Christianity 201

January 11, 2021

Why Won’t They Listen?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today’s thoughts are more personal, perhaps more pastoral.

My day began with an email from a friend. I’ve changed some of the wording just slightly.

Whenever I thought about the book of Revelation and end times things, I always thought that when the predicted events started to happen, people would turn to God in droves. Yet here we are, I sit in a bullpen of construction workers and they are ready to believe the most far out conspiracies, but wouldn’t consider for a moment that God is real. The enemy is blinding them. It’s sad.

I sent him two replies. One was from my phone and I don’t have the text of it nearby, but I simply suggested that his contribution to the discussion — his gift to his co-workers if you like — might not be statements or declarations, but some well-placed, well-considered questions.

Using this strategy might re-direct the conversation, and even if it is not well-received by everyone in the group, there’s always the possibility that there’s one person who the question or questions might continue to haunt them until they decide they need to pursue the subject — or pursue God — further.

I consider my friend wise enough to know how to navigate my advice.

An hour later though, I thought of some scriptures I could send him. One he already alluded to in his remarks.

First I looked at I Corinthians 1 in The Voice Bible:

17 The mission given to me by the Anointed One is… about preaching good news. The point is not to impress others by spinning an eloquent, intellectual argument; that type of rhetorical showboating would only nullify the cross of the Anointed.

18 For people who are stumbling toward ruin, the message of the cross is nothing but a tall tale for fools by a fool. But for those of us who are already experiencing the reality of being rescued and made right, it is nothing short of God’s power.

Verse 17 is interesting because if anyone could frame an intellectual argument, it would be the Apostle Paul. But we need to avoid jumping to the conclusion that if the world is “going to hell in a handbasket” we should just stop sharing the good news message altogether. Paul certainly doesn’t do that.

The next passage I shared was from II Timothy 3; this time from The Message. (I know the person to whom I was sending these well-enough that I thought he would benefit more from these more contemporary translations.)

1-5 Don’t be naive. There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people.

14-17 But don’t let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers—why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother’s milk! There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.

Peterson’s phrase “They’ll make a show of God;” is better know to many readers here as “Having a form of Godliness, but denying its power.” Is this a summation statement? Is Paul saying that all of the characteristics listed in the previous two verses apply to the outwardly religious, or is this just another category?

(You can do a translation comparison on the verse itself, but this question is more context-driven. Does the em-dash between verses 4 and 5 used by the NIV fit or does it imply something other translations don’t? A compromise solution might be that as the world goes so goes the church. We know that, for example, divorce rates among evangelicals are no longer significantly different than the general population.)

I didn’t send this to my friend, but I consider II Timothy 3 in parallel. (I’ll revert to NIV for this one.)

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

Finally, I sent my friend I Corinthians 2 again using The Voice:

12 You must know that we have not received the spirit of this rebellious and broken world but the Spirit that comes from God, so that we may experience and comprehend the gifts that come from God. 13 We do not speak of these gifts of God in words shaped by human wisdom; we speak in words crafted by the Spirit because our collective judgment on spiritual matters is accessible to those who have the Spirit. 14 But a person who denies spiritual realities will not accept the things that come through the Spirit of God; they all sound like foolishness to him. He is incapable of grasping them because they are disseminated, discerned, and valued by the Spirit.

That doesn’t leave us room for much discussion here, but I think what my friend was expressing today was simply all these non-Revelation prophetic words playing out in front of him in real time.

I can only conclude as he did: “It’s sad.”

But again, we can work to make a difference even in those situations. I believe that a few well-placed questions could make the difference in someone’s life.

May 9, 2018

Awaking from Spiritual Slumber

Back in November I introduced you to Jay Mankus who writes at Express Yourself 4 Him, calling it at the time “a goldmine of devotional resources.” These posts today are recent and appeared back-to-back and it occurred to me they had sleep or unconsciousness as a common theme. Click the individual titles to read each at source.

