Christianity 201

August 23, 2018

The Good Sense of a Witness and 1st Peter 3:15

by Clarke Dixon

Editor’s Note: Clarke is away this week. This post was taken from the large number available at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, which includes many which have never been published here at C201.

You get past your anxiety, step out of your comfort zone and share your faith with someone. Then come the objections: “But how can you know that you are right and everyone else is wrong? But doesn’t science show that we don’t need a Creator? Aren’t the stories in the Bible just myths? How can you be sure the Bible is reliable?” and on and on we could go (and on and on some do!). So now what?

There are two roads open before us in the face of objections:

  1. Say something like, “don’t overthink it, just believe.”
  2. Say something like, “Good question, one I have thought about too, can I share with you some thoughts on that?” or “Good question, one I have not thought about before, perhaps you will allow me some time to think that through”

What would the New Testament apostles do in the face of objections, would they discourage thinking, or encourage it? The following passage gives us a good indication of what they did:

Paul went to the Jews in the synagogue, as he customarily did, and on three Sabbath days he addressed them from the scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, saying, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” (Acts 17:2,3 NET)

There are quite a number of similar passages where Paul ’explains and demonstrates’ the truths of the Jesus and his Kingdom. There is one Greek word behind ’explains and demonstrates’ which according to standard lexicons could be translated with ’discuss, contend, argue, address, reason with.’ We do not get the impression that Paul or any of the other apostles would say anything like “do not think about it, just believe.” Instead they helped people think it through, they appealed to good sense. To the Jewish audience they would argue from the Scriptures (the Old Testament at this point), that the resurrection of Jesus makes good sense. To the Gentile audience they would argue that the Jewish hope and the resurrection of Jesus make good sense, far better sense in fact than pagan myths or Gentile philosophies. When the apostles proclaimed the Gospel, they appealed to good sense.

But doesn’t the Bible teach us to be leary of worldly wisdom, so ought we not to be careful in appealing to ’good sense’. We might quote Colossians 2:8 with this objection: “Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ”(Colossians 2:8 NET). However, this verse and others like it refer more to philosophical systems that could be named and were popular at the time, such as Stoicism, Hedonism, Epicureanism,and the like. It is not referring to logic and reason which are gifts of God, indeed part of what it means to be created in his image. That two plus two equals four is true for the atheist, the Buddhist, the Muslim, and the Christian alike, it is a logical statement without reference to any system of thought. In our day the Christian will want to be wary of naturalism, existentialism, communism, and many other isms, but we will always want to appeal to good sense, using the Godly gifts of logic and reason. In fact the Bible teaches us to appeal to good sense:

But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you. (1 Peter 3:15, 16 NET)

Being ready with an answer means being ready to share why it makes sense to you to hold the Christian hope. Are we ready to share the reason we are Christians?

We should note here that saying something like “I am a Christian because my parents were Christians and their parents were Christians, and so on” will do nothing to help someone come to faith in Jesus. This is not being a witness to what is true about Jesus, it is being a witness to what is true about your family. If we were brought up in the Christian faith, can we go further and explain why we have chosen to accept and affirm the tradition handed down to us? I once heard a story about a woman who in cooking her first turkey put the turkey in the sink and put the dish rack upside down over it. Her mother asked why she did that and with the response “because you always did,” said “don’t be silly dear, you don’t have a cat.” A tradition can begin for a reason, but when the reason for its existence vanishes does it make sense to carry the tradition into our generation?

It has made sense for me to carry faith in Christ into my generation and endeavour to pass it on to the next. I can point to the experience of Christ in my life, I can point to looking more deeply into Christianity through the lenses of ethics, history, literature, science and so forth. Whatever angle I have come at it, it has always ended up making sense. I have thought it through and am happy when I can help others think it through too.

When you witness to someone and the objections to Christianity start flying, are you ready to walk with them on a thoughtful path? They are worth the effort! To do so just makes sense.

July 19, 2017

Sharing Life

The last time we touched base with Charlie Garret at The Superior Word blog they were in Ephesians. Going one verse at a time they are now in 1 Thessalonians. After reading about 20 different verses, we decided to simply choose one since we couldn’t choose them all! So I really encourage you to click through in order to see the insights on different verses in this passage or bookmark this when you need a commentary on a Thessalonians or one of the other epistles available.

1 Thessalonians 2:8

So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.

1 Thessalonians 2:8

These words tie back to the simile of the mother nursing and caring for her children of the previous verse. The Greek word translated as “So” is even stronger in intent. It means, “Because of this,” or “Along with this.” What he says is following along in the same train of thought. In this state, and as a nursing mother to those at Thessalonica, Paul says he, and those with him, were “affectionately longing for you.”

They had come to Thessalonica and had developed such a closeness with them that there was a yearning to share in life with them. This was so much the case that, as he says, they “were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives.”

As nursing mothers, Paul and those with him not only imparted the spiritual milk of the word of life, the gospel, but they also were willing to expend themselves completely. Just as a mother would tirelessly give her all for her children, so were they also willing to do. They were prepared to exhaust themselves, or even lay down their lives, for their beloved church in Thessalonica. This was, as he continues, “because you had become dear to us.”

The bond of affection which had grown in their hearts was so close and personal that they were united as a family – parents caring for children and expending their lives for them. Paul will continue to explain this in the next verses.

Life application: When you lead someone to the Lord, do you consider it as something that is done and over with, or do you consider it as a first step in their new lives? It is good to offer your phone number or email address and to express to them that you will make the necessary time available to them to instruct them in this new life which they have received. In so doing, you will be ensuring that their life in Christ will develop properly. Try to remember to do this if you are honored enough to lead someone to acceptance of the gospel message.

Lord God, it’s a new day, and a new chance for us to go out and tell people about Your wonderful goodness. Help us to open our mouths and share the marvelous story of redemption which is found in the giving of Your Son. Help us not to be timid, but to be bold and willing to speak. Who cares if people are offended? Better offended in life than remorseful at the end of it. Grant us the fortitude to speak! Amen.

May 1, 2016

The Elephant in the Church

•••by Russell Young   

We often hear about the elephant in the room, meaning the issue that everyone knows about and which no one wants to address.  The elephant in the church is the issue of the gospel.  I have not yet met a pastor who can articulate the gospel message.  Its presentation is often piecemeal and its understanding gained as in trying to untangle a knotted ball of string.  One knot can be pulled and removed but the full gospel is often left a mystery…confused and entangled.  John Saxe presented the confusion in his poem/fable, “The Blind Men and the Elephant.”  I will not record it here because it is too long but it can be found on the internet.

The poem relates how some blind men (theologians and church leaders) approach theological issues.  None have a full understanding.  Like the blind men one approaches the tail and describes the elephant as being like a rope.  Another touches an ear and declares the elephant to be like a fan, while another touches the knee and declares it to be like a tree, etc.  The author relates that although the blind men might be partly right, they are all in the wrong.  Perhaps they should have done more touching in order to gain greater truth.

