Christianity 201

December 9, 2020

Tangled Up in the Web of Political Distraction

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II Timothy 2.4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.

I can’t remember the first time this verse was highlighted for me, but it’s often coming under the teaching of a gifted Bible teacher that the verses come to life. In my personal readings, I find they just don’t ‘jump off the page’ to the same degree. I think much depends on how our different personality types process information and learning.

While Paul’s instruction to Timothy has been quoted here four times, I was surprised to see it was quoted only four times. This year, while returning to past sources of devotional material, I was disappointed to see how many writers had got entangled — Apostle Paul’s word, not mine — the politics of the U.S. election and the related politicization of everything from the race protests to the virus vaccine.

It’s important to be aware of the times. Karl Barth is said to have told pastors, “Preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other;” though the actual quotation might have been, “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”

We cannot isolate in a Christian bubble and not know what’s going on in the wider world. In Matthew 16: 1-3 we read:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red, and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

And it may be that God has called a few of you to be active in what is called the public square; to run for a governmental position municipally, regionally, in your state/province, or federally. (But note I used the word few. This is not a widespread calling or commandment.) Looking at the words of Jesus in Matthew, I can more readily see Christians serving in journalism (making people aware of the times,  from a Christian perspective where opportunity arises) or in law (drafting legislation or being judges.)

When I checked back, the most recent look at Paul’s words to Timothy was just three months ago in September. At that time, our focus was on avoiding knee-jerk reactions (or feeling you need to say anything at all). James writes,

And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.  (3:6 NLT)

Instead of starting fires, our words should be “a fountain of life.” That phrase is used in scripture to describe the Lord, but Proverbs 10:11 and 16:22 shows that it can be our descriptor, too:

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
But the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it,
But the discipline of fools is folly.

If our focus that time was avoiding knee-jerk reactions, our focus in June, 2018 was on the reality that we’re not really part of this world anyway. We don’t belong to it. We’re what the Bible calls strangers and aliens.

Philippians 3.20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We see this most clearly in I Peter 2:11 where we’re called

  • immigrants and strangers (CEB)
  • aliens and temporary residents (CJB)
  • visitors and strangers (ERV)
  • sojourners and exiles (ESV)
  • strangers and refugees (GNT)

Consider also Hebrews 11:13-16

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. (NRSV)

Shouldn’t our thoughts and our writing be focused on the place where we have our citizenship?

The summer previous, in August, 2017, we looked at how in Samuel’s day, the people didn’t want the distinct identity that God desired for them. The surrounding nations had kings. They didn’t have a king. They wanted a king. They asked for a king.

Interestingly enough, God accommodates this request. In I Samuel 8: 19-22a we read,

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

That article concluded: God’s ‘Plan A’ desire would be that his people would be a distinct society even in the middle of a foreign land; even when in exile. He wants us to focus on being the People of God. As Christians, we already have a King.

The oldest instance I could find of Paul’s words to Timothy here at Christianity 201 was one more year prior, in April, 2017. The context that day was spiritual warfare. Do we see this entanglement as a product of a spiritual battle? A battle for us to get stuck in the issues of the world? The political issues? The civic issues? The news-making issues?

I would argue, yes. The person whose writing and conversation has been captivated by political concerns in 2020 has lost a spiritual battle. Consider Philippians 4:8

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

To conclude, here’s how some newer translations (The Voice, and TPT) render our opening verse:

Remember that soldiers on active duty don’t get wrapped up in civilian matters because they want to satisfy those who recruited them.

For every soldier called to active duty must divorce himself from the distractions of this world so that he may fully satisfy the one who chose him.


For a different look at this subject, check out “Never Say the Bible Doesn’t Talk About Politics

To see if, or how often a particular verse has been covered here, type the reference into this blog’s search field.

 

June 23, 2019

The Various Idols We Worship

For today’s Sunday Worship column, we’re featuring an author who is new to us. Jack Garrott is what is termed a “Third Culture Kid.” That’s what it means when the country you think of as home is not the same as the country on your passport! He writes, “Raised in a missionary family, I’ve been steeped in the Bible from infancy, and my life has been a journey of learning to apply it. I’m far from perfect, but it is a joy to me to share with you some of the things God shows me day by day.” His website is Virtual Vitamins. Click the title below to read today’s article at source.