Snap Out of It

Prior to the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, most professional sports ignored game related concussions.  Athletic trainers often took smelling salts laced with ammonia inhalants to awaken concussed or knocked out athletes.  As portrayed in several older films, this trainer would apply the salt, then clap their hands over injured heads.  The goal of this archaic practice sought to help snap individuals out of their woozy state.

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified, Galatians 3:1.

You don’t have to receive a concussion to be dizzy, slightly off or weak.  From a spiritual perspective, anyone can randomly stray off course.  During this period of time, your mind is susceptible to making poor decisions.  This prodigal mindset might even lead you to become bewitched, tricked into believing a lie planted within you by the Devil.  If you ever reach this state, you need the Holy Spirit’s help to snap out of it.

You were running [the race] well; who has interfered and prevented you from obeying the truth?  This [deceptive] persuasion is not from Him who called you [to freedom in Christ], Galatians 5:7-8.

The apostle Paul found a similar climate during a visit to Galatia.  Peer pressure, opposing views and a lack of guidance caused many from within the church to lose sight of what’s important.  Luke 4:8 sheds light on this, to worship the Lord and serve Him only.  Sure, there are plenty of worldly chores and exercises that must be completed daily.  Yet, in the end, human beings were created to worship God.  Falling short of this goal leads to compromise and temptation.  Therefore, snap out of it by keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, Galatians 5:25.

The Greatest Temptation

Then Jesus returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter, Matthew 26:40.

When the Son of God spoke in the first century, eager followers flocked to hear his teaching.  Afterward the needy, poor and sick lined up, pushing their way to the front, hoping for a miracle.  To a certain extent, the twelve disciples became complacent, taking their access to the Messiah for granted.  During special occasions Jesus left nine disciples behind, confiding in his inner circle composed of James, John and Peter.  During his greatest temptation, surrendering to religious leaders to be beaten, crucified and left to die, Jesus urges his disciples to pray late into the night.  An hour later Jesus returns to find his trusted leaders sleeping.

“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” Matthew 26:41.

Disappointed, Jesus addresses the unseen battle going on within the human body.  The Spirit is willing to yield spiritual fruit detailed in Galatians 5:22-23.  Unfortunately, these traits often lose out to a weakened flesh, Galatians 5:19-21, by giving into temporary pleasures.  Way too often the events of Eden in Genesis 3 are re-enacted daily with forbidden fruits replaced by modern delicacies.  While current readers can take Jesus’ advice at face value, all but one disciple were about to abandon Jesus in his greatest time of need.  John, the one whom Jesus loved is the only disciple who doesn’t go into hiding.  Only one man put Jesus’ words into practice.

He went away a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done,” Matthew 26:42.

Jesus was a victim of a mob mentality, innocent of the charges made against him accept of course for being the son of God.  Overcome by emotion, Jesus pours out his heart to God the Father in prayer.  If this was any other person, justification would be made to not go through with this sacrifice.  However, without Jesus’ death, there would be no forgiveness, left to rely on Old Testament animal sacrifices.  Realizing this fact, Jesus submits to God’s will, surrendering early Friday morning.  While there will always be new temptations that arise and attack your soul, the greatest temptation is to reject God’s will for your life.  May you find your purpose on earth using Romans 12:1-2 as a guide.  From here its up to you to apply Matthew 26:41 so that you will keep in step with the Holy Spirit, Galatians 5:25.

October 20, 2015

When God Becomes Ill

“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16)

Wild WaterfallTwo great commentaries on the same passage today. Neal Pollard is in pastoral ministry in Colorado. This is his first appearance here at Christianity 201 and he gives this immediate, practical application. Then, InterVarsity Press publisher Andy LePeau clarifies the background on the cold water in this passage; and how we are a lot like the Loadiceans.