Pastor often admonishes congregants to reach out to their friends, family, co-workers, and neighbours in order to share the gospel or to be Christ to them.  Sharing can be difficult and ineffective when gospel truths are not accurately known, when the gospel has not been made clear to those asked to share.  Experience shows that few people, even those who have attended church for years, can put the gospel into words.  Very recently a gentleman who had been attending an evangelical church for some time declared that ALL would be saved; eternal salvation wasn’t an issue to him.

Understanding and presentation of the doctrine of eternal salvation seems to lack critical consideration. Teaching is often not clear and considered.  Knowledge of the gospel as an entity seems to be somethings is best avoided.   Sometimes a “string” in the knotted ball of gospel truths may be pulled at a certain time and in a certain area and people are left to gain what they might from that tugging while on another occasion the string might be picked at in another spot.  The ball never gets untangled.  Frequently, praise songs have become the methodology of presentation and many of those contain inaccuracies.  Too often knowledge of the gospel has been left to such instances and devices and its truths are never really formed.  Surely, in the twenty-first century the church can do better at conveying these essential truths

Concerning the mandate of church leadership Paul wrote, “It was he [the Lord] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ might be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God and become mature [See Hebrews 5:13-6:3], attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13, NIV) The nature of the gospel needs to be boldly approached and critically considered if the body is to act as the voice of God in a wicked world.  It’s understanding can’t be left to chance. According to Paul prophets, apostles, evangelists, and pastors have been gifted for that purpose.

In his letter to Timothy Paul prophesied, “There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, etc.-having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Have nothing to do with them.” (2Timothy 3:1-5, NIV) That is, not only will those ‘outside’ the church have become disgraceful in their attitudes and practices, but even those who “have a form of godliness,” those ‘inside,’ will have missed the mark and an understanding of the truths of the gospel.

The Lord also prophesied to the degradation of true spiritual worship and its relationship to the destruction of the world.  “The earth suffers for the sins of its people, for they have twisted God’s instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant.  Therefore, a curse consumes the earth.  Its people must pay the price for their sin.  They are destroyed by fire and only a few are left alive.” Isaiah 24:5-6, NLT) God’s instructions, laws, and everlasting covenant remain important to Him and their place in the gospel and in the New Covenant must be made clear.

Confusion has reigned from the beginning of the church on this issue.  Christ taught that “everyone is forcing his way into it [the kingdom of God. (Luke 16:16, NIV)” and then referred to the need of satisfying the Law.  The gospel must be presented sufficiently clear so that no one can attempt to force his way into the kingdom.

The church CANNOT DO church (be used of God to build His kingdom) unless they ARE the church.  Believers must be equipped with the truth of the gospel so that they can live it and share it, and to do that with conviction.

January 29, 2016

Why Apologetics?

Red Letter BibleYesterday I was reading an article which spoke of the main purpose of Christian apologetics is to “strengthen the believer.” We tend to think of it as a branch of evangelism, but unless believers are fully grounded themselves, they can’t share their faith effectively, or be able to deal with objections raised by those outside the faith.

The article mentioned a familiar verse:

I Peter 3:15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect

But also

Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

Jude 3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.

2 Corinthians 10:5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

(all NIV)

At this point, I want to share the whole article with you. It’s from the website Ratio Christi and clicking the title below takes you to the site, from which you can explore many other resources. (I’ve added emphasis to some of the things the author feels are symptomatic of the shallowness of Christianity in present times.)

Strengthening the believer…

Most have probably heard the saying “if, insert name here, jumped off a bridge would you follow?” The context meaning just because someone else does it, be it popular, or not real smart, would you follow simply for that reason? The point being, a lot of people, do and believe a lot of, well let’s just say strange things. So what does this have to do with strengthening the believer? I am glad you ask!

In Dr. William Lane Craig’s book On Guard, he writes “the purpose of apologetics is to reach the lost, strengthen the believer and to change culture.” I spend, and know God has led me to this point, most of my time attempting to strengthen the believer. Unfortunately, apologetics receives some of its strongest opposition from this group of people. I find this very confusing and extremely frustrating. I mean, after all, apologetics is Biblical, part of the first and greatest commandment, and Jesus used it, as did Paul. But that is not the point. How can professing believers reach the lost, or change culture if they do not know what and why they believe? It has been written about many times before, they cannot. In fact, the majority of professing followers do not know what or why they believe. I was ask recently to back that statement up. Herein lies the point.

As an apologist I felt it to be pretty obvious, (the shallowness of professing believers). I mean, I do this for a living. And a simple conversation with many other professing believers seemed like sufficient evidence. So when ask to provide evidence of my claim I was, honestly, taken by surprise. After all, it has been written about extensively, statistics show the church is declining, as do they show our 18 to 20 something’s leaving in mass numbers, (50-80%). So I thought about what would seem to be a good indicator of, or considered acceptable evidence for, most believers not knowing what or why they believe. Are you ready? Brace yourself, or sit down if you are standing. This could be earth-shattering. But in reality, probably not. Remember when I stated God is using me, through apologetics, to strengthen the believer? Previous paragraph…well, that is a tough “row to hoe” as they say in southern West Virginia. Okay, okay, I will get to the point, or my evidence.

False teachers! Pretty simplistic huh? Why would one use false teachers as evidence for a shallow church? Are you serious? One of the fastest growing “denominations” is the Word of Faith movement. Joel Osteen packs in 45,000 every Sunday. Ken Hagin, Joyce Meyer, Beth Moore, TBN, GodTV, Creflo, TD Jakes are all the most popular people and most watched and listened to “Christians.” That is just to name a few. There was a recent Facebook post with Jessi Duplantis and one of his cohorts discussing why they needed private jets. The top selling “Christian” books continuously are written by these people. And one would question the shallowness of professing followers?

What about all of the misquoted scripture one is faced with on a daily basis? We have all heard it from Jeremiah 29:11 to Philippians 4:13. The teaching how to reach the lost by sharing our testimony. By thinking witnessing to someone is inviting them to church. I could go on and on. The evidence is strong. The church NEEDS apologetics. The church NEEDS sound doctrine. The church NEEDS to make disciples. All of which a Biblical commands. Sadly, it would appear the church is in denial!

Please, don’t get me wrong. There are many solid teachers/preachers out there. But if professing followers don’t know what they believe, or why they believe it, how can they possibly distinguish the false teachers from sound theology. Remember, people actually followed Jim Jones to the jungle and killed themselves. And he was extremely popular.

Boys and girls, Christianity is not relevant or popular in today’s society. In fact, it has never been popular. The gospel is offensive. The promise of trails and tribulation does not sound fun. Or happy, blessed, or favored as so often quoted.

I often tell my students that we need to get the majority of professing followers lost so that we can get them saved. Please consider the first and greatest commandment, Matthew 22:37, the next time you consider an apologist that is attempting to strengthen believers too harsh, or not speaking with gentleness and respect. Please read 2 Corinthians 10:5, Jude 3, Titus 1:9, and 1 Peter 3:15.

I pray for the maturity of every professing follower. I ask God that each of you to stop watching, reading and listening to false teaching. Would you at least admit the problem? Would you please commit to figure out what you believe and why?