Idols

1 John 5:21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

I’m sure I’ve never written on this verse, but I was drawn to it by the very fact that it’s not underlined in my Bible! Why would this be the final word in a letter from “the Apostle of Love?”

I think it comes from the broader definition of “idol” that we use today, rather than the stone, wood, or metal sculptures that were widely worshiped at the time John wrote this. That is to say, an idol is anything the devil uses to distract you from God, to steal your devotion away from Him. Defined that way, modern society is absolutely rife with idols. We even have the honesty to call popular entertainment figures “idols.”

For some people, computer games are idols. For many people, their smartphones are idols. Actually, in both those cases and in a lot of others, the real idol is being entertained, that is, self. Countless people worship sex, in one way or another. Money, prestige, security, the list goes on and on.

Almost none of these things are originally or fundamentally bad in themselves, but the moment they become a distraction from God, they become an idol. It indeed comes back to lordship, which is an issue I’ve touched on a great deal recently. We must constantly be on our guard to be sure that Jesus is Lord in all our decisions and activities.

That certainly doesn’t mean we aren’t to relax and have a good time; Jesus Himself went to dinner parties, not to mention taking His disciples away from the crowds from time to time to relax. However, our goal should be a constant and growing awareness of God, our place in Him and His place in us. Idols are anything that distracts from that.

My understanding of this has been weak at times, but has grown greatly in recent years. I am interested in a vast number of different things, from physics to electronics to biology to history to geography to many more, and often enough I have allowed those interests to distract me from the One who creates all that.

I’ve never been particularly taken by the “entertainment industry,” but recently politics has been quite a distraction. I need to keep my focus on the “God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6) At the same time, since I deal with so many distractions myself, I need to have grace and mercy on those around me who are likewise distracted. I need to keep Christ in focus myself, and seek to help those around me do likewise.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Father, thank You for this reminder, and for directing my attention to a verse that wasn’t underlined. Help me not set up expectations that cause me to miss what You are saying to me, but rather listen always for Your still, small, voice, to obey You with all I have and am, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

 

April 14, 2018

Clear Them Out … Completely

Back in October we introduced you to Peter Corak who has been very faithfully writing devotionals at My Morning Meal since November, 2009.  In this devotional from a few days ago, he combines two articles from a scripture passage he finds himself returning to. Click the title below to read at source.

Drive Them Out . . . Again

Looking back through my journal, it’s been a reading that I’ve spent extra time “chewing on” seven of the past ten years. The opening chapters of Judges have repeatedly served as a fresh warning against the propensity to compromise. The Israelites failure to drive out the inhabitants of the land an ominous reminder of what happens when we get comfortable with the sin in our lives, or try to buddy up with the world around us.

They thought they were strong enough to live over their enemies and were confident that they would continue to submit them to forced labor–their arrogance blinding them to the real danger of their enemies’ gods gaining the upper hand and having dominion over them. Thorns that festered in their sides, snares that would eventually entrap them, that’s what they would become (Judges 2:1-3).

If for no other reason then the a regular reminder of these types of ageless warnings, having a plan to read repeatedly through the whole Bible on a regular basis has been of great value for me.

This morning, I’m rerunning some thoughts from 2013 that I remixed from some thoughts in 2008. The message unchanging, Drive Them Out!

————————–

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!”

So goes the old western movie cliche. So sets up the confrontation at high noon. If one ain’t leavin’ peaceably-like, then the other’s gonna make him git! So what’s got me thinking of old western re-runs? (Or was it a Bugs Bunny cartoon? . . . whatever.)  It’s the opening chapter of Judges and the ominous foreshadowing of a phrase repeated nine times. The land wasn’t big enough for the Israelites and the Canaanites . . . but the Israelites did not “drive them out.”

Through Moses, God had made the game plan clear. He was going to give them the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They were to go up in the power of His might and possess the land.  And they were to rid the land of its previous inhabitants . . . completely!  The warning had been clear:

But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.  (Numbers 33:55 ESV)

Any Canaanite remnant would tempt the Israelites away from their God.  Their worship would contaminate true worship.  Their world-view would obscure heaven’s view. And so the charge was unambiguous, “Drive them out!”