Part One:

How to Make God Sick

When speaking of God’s attributions and actions, the Bible often resorts to a literary device called anthropomorphism (where human characteristics or behaviors are attributed to God—“the hand of God,” “the eyes of the Lord,” etc.).  But, there is one personification that’s absolutely terrifying.  Jesus utilizes it in describing the spiritual condition of Laodicea. He says, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16). Some translations, knowing “vomit” is felt to be too strong and graphic to the sensitivities of some readers, have gone the more antiseptic route by translating it “spit.”  But the Greeks had a word for the phrase “spit out” (you find that word translated in John 9:6, Mark 7:33, and Mark 8:23).

It has been said that what makes God sick often is what makes our culture tick. When you look at the Laodiceans, they were guilty of the following:

  • Indifferent to mission (Rev. 3:15-16).
  • Incorrect in self-analysis (Rev. 3:17).
  • Insensitive to need (Rev. 3:17).
  • Impenitent (Rev. 3:19).

Certainly, the world is blind to God’s purpose for their lives, is numb to its true spiritual condition, and is deaf to the biblical plea to repent and depend on God and His will. But these words are directed to Christians as a warning to us.  Our mission is to engage in the work He has us on earth to do, which is not to accumulate wealth, indulge in fleshly pleasures, and pursue the honor and praise of this world. Our need for God’s strength and help every step of the way must drive us to depend on Him and repent of a lack of zeal for and involvement in the work He has called us to do as Christians.

When we get so wrapped up in this world that we ignore His mission, when we get so conditioned to rely on our assets and attributes that we ignore His power, and when we get so hard-hearted that we ignore His grace and forgiveness, we make God sick.  No matter how you look at that, the very thought is just chilling! He loves us, pleads with us, and wants to reward us (Rev. 3:19-22). But that requires us to live differently from those ancient Laodiceans. We must let Scripture properly diagnose our spiritual condition or it will make God sick.

Part Two:

A Lukewarm Interpretation of Hot and Cold: Revelation 3:15-16

This verse from Revelation 3 certainly must rank as one of the most misused in the Bible. In the last month alone I have heard two speakers give it the same incorrect interpretation.

In the first three chapters of Revelation we find seven letters from Jesus to seven churches in late first-century Asia Minor (now western Turkey). In the letter to Laodicea, he says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” As a result, he will spit out their tepidness.

Often this is misinterpreted to mean that Jesus is tired of namby-pamby middle of the roaders. He would rather people be passionately against him or for him. This is ridiculous on two counts. First, Jesus simply does not want people to turn resolutely against him. He wants all to come to him and be saved.

Second, when Jesus refers to hot and cold water, he is drawing an analogy from the fact that Laodicea did not have a good water source. Instead, using Roman aqueducts, it received hot water from the north, from the city of Hierapolis, famous for its soothing and healing hot springs. Refreshing cold water came from the south, from Colossae, eleven miles away, from snow melt on the mountains. Unfortunately, by the time the hot water and the cold water got to Laodicea, both were lukewarm. As Richards and O’Brien say in Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes, Jesus “wished his people were hot (like the salubrious waters of Hierapolis) or cold (like the refreshing waters of Colossae). Instead, their discipleship was unremarkable.”

The problem was not that Laodicea lacked zeal. The problem was that the church was good for nothing.

So why describe the church as lukewarm? The answer found in the next verse. “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

Laodicea as a city had a reputation for its many banks, for its excellent medical school and for its clothing industry. But, Jesus says, actually it was not rich but poor, not healthy but blind, not well clothed but naked. Their resources led them to rely on themselves instead of on Jesus. Their problem was not lack of fervor but a sense of self-sufficiency. They relied on themselves instead of on God.

For a culture that prides itself on its massive economy, the best medicine in the world, and a fashion industry second to none–Revelation 3, correctly interpreted, becomes all too relevant.

February 11, 2013

I Once Was Lost But Now I See

or: I Once was Blind But Now I’m Found

24 Ways to Explain The GospelI admit today’s post title was offered a little tongue-in-cheek, because today we’re looking at the various metaphors that can be used to describe salvation and sometimes we can get our metaphors mixed up!  This was inspired by one of the hundred-odd little laminated pamphlets issued by Rose Publishing of Torrance, California. In a bullet-point world, these pamphlets (many of which are also available as wall charts) distill information on a variety of Bible-based subjects, and for most of you can be tucked into your Bible.