January 27, 2016

Prophetic Reluctance: Jeremiah

A few days ago we introduced the term prophetic reluctance and interestingly enough it was also connected to Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 20:9

But if I say, “I will not mention his word
    or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot.

Eugene Peterson renders this in The Message:

But if I say, “Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!” The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer!

The NIV Study Bible notes that this one verse indicates two seemingly contradictory inclinations: a prophetic reluctance that is overcome by a divine compulsion.

…Today we pay a return visit to the blog Weeping Into Dancing. I had a hard time choosing which devotional article to feature here, so I really hope you’ll click the title below and then take a few minutes to look around at other items.

Will You Speak?

Uniquely formed by the hands of God, with special gifts and talents, each one of us has been created to fulfill a specific purpose. Understanding the cost of our redemption, a freely given blood sacrifice, humbles man into submission. Therefore, we yield our will and take up His instead. Obedience, faith, and trust draws one into Christian service, but it is our love for the blessed Redeemer that propels us forward into unknown territory.

The prophet Jeremiah was very young when the Lord called him into service. He was ordained to be a prophet, a mouthpiece for God. Understanding the importance of such a position, he was filled with fear. He felt all of his insufficiencies. But God insisted that he go where he was sent, and speak as he was commanded. God persuaded Jeremiah there was nothing to fear, saying He would be with him to provide any necessary deliverance.

“Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 

‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;  Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’

 Then said I:

‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’

 But the Lord said to me:

‘Do not say, “I am a youth,” for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord.”

From that moment, Jeremiah lost all fear and pronounced the sad prophecies and warnings of God, without regard for the king and his strong men. This was often at the peril of his life. However, God was faithful to protect and deliver him from all harm. This is not to say he was free of trials and hardship, including time in a cistern. (Jeremiah 38)

Jeremiah lived during one of the most devastating periods in Jewish history. He saw the destruction of Jerusalem, after his warnings and prophecies fell on deaf ears. How sad it must have been to speak words of warning yet see them ignored. Once the catastrophe came, he lamented the terrible fate of his people in the Book Lamentations.

Hope found in Jesus ChristAs children of God, we ALL have a responsibility to share the Good News with others. To hold on to this hope, found in Jesus Christ, and not speak of it is contrary to our calling. The Great Commission is not just for missionaries, evangelists, preachers, or teachers. We all need to be ready and willing to give a reason for the hope that lives within our hearts. Fear will try to hold our tongue, but like Jeremiah, we must trust God to give us the words to say and the deliverance from every evil.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

Some will ask, “What about the Christians who have been unjustly imprisoned for their faith? How is God protecting them? So many Christians are facing dreadful atrocities, painful persecution, even murder for simply professing their faith in Christ.

Here now is the hard pill to swallow. How do we know God hasn’t delivered them? Our heavenly Father is a God of compassion. He wants the very best for us. Although our feeble minds might not fathom the purpose for such trials and suffering, should we toss aside what we do know of God’s righteous character? Surely our faith assures us that there is some good, some great work, and some wondrous reward for those who refuse to deny Christ. We must remember our inheritance is in heaven.

The heavenly Father had a purpose for Jeremiah. God’s plan was to use Jeremiah to pronounce judgment upon the people of that time. It was not a job he relished. In all honesty can we say, should an opportunity arise, that we too would speak the truth regarding our faith, even if it led to persecution? Would we deny Christ to avoid imprisonment… or even death? The day may soon be upon us when the faith of every American is questioned, just as it is now questions in Syria, Iran, and across this world.

But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:33 (NKJV)

January 24, 2016

Ministry out of the Overflow

Luke 6:45b

The inner self overflows with words that are spoken. (CEB)

The things people say come from inside them. (GNT)

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (GW)

Matthew 12:34b

For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. (NLT)

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (NRSV)

I’ve felt that I covered this theme before, but when I went to find it here, I couldn’t locate it. It’s a theme that turns up just about every week in my conversations with people about sharing their faith and passion for Christ, His church, the Bible, and so many other aspects of Christian living. That’s probably why I felt it was recorded here.

This week at Willow Creek, Bill Hybels shared several verses of scripture that are key for him and teaching pastor Steve Carter. Steve’s verse is Jeremiah 20:9

But if I say, “I will not mention his word
    or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot.

Eugene Peterson renders this in The Message:

But if I say, “Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!” The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer!

The NIV Study Bible notes that this one verse indicates two seemingly contradictory inclinations: a prophetic reluctance that is overcome by a divine compulsion.

Amos 3:8b reiterates this:

The Eternal Lord has been heard; His prophets can’t help but prophesy. (The Voice)

We see this also in Acts 4:20

As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (NIV)

And Paul reiterates this in 1 Cor. 9:16

Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News!

I like the CEB on this:

…I’m in trouble if I don’t preach the gospel.

Many years ago I attended a church where it was common for people to stand up and give messages (prophecy, teaching, knowledge, wisdom, etc.) spontaneously. As a person who is always thinking, always pondering the scriptures, I once asked a friend, “How do you know that this is something you’re supposed to stand up and speak out loud to everyone?”

He — and notice it was a guy not a woman — said, “It’s like you’re pregnant with it. It has to come out. It has to be delivered. It has to be shared.”

Later, I began to hear people speak about ministry which comes out of the overflow of the heart. There is simply so much contained inside that it spills outside.

This reminded me of another analogy — this one I might have used before — of what it means to be filled with the Spirit. If you open the top of a can of soda pop, you can look inside and say that it’s filled. The contents fill the entire can. There is no room for any more.

But what it means to be filled changes if you put your thumb over the opening and then shake up the contents. What was filled spills out. It overflows.

So it is with our verbal proclamation. Whether evangelism, encouragement, or even rebuke, it has to come from somewhere. There needs to have been some point where content was poured into our lives. But then, when shaken, the contents overflow.

Matthew Henry says of the Amos passage:

They [the prophets] are so full of those things themselves, so well assured concerning them, and so much affected with them, that they cannot but speak of them; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak.

Their prophetic reluctance is overcome…

…And Bill Hybels’ own similar verse of scripture? 1 Cor. 15:58, with which we close today:

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. (NIV)

 

January 8, 2016

A Different Type of Fishing

ESV Matt. 4:18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

ESV Luke 5:1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”[a] 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Today we pay a return visit to Georgia pastor Clark Bunch (who we tend to interact with more at Thinking Out Loud) sourcing today from his church website at Unity Baptist Church. Click the title below to read at source.

Things Change After Jesus

Fishers of Men

Jesus began his public ministry by being baptized by John in the Jordan. After spending 40 days fasting in the wilderness he began preaching in Galilee and almost immediately called the first disciples. Mark 1 and Matthew 4 share an almost identical account of Jesus calling Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew by saying “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Luke 5 records the miraculous catch of fish and a very similar statement (from now on you will catch men). Things changed for Peter when Jesus got on his boat and called him to follow.