Looking at the original word, it looks like it has the idea of possessing or inheriting by the means of dispossessing or impoverishing. Moving into the promised land of God was dependent on completely evicting the previous owners.

But they did not completely drive out the inhabitants of the land.  They allowed them to live among them or they pressed them into forced labor. Bottom line is that God said they needed to be gone, and the people settled for “mostly gone” or “kinda’ gone”.

And Judges 2 says that within just a few decades the result was disastrous. Within a generation, “the people did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals” (Judges 2:11).

These pagan nations left to live among them became a snare to them in subsequent generations. In particular, their gods and pagan religions became an alluring trap. The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, but, as the next generation grew up, those who didn’t have this first hand knowledge started being attracted to other gods. And our God, who is a jealous God and will not share His glory with another, dealt with this infidelity quickly and harshly.

Thus the vicious cycle of Judges: the people serve other gods . . . God judges them by allowing the nations around them to oppress them . . . the people cry out to God for deliverance . . . God raises up a judge to deliver the people . . . there’s a time of peace . . . and then the people slip back into serving other gods . . . and so it goes.

And so the warning is pretty clear to me . . . Drive them out!

By the abiding grace of God and the indwelling power of His Spirit, I need to put away that which is temptation and can become a snare. I need to renounce that which is of the world and would fester as a thorn. As much as lies in me, I need to leave no fuel to feed the old nature’s fire. I need to dispossess the things of the old man and the old way, that I might fully possess that which God has promised for the believer.

Drive them out!

By His grace . . . for His glory . . .

This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!

March 2, 2018

Pursuing Solitude, Silence, Prayer

This is an excerpt from the Prologue to The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom and Silence (1981 edition, pages 1-5) by Henri Nouwen.


…As we reflect on the increasing poverty and hunger, the rapidly spreading hatred and violence with as well as between countries, and the frightening buildup of nuclear weapons systems, we come to realize that our world has embarked on a suicidal journey. We are painfully reminded of the words of John the Evangelist:

The Word…the true light…was coming into the world…that had its being through him and the world did not know him. He came to his own domain and his own people did not accept him. (John 1:9-11)

It seems that the darkness is thicker than ever, that the powers of evil are more blatantly visible than ever, and that the children of God are being tested more severely than ever.

During the last few years I have been wondering what it means to be a minister in such a situation. What is required of men and women who want to bring light into the darkness,

“to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor” (Luke 4:18-19)?

What is required of a man or a woman who is called to enter fully into the turmoil and agony of the times and speak a word of hope?

It is not difficult to see that in this fearful and painful period of our history we who minister in parishes, schools, universities, hospitals, and prisons are having a difficult time fulfilling our task of making the light of Christ shine into the darkness. Many of us have adapted ourselves too well to the the general mood of lethargy. Others among us have become tired, exhausted, disappointed, bitter, resentful, or simply bored. Still others have remained active and involved – but have ended up living more in their own name than in the Name of Jesus Christ. This is not so strange. The pressures in the ministry are enormous, the demands are increasing, and the satisfactions diminishing. How can we expect to remain full of creative vitality, of zeal for the Word of God, of desire to serve, and of motivation to inspire our often numbed congregations? Where are we supposed to find nurture and strength? How can we alleviate our own spiritual hunger and thirst? …

…But where shall we turn? To Jacques Ellul, William Stringfellow, Thomas Merton, Teilhard de Chardin? They all have much to say, but I am interested in a  more primitive source of inspiration, which by its directness, simplicity, and concreteness, can lead us without any byways to the core of our struggle. This source is the Apophthegmata Patrum, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

The Desert Fathers, who lived in the Egyptian desert during the fourth and fifth centuries, can offer us a very important perspective on our life as ministers living at the end of the twentieth century. The Desert Fathers – and there were Mothers, too – were Christians who searched for a new form of martyrdom. Once the persecutions had ceased, it was no longer possible to witness for Christ by following him as a blood witness. Yet the end of the persecutions did not mean that the world had accepted the ideals of Christ and altered its ways; the world continued to prefer the darkness to the light (John 3:19). But it the world was no longer the enemy of the Christian, then the Christian had to become the enemy of the dark world. The flight to the desert was the way to escape a tempting conformity to the world. Anthony, Agathon, Macarius, Poemen, Theodora, Sarah, and Syncletica became spiritual leaders in the desert. Here they became a new kind of martyr: witnesses against the destructive powers of evil, witnesses for the saving power of Jesus Christ.