Rather than simply plagiarize the material, I’ll discuss a few of them to give you the idea.  The pamphlet is called 24 Ways to Explain The Gospel and can be purchased individually or in packages of ten. Remember, don’t mix your metaphors like I did in the post title. Stay with a single one at a time.

  • The Biological Model

The idea here is that Jesus offers us a way to move from life to death. Our sin deserved death, a death that was introduced through Adam, but Jesus is the bread of life and offers us abundant life.

  • The Health Model

The concept here is our sinful state is characterized as sickness; that Jesus promises to be our physician; moving us from illness to health.

  • The Family Model

This will resonate more strongly with some people. Jesus takes us from being orphans to being adopted into his family, having the full rights of sons.  Thus Christians refer to God as “Father,” because of that adoption; even to the point of the more affectionate “Abba” meaning daddy.

  • The Relational Model

This is one that is used in many gospel presentations; the idea that we were once God’s enemies; that sin has separated us from Him; and that Jesus is a bridge that allows us to connect and be in relationship with God.

  • The Rescue Model

This has so many different possibilities but all would revolve around the idea that we were perishing but Jesus rescues us from death. This metaphor uses the term ‘saved’ more than the others.

  • The Freedom Model

This begins with the visual of people in bondage or slavery who then experience deliverance to new life and eternal life; from being slaves to being free.

  • The Legal Model

This metaphor begins with people under the the penalty of their wrongdoing — basically a crime and punishment consequence — but Jesus enters the picture and offers us forgiveness.

  • The Nationality Model

Again, this has the potential to resonate more deeply with anyone who has ever emigrated from one country to another. The idea is that we were aliens — without a home — and Jesus provides a way for us to become citizens of a heavenly kingdom.

  • The Vision Model

Referred to in today’s post title, this is the idea of moving from blindness to sight.  Anyone who has ever sung “Amazing Grace” has heard this metaphor expressed. Sight allows us to see God and His wonders.

  • The Knowledge Model

The person who develops a real relationship with God moves from ignorance or foolishness, to understanding and wisdom.

  • The Truth Model

Salvation is described as knowledge of the truth. We move from falsehood and false teaching to the truth of the gospel which makes us free.

  • The Navigational Model

This is the other half of the “Amazing Grace” metaphor, I once was lost but now I’m found.

  • The Ambulatory Model

This is the idea of moving from falling or stumbling to standing and walking; the latter being a commonly employed metaphor in scripture.

  • The Illumination Model

This is another popular theme in scripture; moving from darkness to light. Jesus is that light.

  • The Purity Model

This metaphor expresses what many people desire: Jesus cleanses us, taking us from being dirty (impurity) to being clean (purity).

  • The Agricultural Model

This one goes a little deeper, there are actually several agricultural models including the idea of being trees planted by the Lord, but also including the metaphor of being grafted onto a vine.

  • The Creation Model

Sometimes this takes the form of a garment; the metaphor includes the idea of moving from old creation to new creation. This is the model wherein we would employ the term ‘born again.’

…You’ll notice we had no scripture verses today. I hope the scriptures suggested themselves to you as you reading. It’s also possible that in your discussions with people God will give you some other metaphor from some other aspect of life. I know this is possible because I’ve seen it happen in my own life. If you purchase the original copy of the pamphlet you’ll find ample scripture references for each point; and remember that I did not list all the models here.

Well, okay; one scripture; one that I hope encourages you to commit to imprint a few of these models on your heart and mind so that you can easily share them with people at any time:

…concentrate on being completely devoted to Christ in your hearts. Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to any man who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you.  (I Peter 3:15 J. B. Phillips tr.)