They used to fish with nets. All of the fishermen in the New Testament fished with nets. They cast the nets off the side of the boat, drug them through the water and then hauled up whatever was caught up along the way. Many of us have never fished that way but you’ve probably seen it. Tuna are caught by the hundreds as nets drag them up from the sea. It was a big deal in the late 80’s, early 90’s because dolphins were being trapped in the tuna nets and drowned. In the Luke 5 account the nets were so filled with fish they were breaking and they had to call for backup. Jesus said “I will make you fishers of men” and taught them how to cast the net of the Gospel. Some days you don’t catch anything; Peter and company had just had a bad night the first time they met Jesus. But our call as believers is to cast the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit do what he does to draw people to Jesus. Don’t worry about the days you don’t seem to be catching anything; our calling is to love God, love our neighbor as ourselves, and keep casting the net.

Peter did not fish with bait. I learned from my grandfather how to bait a hook. Most of us here today cast a hook with a rod and reel and catch one fish at a time; catfish, bluegill, trout, that’s how it’s done. When Jesus said “I will make you fishers of men” he was talking to fishermen that cast net which they traded in for casting the Gospel. We are not to fish for men with bait. See where I’m going with this? The prosperity gospel, the health and wealth preachers, are baiting people they hope to hook and do not cast the Gospel net. When praise and worship hymns we sing together are replaced by a rock concert, and when preaching the Word is replaced by a guy promising you will have everything you ever wished for and be richly blessed beyond your wildest dreams, then we’ve quit casting the net. You can fill a stadium with people that have itching ears and are willing to take the bait. People show up for the show. We must not replace authentic worship with worshiptainment.

Peter never stopped fishing. After the resurrection, in John 21:3, Peter says to about half a dozen other disciples “I am going fishing” and they went with him. They weren’t taking a new bass boat out to the lake for the first time or going on a fishing trip to get away from everything a few days. They had spent the past several years with Jesus, listening to his teaching, witnessing miracles and learning to do those same things themselves.  They most likely had no clue what to do next. Things changed when Jesus came, how would they change again when he left them? Peter said “I am going fishing” because that’s what he knew how to do. If the Jesus movement was over there were still bills to pay and food would have to be put on the table. Many of the disciples had been fishermen by trade and when Peter announced he was going back to work Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee and two other unnamed disciples went with him. Jesus appeared to them, the miraculous catch of fish was repeated, and Peter found out that his work and ministry were not over yet. In fact that work was just beginning.

Things change after Jesus. Your life may not change as dramatically as Peter’s did but our goals in life are reshaped as we redefine what is important. One of the things believers do is share with others. Think about intentionally casting the Gospel net this week and we’ll continue next with considering things that change after Jesus comes.

September 6, 2015

The Value of a Soul

And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?
 Matthew 16:26 NLT

When Bill Hybels founded Willow Creek in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs, one if his guiding principles was “lost people matter to God.” Many of the early ‘pioneers’ of Christianity in North America and Western Europe were consumed by this principle, but often today it is rare to run into people who have such passion.

Henry is a man who would feel absolutely naked if he left the house without a couple of gospel presentation booklets in his shirt pocket. He is driven by the possibility of making contact with people each and every day to share his faith, and I believe that because he is prepared, the opportunities happen.

At the website Go To The Bible, there is a long exposition of today’s key verse. This is just the first point:

The Soul Is So Valuable Because of What Man Is and God’s Purpose for Man

When God had spoken the worlds into being, then when He had prepared this earth with all of its living creatures and swarming life in the seas and the birds that fly in the air and animals and creeping things that live upon the earth, He looked upon it all and saw it was good.

But God was not satisfied. God is love, and love wants an object like unto itself upon which it can bestow its affection. His great Father-heart was hungering for a family of children, so He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” And the Scripture says, “In the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

The crowning work of all God’s matchless creation is a being from His own hand into whom He has breathed the breath of His own life and who has become a living soul in His image with a capacity to love like God and return the love of God, to respond to and receive that matchless love; with a capacity to think His thoughts, to live His life, to hold fellowship with Him, to walk in communion with Him, to live with Him.

We see God coming down in the cool of the day to walk with the man whom He has made. There is a blessed and holy and wonderful fellowship between the two.

The purpose God had in the creation of man was not only to have a being like unto Himself who could appreciate and respond to His love and upon whom He could lavish His affections and with whom He could have fellowship, but His further purpose was that this man should be the lord of creation and that one day he should reign with Him and share His glory throughout an endless eternity.

What a glorious purpose God had in the creation of man! In the face of that, many men will deliberately turn their backs upon such a destiny, deliberately defeat the purpose of God in their lives and choose to follow the Devil instead! They will be deceived by him and be dragged from that glorious purpose of God into endless night, separated from God. They will be defeated in their lives and rob God of the glory that rightly belongs to Him in every life.

That is why Jesus said, “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” He misses that infinite, loving, glorious purpose of God in his life and forfeits the opportunity to share with Him His glory through eternity.

What got me thinking about this today? I was reading about the eleven principles that guided missionary William Carey (1761-1834) in his life devoted to missions. You can read the list for yourself at the blog A Twisted Crown of Thorns.

  1. Set an infinite value on immortal souls.
  2. Gain all the information you can about “the snares and delusions in which these heathens are held.”
  3. Abstain from all English manners which might increase prejudice against the gospel.
  4. Watch for all opportunities for doing good, even when you are tired and hot.
  5. Make Christ crucified the great subject of your preaching.
  6. Earn the people’s confidence by your friendship.
  7. Build up the souls that are gathered.
  8. Turn the work over to “the native brethren” as soon as possible.
  9. Work with all your might to translate the Bible into their languages. Build schools to this end.
  10. Stay alert in prayer, wrestling with God until he “famish these idols and cause the heathen to experience the blessedness that is in Christ.”
  11. Give yourself totally to this glorious cause. Surrender your time, gifts, strength, families, the very clothes you wear.

We need more people today who will have this same, all consuming passion for the lost.

Luke 15:3 Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

 

August 3, 2015

Christian Living and the Fear of Public Speaking

Exodus 4:10:

Then Moses said to the LORD, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (NASB)

But Moses pleaded with the LORD, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” (NLT)

Exodus 6:12

But Moses said to the LORD, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?” (NIV)

But Moses said in the LORD’s presence: “If the Israelites will not listen to me, then how will Pharaoh listen to me, since I am such a poor speaker?” (HCSB)

Today’s thoughts flow out of the comments section to yesterday’s devotional.

fearfactor_240Public speaking is not everyone’s gift. Years ago an Ann Landers poll showed that the number one fear reported was fear of public speaking. Even pastors who speak before thousands each weekend often confess they are natural introverts who potentially can freeze up if asked to speak before fifty people.

So much of the Christian life is about words. Our revelation of God comes to us through a book. We’re told to share our faith.

Go deeper in the Christian life and you discover a vast library of Bible reference books to help you get the etymology or word origins right. There are pastors who study Biblical Greek and Hebrew. There are concordances which are concerned with the derivation of words in the English texts as they relate to the original languages.

What if my language is not precise? What if I say the wrong thing and cause confusion? What if my words drive people away from God’s Kingdom?

“But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say.” Matthew 10:1 NASB

“When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:11-12 NIV

Clearly the Bible is telling us not to sweat these situations.