Their spiritual commentaries, their counsel to visitors, and their very concrete ascetical practices form the basis of my reflections about the spiritual life of the minister in our day. Like the Desert Fathers and Mothers, we have to find a practical and workable response to Paul’s exhortation:

“Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you, but let your behavior change, modeled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do” (Romans 12:2)…

…The words flee, be silent, and pray summarize the spirituality of the desert. They indicate the three ways of preventing the world from shaping us in its image and thus the three ways to life in the Spirit.

 

 

November 26, 2016

2-For-1 Devotional Special: It’s War/Hearing the Truth

Regular readers here are accustomed to this paragraph containing something like, “Today we return to the blog of _________…” It’s easy to work with writers we’ve worked with before, but I try to spend about 30 minutes each week seeing who else is writing good material that we can steal would be a good fit here. That often takes me to the #devotional tag on Twitter where sadly, most of the activity consists of people trying to sell their devotional book. (I have other avenues for blind searches which usually turn out to be more effective: Using the devotional or Jesus or Bible tags on WordPress, for example.)

So today’s new writer is Todd Sepulveda who lives in Houston and writes at Glorify God • Magnify Him. His writings are shorter — hence the reason you’re getting two today — but thankfully more substantive than many other things you encounter online. (Besides, I really enjoyed reading his personal story.) So click each of the individual titles to read these at source and then look around the rest of his site.

todd-sepulvedaIt’s War!

Scripture

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh,
2 Corinthians 10:3 NASB

Observation
There is a war going on, but most don’t realize it! I know that sounds like a line from a sci-fi movie, but it is true.

We live in two realms, the flesh, the things we see, touch, smell, etc…,and the spiritual, the things we don’t see.

The evil forces of the devil will do anything to keep you away from spiritual things and the things of God. You’ll find yourself wrapped up in debate, arguments, hate, worry, instead of walking in the Spirit and the things of God.

Application
Can you identify with the above paragraph? Do you find yourself focusing on the things of this world, when they will pass away, vs the things of God, which are eternal?

If so, you need to wage war! This is a purposeful, focused, disciplined way to live. Press into the things of God. Don’t let anything pull you away. Know that when things come against you, they very may be the work of Satan trying to derail your relationship with God!

Fight back! God is more powerful! You are His child! What Father wouldn’t come to the rescue and help of their own child?

Remember, this war is for eternal lives!

Prayer
Lord, help us to realize that we are in a spiritual war. You have given us everything we need to fight and stand firm. Give us strength and insight so that we don’t allow the ploys of the evil one to distract us from living for You.

Hearing the Truth is Tough

Scripture

5 Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who today have saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives, and the lives of your concubines, 6 by loving those who hate you, and by hating those who love you. For you have shown today that princes and servants are nothing to you; for I know this day that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.
2 Samuel 19:5-6 NASB

Observation
David had to flee Jerusalem because His Son wanted to kill him and take the throne for himself. After David’s men defeated and killed Absalom, the only thing that David could do was weep. A day of great victory turned into a day of great mourning.

It would have been bad for David if Joab wouldn’t have given him some much needed advice.

David was heartbroken, understandably. But he should have also been grateful for everyone who put their life on the line to protect him and the rest of his family.

Application
Sometimes we don’t realize that we are off course. It is good to have people in your life that will tell you what you need to hear, even if you don’t like it at the time.

Be grateful for those people. Choose to listen with an open mind and be led by the Holy Spirit to see if what they are saying is from God. If it is, make the change, change your course.

The other side of this is that there might be someone in your life that needs to hear something that might upset them. Pray and ask God if it is something you should say. Then pray that the Lord gives you the right words to say.

Prayer
Lord, thank you for bringing people in our lives that are willing to tell us the truth. Help us to prayerfully consider what they say and help us to not be so into ourselves that we can’t identify You speaking. Also, help us to be that person for others. Give us insight and the words to say, that we would be a blessing and help someone get back on track with You.


Todd attended Houston Baptist University with a dual-major in religion/Christianity and Communications/Mass Media with an emphasis in TV production and journalism. He and his wife Belinda ran a group home for kids in Children’s Protective Custody for 11 1/2 years. They were the youngest group home parents the agency ever had, and he had to get an insurance waiver to drive the van. At the same time they planted a church which ran for 14 years.