May 3, 2011

Spiritual Cataracts

I continue to be impressed by the quality and relevance of the devotional readings each day at Daily Encouragement.  If you ever decide to drop this blog in order to read theirs, I wouldn’t be annoyed; in fact I’d be honored to have led you to Stephen & Brooksyne’s blog.  This appeared yesterday under the title Open The Eyes of My Heart.

“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints and His incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18,19).

Today we would like to write about spiritual enlightenment. One of the great aspects of our conversion is the reality of being spiritually enlightened. In the classic hymn “Amazing Grace” John Newton describes his spiritual enlightenment with the words, “I once was blind, but now I see.”

Spiritual blindness is a condition of the unbeliever. The apostle Paul wrote, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

However the unbeliever may very well not sense in any way that their minds are blinded. On the contrary they may feel they are the ones enlightened. Those who hold an entirely different worldview and faith outlook  speak of being “enlightened”. In fact they would see me as backward, ignorant and unenlightened. So the issue is not whether we have been enlightened but rather what we’ve been enlightened to and who is our source for enlightenment!

Many years ago a pastor friend used the term “spiritual cataracts” to describe a condition that believers also need to be mindful of.  Because of the blinding impact of sin we need continual enlightenment by the Spirit and the Word of God.

In the daily portion of Scripture the apostle Paul is expressing a powerful prayer for the Ephesian believers.  It provides a great model of how we should pray for one another with our focus on the spiritual realm.

Paul used a very interesting metaphor here in his prayer when he wrote about the “eyes of the heart” being enlightened. That is precisely what we need, for God to open our hearts to His truth.

The eyes of our hearts being enlightened results in our knowledge of three powerful truths that bring great assurance:

  • The hope to which He has called us.
  • The riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints.
  • His incomparably great power.

Who are the ultimate recipients of this prayer?  Certainly the Ephesian believers were the initial recipients. But the final phrase rings loud in my heart today many centuries later.  These glorious truths are “for us who believe.”  I do “believe” today and desire that the eyes of my heart be continually enlightened to receive spiritual truths from God and that is also my prayer for every reader!

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord,
Open the eyes of my heart;
I want to see You, I want to see You.
Open the eyes of my heart, Lord,
Open the eyes of my heart;
I want to see You, I want to see You.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

en français:

December 21, 2010

Of Course They’re Not Referring to Me…

Today’s post reminded me of the times people hear a great sermon and think, “If only _________ had been here for this!”   I mean, it’s never about them, right?

This is from the blog Live Generously, by Brian Kiley, Student Ministries Director at Synergy Church in Santa Barbara, California, where it appeared under the title, No One Ever Thinks They’re A Part of the Problem.

I don’t know that anyone wakes up in the morning and says, “I’m a part of the problem.”

I don’t know of any Christians that wake up in the morning and say, “You know, it’s judgmental, self-righteous hypocrites like me who give Christians a bad name.”

I don’t know of any pastors that wake up in the morning and say, “You know, it’s shallow preachers like me that preach something other than the gospel who are contributing to the massive theological ignorance that exists in the American Church today.”

I don’t know anyone that wakes up in the morning and says, “You know, it’s extremists like me who are destroying any hope for progress and respectful dialog in our political process.”

I don’t know anyone that says any of those things.

However, if I’m completely honest, I know plenty of people, if not personally at leasts through the media, that I would place in all of those categories.

And I’m guessing that you probably do to.

Heck, for all I know there may well be people that would put me in one of the categories.

I bring this up not to suggest that we should all be relativists who do not make moral judgments about beliefs or points of view. Far from it. There are plenty of circumstances that require that. When a man says that God wants us to have our best life now, or a person misuses the name and teachings of Jesus for a political gain that must be called what it is.

I bring this up simply because I need the reminder as much as anyone that Jesus was really on to something when he said we should take care of the plank in our own eye before we worry about the speck in the eye of another. Our overly connected world allows us access to all sorts of points of view and perspectives.

And we can get so busy pointing the finger at perspectives that we find crazy that we forget to do the hard work of humble self-examination in our own lives, and that is problematic for everybody.

~Brian Kiley