But let’s go back to yesterday’s devotional and the comment. George (who has been a contributing writer here, and who I know personally) noted that the essence of the command is to make disciples. He wanted to see a de-emphasis on telling and (by implication) a wider emphasis on other areas where the discipleship process can become organic.

The idea of a disciple “walking in the dust of his rabbi” is a teaching that probably best illustrates this. These talmudin learned by doing what the rabbi did. We had a good example of that in the second paragraph of this excerpt. We also looked at the Bible concept of being an imitator (of Christ, or of Paul as he imitates Christ.)

But it goes beyond this. We can help. We can love. We can serve. We can give…  In doing all these things we are being a living gospel. Surely at this point someone is expecting me to quote the phrase commonly attributed (though perhaps not accurately attributed) to St. Francis: “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”

However, this is as equally out of balance as the person who thinks the gospel can only be proclaimed verbally.

As Mark Galli points out in this article:

“Preach the gospel; use words if necessary” goes hand in hand with a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning. It subtly denigrates the high value that the prophets, Jesus, and Paul put on preaching. Of course, we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns.

Ed Stetzer wrote about this three years ago:

The gospel is not habit, but history. The gospel is the declaration of something that actually happened. And since the gospel is the saving work of Jesus, it isn’t something we can do, but it is something we must announce. We do live out its implications, but if we are to make the gospel known, we will do so through words.

It appears that the emphasis on proclamation is waning even in many churches that identify themselves as evangelical. Yet proclamation is the central task of the church. No, it is not the only task God has given us, but it is central. While the process of making disciples involves more than verbal communication, and obviously the life of a disciple is proved counterfeit when it amounts to words alone, the most critical work God has given the church is to “proclaim the excellencies” of our Savior.

A godly life should serve as a witness for the message we proclaim. But without words, what can our actions point to but ourselves? A godly life cannot communicate the incarnation, Jesus’ substitution for sinners, or the hope of redemption by grace alone through faith alone. We can’t be good news, but we can herald it, sing it, speak it, and preach it to all who listen.

In fact, verbal communication of the gospel is the only means by which people are brought into a right relationship with God. The Apostle Paul made this point to the church in Rome when he said:

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? (Rom. 10:13-14, HCSB)

If we are to make disciples of all nations, we must use words.

I agree with Ed, but I also agree with where George was coming from yesterday. We have to find the balance between the two. And our lives must match our speech. Here’s what I wrote:

In the last 50-60 years, Evangelicals have made proclamation 100% of their evangelism stock portfolio. After accusing “the liberals” of preaching a “social gospel” we’re slowly coming around to the position that there is so much more we can do besides quoting chapters and verses.

On the other hand, further on in the Matthew passage, it does say “teach” or “teaching” in most translations, and although she doesn’t quote it here, Mark 16:15 renders the same quotation as either “preach” or “proclaim” (The Voice has “share.”)

While not everyone has the same gifts, I believe that every Christ-follower has the ability to share a verbal witness, but many are afraid to do so. I think her point here is to encourage people along those lines.

Of course, it would also do good if those who feel they are better equipped to preach would also find ways to share a non-verbal witness. Each of needs to balance the two.

And better to be asked sometimes what it is that drives our faith instead of just shouting it to people with whom we haven’t earned the right to be heard. Zachariah 8:23 is useful here:

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”

Where is the balance in your life on this issue? Most of us would side with Moses, we really don’t want to be placed in those public speaking situations. But there are some who don’t fear that for a second, though often their walk doesn’t match their talk. We need to be working on both fronts.

July 25, 2015

Scattering

Parable of the SowerMark 4:1 Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Last night I attended a Friday night Camp Meeting-style service in which the speaker talked about the idea of scattering. He made it clear that this was a message about quantity, and not about quality.

Often we speak of the latter, requiring people to take evangelism training courses and to have a sufficient knowledge of scriptures and apologetics before they can take their witness to the streets, and to their friends and neighbors. But the speaker emphasized that we’ve thereby overly complicated the evangelism process. Although he didn’t refer to it, the verse that came to mind was,

Matthew 10:8b … Freely you have received; freely give.

Texts he used included

Luke 14:23 “The master said, ‘Then go to the country roads. Whoever you find, drag them in. I want my house full! (The Message)

and three repeated key verses in trilogy of “lost” parables in Luke 15

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

What I would call an imperative to share the gospel is found in not only an urgency based on a concern for each and every individual who is not yet part of God’s family, but an urgency based on the idea that time is limited.

John 4:35Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.

which reminded me of another verse

Eph 5:16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. (KJV)
Eph 5:16 Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days. (Phillips)
Eph 5:16 Make the most of your opportunities because these are evil days. (GW)
Eph 5:16 I mean that you should use every chance you have for doing good, because these are evil times. (ICB)

He also spoke about working cooperatively with other ministries, churches, organizations and individuals, quoting
1 Corinthians 3:8 The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. (NLT)

That reminds me of a statement I have posted many times

“There is no limit on what can be done for God, as long as it doesn’t matter who is getting the earthly credit.”

In the notes I took, I want to end here with a scripture that he actually used to at the beginning of his message, taking some familiar words from Jesus in Luke 4:18 and then placing the responsibility on us.

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

I couldn’t also help but think of Bill Hybels’ guiding principle in the founding of his church:

“Lost people matter to God.”


Unless otherwise marked, texts used were NIV
I didn’t identify the speaker, the “he” in the story was Rev. Brent Cantelon who I can heartily recommend.
The image, inspired from Mark 4, is the logo for the Canadian Bible Society

May 6, 2015

Conversion Conversations

Acts 8:30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him…

…35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus…

…39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.

The Conversation of God’s Witness and Acts 8:26-40

by Clarke Dixon

We share Jesus out of love. It was C.S. Lewis who said: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Christianity is of course of infinite importance to the Christian, and so too, then, is sharing the faith with others. In fact to not do so will seem callous and cold.  So while Canadian society may have a ‘hushing’ effect on all who would proselytise, we will want to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. To do so is the loving thing to do.

Some of us have been enjoying the “Becoming a Contagious Christian” course where we are encouraged to enter into spiritual conversations with others. Phillip’s personal testimony to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 is one of a few Bible passages that gives a clear depiction of one person involved in such a spiritual conversation, leading another person to faith in Christ. As such there is much here for us to learn here, so let’s take a look:

Tune into the Lord’s leading and be obedient to it. Notice straight off that the Ethiopian may never have trusted and followed Christ had Phillip not been attentive and obedient to God’s leading in his life (see verses 26-30). Are we listening to God? Are we hearing His heart cry for those who are living, or more accurately dying, far from His presence and love?

Watch for opportunities to start conversations on spiritual matters. While the Lord led Phillip to the chariot, it would seem that Phillip took the initiative in speaking on spiritual matters (see verse 30). An air purifier salesman once came to our house and after a lengthy spiel asked the big question: “if you had the opportunity to live longer, would you take it?” Seizing an opportunity I asked “if you had the opportunity to live for eternity would you take it?” He spoke on air purity for what seemed like an hour while my wife and I listened attentively. I spoke about Jesus for what seemed like a minute or two and the salesman disappeared quickly. While my witnessing may seem to have ended in failure who knows but that the salesman may have thought about my big question every time he asked his. Watch for opportunities to speak about spiritual things, you just never know . . .