 

July 1, 2011

When Your Mind’s On Other Things

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.  But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.   Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

James 1:5-8 (NLT)

The last sentence above, verse eight, is the one many of you know as “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.

I often think of double-mindedness as meaning a person who is doing one thing one minute, and something quite different or contrary the next minute.  In other words alternating between two distinctly different purposes, such as we see in this verse:

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

I King 18:21 (NIV)

But double-mindedness can also exist when we are actually wavering while we are on task.  I discovered years ago that I could be reading my kids a Bible story, and my lips were moving and I was saying all the right words, but I was thinking about something completely different; occasionally something not all that wholesome or encouraging.

I thought of this when I read the note someone had left with one of those confessionals where you write your comment on a postcard and mail it in, and then some are selected and posted.  Trust me, I don’t revisit this site anywhere  as often as I once did and especially since elsewhere I’ve commented how some seemingly innocuous things — like reading advice columns in the newspaper — can be a gateway to more problematic things. However, it does provide a window into the lives of many broken people.

The writer describing reading this website — and who knows what others — while sitting in the choir loft of a worship service is bad enough, but the parenthetic remark at the end suggests that sometimes the images constitute what we would call soft porn.  And so, there we are sitting in church, and we see the pastor and the choir is sitting there, and it never occurs to us that one of the choir members might be…  I mean, why would you want to sing in the choir if that’s where your mind is at?  Does the one activity somehow cancel out the other?

A more accurate scripture — not that the two already mentioned don’t apply — would be

  “These people make a big show of saying the right thing,
   but their hearts aren’t in it.
…[T]hey act like they’re worshiping me
   but don’t mean it…

Isaiah 29:13 (The Message)

Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me

Isaiah 29:13 (NKJV)

This verse is referenced by Jesus as well, and may be found at Matthew 15:8 and Mark 7:6. 

Because it’s possible to be spiritually multi-tasking; or multi-tasking on one thing that is outwardly pious or spiritual, but one other thing that is far from God, we need to guard ourselves from this letting this situation happen. When it does, we are guilty of the “spiritual acting” or hypocrisy that Jesus so often addressed, in fact the scripture actually takes this one step further:

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!

Revelation 3:15 (NLT)

Finally, I think it’s necessary for those of us who see someone committing an act of blatant hypocrisy to call them on it.  Someone was sitting next to that choir member and would have had occasion to glance at their mobile device; especially given that they would have to hold it a good distance away to avoid it being seen by the congregation. It’s a time for reaching out to help, not a time for condemnation.

If you see a Christian brother or sister sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life.

I John 5:16a NIV

~Paul Wilkinson

August 3, 2010

Holding Up Hands in Prayer

For the last few days I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the story of Israel’s battle with the Amalekites; the one in Exodus 17 where, as long as Moses hands are raised, Israel is winning.   But when he lowers his hands, the battle starts to go badly.   So they seated Moses on a rock and held his hands up in the air.

10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.  (Ex 17  NIV)

I’ve been thinking about this passage because, as paranoid as it may sound, I feel there is correlation between the times I have not been as focused in my devotion to God and certain circumstances that have taken place involving friends or relatives.   Perhaps it is only that God has used already transpiring circumstances to bring back my spiritual focus, but we have no idea as to what “cause and effect” sequences God may be permitting.

It’s easy to get distracted by video games, movies, television dramas, romance novels, the acquisition of new material possessions, shopping trips, new hair styles, celebrity gossip, e-mail forwards,  Facebook, Twitter, internet pornography, summer vacation spots, buying lottery tickets, preoccupation with food and dining, lusts and infatuations, drinking, worries about health or family, financial pressure, job stress, etc., etc.

In all those things which can consume us, I think we’re letting down our hands, and whoever the “Amalekites” are in our home, workplace, school, extended family, or neighborhood; they start “winning” the inevitable ongoing spiritual battle that’s taking place.

So what do you think?  Do our lack of prayers make a difference?  Are there situations that are hanging in the balance right now in which outcomes will be determined by our willingness to sacrifice personal comfort or personal concern to [figuratively] hold up our hands?