV)
  • They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure. (CEB)
  • But don’t feel sorry that you must give and don’t feel that you are forced to give. (CEV)
  •  Giving grows out of the heart—otherwise, you’ve reluctantly grumbled “yes” because you felt you had to or because you couldn’t say “no,” (Voice)

So why is what should be joyful service sometimes unpleasant? There are host of reasons why you might be doing it wrong, but I believe one of these is because sometimes you are doing it alone, when God’s plan is partnership.

Mark 6:7 and Luke 10:1

Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

But it’s important to note that the disciples also brought back stories of results from their mission trip. I love how The Message describes it:

12-13 Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.

But not all missions bear fruit instantly. Sometimes we never hear of the results. When you are posting daily messages online that you know are being visited by hundreds of people each day, you don’t always know who those people are. This is not the same as pastoral ministry where you have community. The search results show that people are seeking information on different topics and may only visit here once. There may be people who only visit your church one time, but that time is pivotal and life-changing. Stories of foreign missions are filled with endings where the missionary thought that there had been no impact, only to find out years later how their ministry had affected lives; only to see the fruit of that ministry reaped a generation later.

Perhaps that’s why Jesus established the tw0-by-two pattern. Christian ministry is often a lonely vocation. Many pastors say they don’t have close friends or close relationships among their parishioners. Other pastors are moved on to new locations every 3-4 years, so deep friendships are not afforded the opportunity to bloom.

(Is this a good place to mention I’m always looking for regular contributors who can either write or source articles that fit the pattern here at C201?)

Consider what Jesus said about fruit in John 15:

  • Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
  • “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.
  • When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
  • 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit…

If this ministry blesses you, please let me know. If your pastor’s sermons bless you, tell them. If a small group leader’s teachings help and encourage you, let them know.

If you are in leadership and find yourself feeling lonely or unfruitful, here is a verse to encourage you from I Cor. 15:58:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

June 21, 2013

The Woman in the Back Row

I’ve often told people that the real ministry in the church isn’t done by the people you see on the platform or the people who are members of the church board. It’s often a woman in the back row — whose name most people don’t know — who is faithfully praying and quietly meeting other women for coffee during the week that is making a huge kingdom difference. But we tend to see the people in the pool who like to make a splash every time they jump in! The woman in today’s article wasn’t literally on the back row, but in her quietness she revealed the depth of her love for God.

Just six days ago we posted an item from the blog We Are Soma. Yes we do have a six-month rule for re-blogging, but they have a variety of authors at this site, and I want to encourage you to visit. This article is by Steve Hart and appeared under the title Fierce Love: Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. Soma is a network of 18 U.S. churches, and Soma School is for existing or potential church planters. Learn more at WeAreSoma.com

As a church family, we’ve studied the Gospel of Luke this Spring. We’ve seen again and again the Fierce Love of Jesus as he goes toe to toe with the religious leaders of his day. It is easy for us to distance ourselves from those conversations by putting ourselves in the shoes of the disciples and cheering Jesus on as he goes after “those guys.” The reality, however, is that the scribes, teachers of the law, and the pharisees would fit well in our churches, small groups, and ministries. They love and study the bible. They are zealous in their devotion to God. They tithe regularly, serve faithfully, and pray beautifully. And Jesus says it is all a sham:

“And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Luke 20:45-47 ESV)

In contrast, Jesus points to a poor widow putting 2 copper coins into the treasury. She is destitute, the poorest of the poor, a societal drain, a religious outsider, but she becomes the model of self-forgetful, humble, genuine gospel faith:

 ”Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4 ESV)

Here is a woman who gets grace. She isn’t looking for the praise of men or the praise of God, for certainly no one would be impressed with her gift! She doesn’t even seem to notice herself – and that is the beauty of what she is doing. She’s self-forgetful, and she’s giving everything – the greek word is “bios”, her very life! Jesus holds up this poverty-stricken, seemingly God-forsaken woman as the example of gospel faith.

Taking these two stories together, we see that the fierce love of Jesus invites us to be utterly realistic about our twisted motivations and to be bluntly honest about how much of our obedience is little more than play-acting, trying to prove to God, others, and ourselves that we aren’t as bad as we know we really are. Jesus calls us to an honest confession that promotes a radical, self-despairing humility so that we might forget ourselves, and give all we have as a response to his gracious acceptance.

And as we receive, again and again, the gracious, one-way, unconditional, unmerited, un-earnable love of God in Jesus, we are increasingly freed from our sin and our self-righteousness. We give up on ourselves and efforts to “get better,” and we throw ourselves fully onto the finished work of Jesus in our place. Consider these words from Martin Lloyd Jones:

“We can put it this way: the man who has faith [in Jesus Christ] is the man who is no longer looking at himself and no longer looking to himself. He no longer looks at anything he once was. He does not look at what he is now. He does not even look at what he hopes to be as the result of his own efforts. He looks entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work, and rests on that alone. He has ceased to say, “Ah yes, I used to commit terrible sins but [now] I have done this and that.” He stops saying that. If he goes on saying that, he has not got faith. Faith speaks in an entirely different manner and makes a man say, “Yes I have sinned grievously, I have lived a life of sin, yet I know that I am a child of God because I am not resting on any righteousness of my own; my righteousness is in Jesus Christ and God has put that to my account.”