Begin with a question and engage in a conversation. Notice how Phillip asks a question of the Ethiopian not out of the blue, but tying in with what is already happening (see verse 30). Can we be watching for opportunities to ask appropriate questions, ones which engage a conversation? It is important that we do not ask a question so that we can open the door for a pre-canned ‘evangelistic sermon’ rather that we ask a question to open the door for a two way conversation. Phillip not only spoke to the Ethiopian eunuch, he also listened and heard him (see verses 30-35).

Watch for an interest. The Ethiopian’s curiosity is already sparked and he wants to hear more (see verse 30-31). Being respectful of others means being aware of when spiritual conversations are beginning, and when they are ending!

Don’t put up barriers. The Ethiopian was from a different land with a different culture, had a different skin color, and being a Gentile and a ‘eunuch’ would have faced different religious opportunities in the Judaism he had attached himself to. However, Phillip sat beside him and engaged fully in conversation. In a short while the eunuch would be fully immersed in the waters of baptism, symbolizing his full acceptance into the Christ’s Church. Let’s not put up barriers to our engaging another person in Christ.

Don’t be a stranger to strangers. While the emphasis on ‘friendship evangelism,’ can be good, we should not write off the possibility of engaging in meaningful conversations with complete strangers. Phillip was a complete stranger to the Ethiopian, but Phillip was willing to get close, and we get the sense of friendliness between the two. One New Year’s Eve I had an opportunity to speak to a complete stranger about Jesus. This was a union party in a town I had recently left and while filling in for a musician was there for very selfish reasons – to get paid for playing bass. The band was treated to dinner and I sat across from a man who had not set foot in a church since being yelled at by a priest. I seized the opportunity to get a spiritual conversation going and by the end of the night he expressed his regret that I had left town as he would have liked to have come to my church. That speaks of two things: a desire to grow spiritually and and a sense of friendship between us. Can you be a friend to a complete stranger?

Head to the empty tomb, and on the way stop at the cross. The Eunuch was reading about the suffering servant in Isaiah and Phillip “beginning with the scripture proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him” (verse 35 NET). The message of the cross is central to our faith as it speaks of forgiveness, grace, and mercy and so we will want to lead others to be thinking about the cross. However, if we stop there with the message that Jesus is Saviour we have only shared half of the good news. We really need to go further and make our way to the empty tomb where we discover that Jesus is Lord. When in the Bible we hear of people speaking of the “good news about Jesus” it is really a reference to his resurrection as well as His death. It is good news that Jesus is Savior and Lord. Are we prepared to speak about what happened at the cross? Are we ready to speak about the reality of the resurrection and why it matters?

Know your stuff. When the Ethiopian asked a question about the interpretation of the Bible, Phillip knew what to say. This does not mean that we should have the answer to every possible question (or that we should pretend to), but we should know our stuff to a reasonable degree. This means knowing our Bible well! But it also means being aware of much more.

Don’t be surprised by professions of faith. Imagine our surprise if a complete stranger we are witnessing to would respond as the eunuch did: “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” (verse 36 NRSV) Given our current Canadian climate of skepticism and pluralism, we are unfortunately not surprised when our youth go off to college or university and drop out of church. But we should be surprised that anyone would walk away from such a reasonable and deep thing as trusting Christ. Given the fact that God is God, we should not be surprised when people put their trust in Him.

Expect rejoicing. The last we hear of the Ethiopian he “went on his way rejoicing” (verse 39 NRSV). Many of us expect others to experience discomfort when we tell them about Jesus. Expect joy!

Know that God can do something big tomorrow with the seemingly little you have done today. Phillip was taken from preaching to crowds in verse six to speaking to just one person, the eunuch, in our passage. We don’t really know what happened to the Ethiopian eunuch but there is evidence of a vibrant church in Ethiopia in the early centuries. Perhaps this eunuch was used of God to begin a great work in Ethiopia. You may not be Billy Graham, but you just never know, the person you are witnessing to may be the next Billy Graham. What seems like a little in our minds can be of huge significance in the mind and plan of God. Besides, there is rejoicing in heaven over each and every soul that comes to Christ in repentance, as each and every soul is significant to Him (see Luke 15:7 again!).

We witness because God is real, and his love for us and others is real. We witness for the sake of the people we share Christ with, we share Jesus out of His love for them. To be reserved and demurring on matters of evangelism is to be cold of heart, leaving people out in the cold.

January 2, 2015

Let the Light Out

Today, an author who was recommended to us, Annie Birkelo. Click the title below to read today’s article at its source, and take a minute to look around her blog, there are some very in-depth articles to see.

The Light Speaks for Itself ~ Just Don’t Bury It

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18

Today friends, I wish to share something that has been rolling around inside of my heart, my mind a LOT lately. I wish to hear back from you ~ your thoughts, your heart, your learning from the Lord about this very subject. I am intrigued and smitten by this whole thing and I crave to hear how others who follow after Christ have grappled with this very same thing.

Because I do not yet have the answer ~ (I almost never have the FULL answer)!

But I have been given some of what I think the answer is…in my own life and learning and following after Jesus. I wish to share some of that with you today.

So here is the question:

How do we ensure that when others see things in us that they think are good, that JESUS is who they see, versus OURSELVES?

Things that make you go “hmmmm.”

Sometimes I find myself dumbing down (or dimming down, I should say), the light of Jesus inside of me. I don’t want to freak people out, so I start to dim it down a little ~ bury it.

It’s not because I’m ashamed of Jesus. It’s that I find myself starting to wonder ~ are they just thinking that they see “me” here? Do they think that Annie is “all that?”

Which leads me right back to the question I wrote up above.

It’s easy to study the Word and find much about humility, servant leadership, turning over self to the Lord daily and nailing it to the cross, and real love ~ real love in the midst of ugly ~ sacrifice in order to put God first and others right next in line ~ the struggle to kill self daily and fill ourselves with more of Him, less of us. It’s easy to find guidance about this in His love letter to us.

Easy to study. But in all fairness, I must say ~ Hard to do.

But what about how others respond to us and our following after Jesus? Can we “control” what their reactions and responses are? Is it possible to make sure that they don’t walk away from interactions with us seeing the awesomeness of who they think that WE are, and instead see that we have a relationship with Jesus Christ ~ one that they can have too if they seek Him?

Can we make certain every single time that they recognize Jesus is the only good that is within us?

That is the question, friends. That is the big and burning question! Here’s what I have found as I have prayed over this so very much lately:

  • It is not always possible to make sure that people know (from our words) that all they see in us that they think is good is not about us ~ some of that is to be left to the Lord.
  • It IS our calling to make sure that the rest of our life – the stuff they see when they are not able to interact with us face-to-face – IS giving all credit/glory/honor to Jesus Christ and IS bringing glory to Him, versus ourselves.