The gospel free us to give up on our abilities and merits, and to look to Jesus alone for our righteousness, worth, and significance. And as we do that, all sorts of surprising fruit begin to grow up in our lives – evidences of genuine love, service, and self-sacrifice.

Our cities don’t need more churches of people working hard to be good and save themselves, either through dialing in their doctrine, being more committed to missional living, or refining their programs. Our cities need people who’ve been humbled by the fierce love of Jesus, people who’ve given up on themselves completely, found a beautiful new righteousness credited to their account, and so, like the destitute widow, give their whole lives in joyful self-forgetfulness!

June 12, 2013

Even the Obscure Bible Characters Have Significance

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We’ve talked before here about the Bible’s affirmation of itself that all its words are inspired and beneficial. Most readers here would not question that principle, but do we really believe that all parts of the Bible benefit us, or are some just trifling details, conjunctions getting us to the next part of the story?

Yesterday at Daily Encouragement, Steven and Brooksyne Weber looked at an obscure Bible character who is mentioned only once, in a passage that most of us would hurry past.  Yet look at all he derived from from this one reference in the Bible study below. You’re also encouraged to read this at source — with pictures! — where it appeared under the title, Onesiphorus.

“The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains; but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me—the Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day—and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus” (2 Timothy 1:16-18).

Typically I (Stephen) prepare these messages first and then Brooksyne sharpens them up by adding content and editing. Last night I told her I was going to write about Onesiphorus but she didn’t know what I meant. Even though she is an avid Bible student it is certainly not one of the usual words in the Bible. She thought it sounded like the botanical name of a flower, osteospermum, and then she guessed it was a color before I told her it was a Bible name. The light came on as Brooksyne recalled where she had seen the  name. It’s also easy to confuse Onesiphorus with Onesimus, two names found in the Bible that I have never heard used as a proper name since then.

Onesiphorus is referenced only here in 2 Timothy yet this brief passage highly commends him, and speaks of his blessing to Paul and to others in Ephesus. When reading the Bible we tend to gloss over these brief passages wondering what relevance they may have for us. In view of that observation I see that I have never written about Onesiphorus so I reckon it’s about time.  (I’ve kept a log of these messages since 1996!)

We learn from Biblical examples, both positive and negative, such as the negative reference made in the verse prior to this concerning two otherwise unknown men: “You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes” (1 Timothy 1:15).

In this reference and the only other reference to Onesiphorus in 2 Timothy 4:19 Paul refers to “the house of Onesiphorus”. Some speculate that he may have died by this point but the phrase could also be a way of saying how his entire household had been a blessing. In our years of Christian service we consider households that just seem to minister together as a family, especially married couples, such as when our ministry friends from New Jersey come to mind, we don’t think of Jim only, but we refer to them as Jim and Dorothy.

Let’s look at four characteristics we can glean about Onesiphorus in our text:

    1. “He often refreshed me.” Don’t overlook the little word “often” (pollakis) which means many times, again and again, time after time. It conveys a vivid picture of Onesiphorus’ servant heart that he extended to Paul.  “Refresh” translates a word that literally means “to cool again, to make cool or refresh.” The Living Bible paraphrase draws a word picture, “He visited me and encouraged me often. His visits revived me like a breath of fresh air.” Onesiphorus’ visits into the squalid conditions of the dungeon prison was like a “cool breeze” reviving Paul’s spirit and soul. A great promise to the refresher is a Proverb that states, “Whoever refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25b).
    2. He “was not ashamed of my chains.” Knowing the rest of the story I can’t imagine being ashamed of Paul’s chains. We have the whole record since Paul’s imprisonment is now history, but the full understanding of all his sufferings was subject to one’s own interpretation. Some were embarrassed, afraid or even ashamed of his situation. What a great privilege it would have been to to know Paul and to continually refresh him in his otherwise drab, insufferable surroundings.  May God give us boldness and discernment to stand with those who suffer, as we by faith see the rest of the story even before it happens!
    3. “He eagerly searched for me and found me.” It must have taken some effort to locate Paul and Onesiphorus did this eagerly. Many times meaningful ministry to others takes effort. We need to go out of our way or in some way be inconvenienced whether it involves our time, finances, roadblocks or whatever other setback we must overcome in the process.
    4. “You know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus.” As mentioned above the only reference we have to Onesiphorus is here in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, but perhaps that’s because Onesiphorus was already so well-known and highly regarded among the people. Paul briefly alludes to their familiarity with him through the services he offered in Ephesus. Can you think of people well-regarded because of their service for the Lord?

Spurgeon comments on Onesiphorus, “This good man is here immortalized. When he risked his life to find out and succour a poor despised prisoner, he little knew that he would live forever on the page of the church’s history. His cup of cold water given to an apostle has received an apostle’s reward. Are there any yet alive like Paul to whom we might minister in love after the manner of Onesiphorus?”

Spurgeon’s challenge is one we issue to all our readers today.  Is there someone you might minister to in love just as Onesiphorus often did toward Paul. Don’t delay.

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