People watch. People study us if they see something in us that intrigues them. Sometimes they walk away and think “that person is so great”, or “I want to be like him some day”, or “that person is so special, wonderful, good.”

Sometimes they walk away and then they make their own judgement about what they experienced when they interacted with us.

Do they know? Do they know by what we do and say (the rest of the time) that is is not due to us, but due to what Christ is doing in us that there is a light that they see there?

Do they know? Can we make sure that they know?

We have the privilege of not trying to pretend that we are perfect, but simultaneously giving Him all the glory and honor and praise for ALL that happens to us ~ the good, the bad, and the beauty He creates out of the ugly.

Eventually they will see Him, and not us.  But only if it is Him that they seek.

They may not know it yet ~ they may not realize that what they see is Christ living inside of this person, and not an extra-dose-of-awesome that the individual possesses.

But if they hang around long enough, and if we are honest in how He has delivered us out of darkness and continues to work in our sinful flesh, they might see.

  • They will see HIM if their hearts are open.
  • They will see if they are seeking HIM.
  • They will see someone they do not fully recognize, but they want to get to know.
  • They will see ~ they will eventually see that it is not possible for one person to be so “good” without divine intervention.

But what if they never do endeavor to seek Him? Are we then wrong to be this person ~this light~ in their lives that they might look up to, admire, think is great and/or want to be like?

Are we leading them into temptation or a false path if we are examples of how God can work within a person when they don’t want to (or even know how to) attribute any of it to Christ at all?

I think….NO.

As Jesus walked among us, He presented the good news and allowed others to choose whether to believe or not. He then moved on, but not without continuing to shine His light everywhere that He went.

A young man once tried to point out the goodness of the man He saw that Jesus was…and Jesus replied;

“Why do you call me good?”  Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone.”  Luke 18:19

Jesus is not saying here that He was not good. He is trying to help the man to recognize that He (Jesus) IS GOD!

He was trying to help the man to see that he should not recognize the man in Him as good, rather recognize that He IS God, and the good that He sees is because He is God!

Only God is good.

Unlike Jesus, I am not God. No Christian walking this planet is God either. But we are His children and He lives in us if we are following after Him with all our hearts and have accepted His gift of salvation.

The “good” in us (the real good) is of God, not of us.

  • Let’s remember that we are sometimes nothing but the planters of the seeds.
  • Let’s remember that God is the only One who can bring about growth.
  • Let’s never forget that just because we don’t see the full blooms that result from the seeds He allowed us to plant, that He continues to work in the garden of each and every individual.
  • Let’s remember that it may be a blessing beyond comprehension that we don’t always get to see the seeds bloom.

If we did, we might be tempted to take credit in some way for that, wouldn’t we?

What if we saw them die, or start to bloom and then get infected or filled with weeds? We might become discouraged, because we thought WE actually had something to do with the success (or failure) of how their garden grows.

And when others comment on our own beautiful gardens, what then?

If others attribute the beauty of our garden to us somehow, what about that, friends?

Tell them!

Tell them who is responsible for the beauty that they see.

Tell them!

Tell them through all the rest of what you do and say that the garden hasn’t always been pretty.

Tell them!

Tell them how you tried to be the best caretaker in the world ~ how you studied how to make things take bloom and grow ~ how you methodically tried to fully invest yourself into being the best de-weeder on the planet, but the weeds still came anyway.

Tell them!

Tell them how the beauty that they see is only because of the divine intervention and complete Lordship of the only One who can make beauty out of the ugly.

Tell the story of Jesus, friends! Tell them how His story is far more important than your story.

Tell them how His story is the One you are a part of ~ not the other way around!

And remember ~ our primary role is to love others and simply let the blooms tell His story.

The Blooms…

The Light…

And the weeds…

And the darkness…

The Joy…

And the Suffering…

And the GOOD that He has brought out in the midst of it all.

His Good.

Yes, I have the fullness of the answer that He wishes for me to have today….

We are responsible to let the light shine ~

What others “see” is up to Him.

Nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:15-16

July 23, 2014

The Quest for the Purple Fish

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:22 pm
Tags: , , ,

Before we begin, here is Psalm 23 in The Voice translation.

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always.
He provides me rest in rich, green fields
    beside streams of refreshing water.
    He soothes my fears;
He makes me whole again,
    steering me off worn, hard paths
    to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.

Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted.

You spread out a table before me,
    provisions in the midst of attack from my enemies;
You care for all my needs, anointing my head with soothing, fragrant oil,
    filling my cup again and again with Your grace.
Certainly Your faithful protection and loving provision will pursue me
    where I go, always, everywhere.
I will always be with the Eternal,
    in Your house forever.

In conjunction with Thursday’s review at Thinking Out Loud, I wanted to run an excerpt from Wisconsin pastor Mark O. Wilson’s book, Purple Fish: A Heart for Sharing Jesus, a book about how everyone can develop a heart for fruitful evangelism. Using an anecdotal approach, Mark’s stories should provide the ‘nudge’ many need to step out of their familiar territory, their comfortable turf, and make a verbal declaration of their faith to coworkers, neighbors, extended family, and even complete strangers.  Perhaps you’re a regular reader here because you love the “201” approach that gets into doctrine and theology but you may come up a bit short when it comes to sharing the hope within you with others. I encourage you to get this book, available in paperback from Wesleyan Publishing House.

“Can you come visit Harold?” the young woman pleaded.  “He’s dying of cancer.”

Purple Fish - Mark O. WilsonHarold was an ex-convict who had lived a violent godless life.

“Of course, Harold probably won’t receive you well,” she continued. “He’s likely to cuss up a storm and kick you out.  He’s done that already with a few hospice workers, but a visit from you might be good for him.”

I agreed to go and invited my friend, Randy, to come along as my bouncer.  I brought my Bible, anointing oil and a prayer shawl.

The young lady met us at the door of Harold’s bungalow.  “I told him you’re coming, but he’s shut down and won’t communicate.  I’m afraid you won’t get anywhere.”

In the living room, frail Harold sat hunched on the couch in his pajamas.  He didn’t look up.   “Harold, I’m Pastor Mark from the Wesleyan church, and this is Randy.  We came to encourage you today.”

No response from Harold.

“I brought a gift for you Harold.  It’s a prayer shawl.  Some wonderful women in our congregation make these, and while they knit, they pray for the ones who will receive them.  Would it be alright if I placed the shawl over your shoulders and prayed for you?”

Harold didn’t say anything.  He just sat there.  Since he didn’t say no, I took it as a yes.  Placing the soft shawl over his shoulders, I said, “Harold, if you don’t mind, I’d love to share some Scripture and anoint you with oil.  Then we’ll pray.”

Still no response, so I moved forward.

I opened my black leather Bible to Psalm 23, handed it to Randy, then gave the bottle of anointing oil to Harold’s friend.  “I would like for you to anoint Harold when Randy reads the part that says, ‘You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.'”

She seemed honored, though a bit nervous about doing it right.  I gave her simple instructions and she was ready to go.

Harold didn’t look up or say anything.

Randy read Psalm 23 with passion, and as he got to the fifth verse, the young lady reached forward tenderly, making a cross on Harold’s forehead.  Then I prayed.

Harold needed some faith, so I loaned him mine.  I prayed, on Harold’s behalf, for salvation, with as much faith as I could muster.  “Harold needs you, Lord.  Please come right now and help him.”  I asked God to forgive and cleanse all his sins.  I prayed for Harold to be completely enfolded in God’s gracious love and peace.  I concluded by thanking God for the depth and width of his mercy.

When I said amen, Rand whispered, “Look.”

A tear trickled down Harold’s wrinkled cheek.  He didn’t say a word., but that tear testified to something.

I remembered Philip Yancey’s observation, “Grace, like water, flows to the lowest part.”

Two days later, Harold died.  The family called to make funeral arrangements.  “Everything changed after you came,” they said.  “He settled into a deep peace and wasn’t agitated any longer.  It was exactly what Harold needed.  And here’s the most amazing thing. That prayer shawl you gave him?  He held it tightly and wouldn’t let go.  Even when we tried to take it from him, he just clung to it like a life preserver, and so it stayed wrapped over his shoulders till the moment he died.”

I was astounded.  When this man, who lived so far from God, passed away, he was wrapped in holy love.

Jesus is a friend of sinners.  He is not willing that any should perish and takes great measures to grant grace to needy souls.

The best way to share your faith is to loan it to someone who needs it.

“Come, every soul by sin oppressed; there’s mercy with the Lord, and he will surely give you rest by trusting in his Word.”

 

 

 

 

March 20, 2014

Spiritual Responsibility

In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30 NIV)

This is another verse that teaches what some refer to as spiritual responsibility in the light of privilege. Those of us who live in a time where there are multiple Bibles in every home, where Christian radio and TV proliferate, where millions of pieces of Christian periodicals and devotional literature are printed each month, and now where the internet offers untold access to unlimited Bible study resources and commentary; we have a much greater responsibility.

Sadly, the same printing, broadcast and electronic resources offer us the potential for limitless distraction when it comes to spiritual focus. While I don’t believe we’re meant to live in a bubble — you should enjoy know what’s happening in popular music and by all means take ten seconds to look at the cat pictures your friend emailed you — we are citizens of another country and there should our focus lie.

In context, verse 22 tells us, Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus; this was the TEDTalk of Paul’s day and verse 32 tells us Paul was invited back; …others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” With the completion of God’s work in Christ, followed by the giving of the Holy Spirit to enable his followers to share this message with power; the message is broadcast in that culture with every bit as much significance as our mass media holds today.

The Reformation Study Bible so clearly explains the importance of our key verse today, verse 30:

That is, God took into consideration the limitations of their knowledge about God, but now Paul has revealed the truth about the living God. With all people, they are called upon to repent of their sins.

So what knowledge has always been available? Paul writes,

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

This verse is one of several that establish the general revelation of God.

He then says,

Romans 2:2 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

Jesus teaches in Luke 12:

47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Paul is talking about ultimate responsibility in light of the general revelation given to all, Jesus is explaining particular responsibility in light of what has been heard and seen.

The truth is, You and I are the means by which the truth of God can now be seen and heard. Yes, we are to share a verbal and visible witness to our friends, co-workers, neighbors, fellow-students and extended family; but we are also the ‘givers’ who can make possible the printed literature, the Bibles, the radio broadcasts, the television programs, the podcasts, the blogs, the films, etc.  We live in a time where media can do much. (Is this part of what Jesus meant by ‘greater works you will do’?) But it still takes individuals to produce and disseminate that media.

What role are you playing in all this? What role would God want you to have?


This devotional was prepared exclusively using BibleGateway.com.  You can do this, too. Try your hand at writing a devotional based on a scripture God has placed on your heart. Submit it; we’ll critique it, edit it and send it back to your final approval and then possibly print it here.

June 3, 2013

Speaking with Boldness and Power

This is combination of two devotional posts by George Whitten, editor of Worthy Devotions, another Alltop – Christianity indexed website.  As we mentioned when we featured his blog here a year ago, one of the key features at Worthy is the topical index which allows you delve into any one of a wide variety of subjects. These two posts — one from February and one from May — have their roots in Acts 4.  The original title and link to each appears at the start of each article.

You have Resurrection Power!

Acts 4:13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.

Just a few weeks prior to this incident, the disciples were trembling for their lives as their Lord was arrested and then crucified. They had all fled in the Garden of Gethsemane and then Peter, whose boldness was legendary, had denied him three times. The fact that they had been serving with Yeshua (Jesus) for three years, witnessing many miracles, including Peter’s amazing walk on the water, apparently did not inspire the necessary courage to watch for an hour or to stick with Him to the end. Perhaps the miraculous had become a bit commonplace for them, so that when the threat to Yeshua came full force, they floundered and failed miserably.

What happened that changed their state of being so dramatically in this encounter with the Jewish leaders? I believe it was two things: one, that they had seen their Lord resurrected from the dead, and two, that they were now filled with that resurrection life and power themselves, by the Holy Spirit. The power of the resurrection was within and upon them! The reality and security of God’s indwelling Presence and power, and His words “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do”, inspired a boldness far beyond any merely human courage.

This boldness amazed the Sadducees and Pharisees who despised Peter and John as “unlearned and ignorant”men. They marveled at the unabashed fearlessness of the apostles whose knowledge was of a different and superior kind: the knowledge of their RISEN and RESURRECTED Lord. And then they noted, that these men had been with Yeshua (Jesus)!

This power is yours, and it is mine, if we continue to be filled with the Holy Spirit, not quenching or grieving Him. We, too, will confound and amaze the “authorities” of our day with the holy boldness of resurrection life, and though they may despise our humble circumstances, they also will take note that, “we have been with Jesus”.

part two:

React with Boldness!

Psalms 2:1-3 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed [in Hebrew it is the word Meshiach], saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.

Acts 4:25-28 Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.

When Peter and John had gone up to the Temple for prayer [Acts 3], they saw a man who was lame from birth, and were moved to heal him in the name of Yeshua (Jesus). Immediately the religious leaders laid hands on them [Acts 4:3] and kept them imprisoned for a day. The following day, with boldness, they declared this miracle was done in the name of Yeshua. I love what the “religious” leaders said next — “they perceived that they were unlearned men and they marveled at their boldness!” Why were they bold? They had been with Yeshua, and the leaders took note of that!

It is no surprise that the world rages against the Messiah. Psalm 2 declares it clearly. Every year there are tens of thousands of believers suffering and dying for their faith, in large part because the kings and the rulers of the earth RAGE against the Lord and His Anointed. As followers of the King we should expect this and be prepared for it when it comes.

But, the examples of Peter and John, and every other true Christian martyr, are there to inspire and encourage us that if and when the time of persecution comes for us, we too can be bold as a lion. And this boldness is no merely human bravery, but an unction from the Holy Spirit Himself. So, though the kings of the earth will rage, our simple faith and Holy Spirit boldness will testify that we too have been with Yeshua!

 

Next Page »