Christianity 201

March 23, 2017

Feeling Less Than Perfect? Romans 8: 4-14

 . . . so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:1-8 (emphasis mine)

by Clarke Dixon

There is good news here for those who “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” This of course will raise within the Christian the question “am I walking in the Spirit?” And to many, “how could I possibly be walking in the Spirit when I find myself, well, less than perfect?” This is a very important question to answer since most of us, when honest, find ourselves feeling less than perfect. Contrary to some eulogies I have heard, I have never officiated at a funeral for a perfect Christian. Experience teaches us that there has never been a perfect person except One. Are we walking according to the Spirit if we are less than perfect?

First off, we can note that the language of Romans chapter 8 does not push us toward thinking we ought to find ourselves perfect. To “walk according to” is not “to be just like in every way.” Similarly, “to set your mind” on something is not to be so consumed by something that you cannot possibly think of anything else. If you have no musical experience or instruments and you set your mind on learning guitar, you are going to want to walk out of a music store with a guitar and not a drum kit. You are going to want to sign up for guitar lessons, and not clarinet lessons. To do otherwise is to not have your mind set on learning guitar. But picking up the sticks and having a go on a friend’s drum kit is not inconsistent with having your mind set on learning guitar. Spiritually, being less than perfect is not inconsistent with having our minds set on the things of the Spirit. Of course we want to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), however being less than perfect does not disqualify us from being people who walk according to the Spirit.

Second, God’s leadership in our lives is never described in terms that would make us conclude that we will achieve instant perfection. We are now used to living in an instant world. It is with some excitement that I download updates to my phone’s operating system. Each update comes with old problems fixed and new features added. Perhaps we expect receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit to be exactly like receiving an update that changes everything instantly. While some people experience miraculous deliverance from addictions and the like when coming to Jesus, most of us don’t feel a big instant change. The Bible never suggests our relationship with God will be like a computer user receiving a big update. The Bible points instead to a shepherd with the sheep, a father with a child, and a vine with the branches. These are all enduring mentoring relationships which require time and lead to development.

It takes time for sheep to learn and know the voice of the shepherd. It will take us time to discern the voice of God in our lives. Of course vines and branches take time to bear fruit as any gardener can confirm. Likewise, parenting takes time. Parenting takes so much time, in fact, that on average, for a parent to raise a child from birth to the age of eighteen requires about eighteen years! No parent I know expects his or her child to be perfect over those eighteen years. Our relationship with God is consistently described in ways that point to the passage of time and to development. There is no promise of instant perfection.

So if perfection is not evidence of “walking according to the Spirit,” then what is? The evidence that a shepherd and sheep are in relationship is the sheep’s response to the shepherd’s voice. Our listening may not be perfect, but we will be listening. There is a desire to hear the Lord’s voice. The evidence that branches are abiding in the vine is fruit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23) The Christian does not experience perfection in every way upon receiving the Holy Spirit, but in walking according to the Spirit will be developing in these character traits and more.

Perfectionism is not a fruit of the Spirit. In fact, perfectionism can be a tool of the devil. While I have largely given up on perfectionism, there is one area of my life where I am still a perfectionist. It is an area of my life in which I struggle with frustration and where I am most likely to sin through losing my cool: renovations. It is not that I cannot do it. It is that I cannot do it perfectly. My aunt expressed wonder at my recent bathroom renovation. By recent, I mean completed recently, though started three years ago! She exclaimed “Wow! You did this?” When I walk into that same bathroom, I see the poor drywalling work to the left and think, “yes, I did that.” Don’t fail to celebrate the fruit of the Spirit in your life because you are too focused on your imperfections. The devil is happy when we do. Perfectionism will not lead you into greater righteousness. An enduring relationship with God will.

As a rhythm guitar player I would be thrilled if my favourite guitar player, Peter Townshend, were to come to my home and offer to give me guitar lessons. I could be a glass-half-empty guitarist and say “I will never be able to play like that.” Or I could be a glass-half-full guitarist and say “with Pete’s help I will be able to play better today than yesterday.” Of far greater significance and wonder, the Lord of the universe has taken his place by our side, and on the inside, as our shepherd, father, and friend. We can be glass-half-empty Christians and say “I am not perfect and feel like I never will never be perfect. I therefore doubt I have the Holy Spirit and am beginning to doubt I am a Christian.” Or we can be glass-half-full Christians and say “I may not be perfect, but with the Holy Spirit on the inside helping me, I can be better today than I was yesterday.”

There is a wonderful affirmation in verse 9 “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Since you have the Holy Spirit, since you have God inside, live as you are; not perfect, but a growing child of God. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Romans 8:14

(All Scripture references are from the NRSV)

Click here to read this at Clarke’s webpage, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

March 13, 2017

Spiritual Drift

This article appears at BibleStudyTools.com. To read it there and read the comments simply click the title below. Chris Russell is an Ohio pastor whose biography states, “He believes that ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is one of his ‘spiritual gifts.'” You can also read it on his blog Sensible Faith.

5 Things That Cause Us to Drift Spiritually

Several years ago a friend of mine took his wife and kids to the ocean for a week of R&R. While they were there, they purchased a small, inflatable boat for recreational use on the beach. One day the wife jumped in the boat and launched out into the water to just lie back and soak in some sunshine. After what seemed like a short span of time, she opened her eyes and realized that she was several hundred yards away from the shore. In a panic, she screamed for help.

Only one person on the shore seemed to hear her call, and that was her husband. When he realized her predicament, he immediately attempted to swim out to rescue her. That did not turn out well, because he was soon in need of being rescued as well!

Fortunately the lifeguard was doing his job well that day, and he was successful in rescuing the husband and the wife. By the time he was able to get to the wife in the raft, they were nearly a half mile from the shore.

As I have thought about that experience over the years, it has often made me think about how Christians often drift away from the Lord spiritually. It really doesn’t take much time at all to drift so far from the shore spiritually that one can scarcely even see the land anymore.

As a pastor for the past couple decades, I have noted several key things that tend to cause Christians to drift away from God. Here are five of them:

1)  An Out-of-Control Schedule.

Ephesians 5:16
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

One of Satan’s greatest weapons against our generation seems to be his ability to make good people busier than ever before. We so often sacrifice the best things in life by spending time doing things that are just “pretty good.”

If you desire to walk closely with God, you will absolutely, necessarily have to begin by taking a close look at your calendar. It is likely that you are currently doing too much. And it is also likely that your overly hectic schedule is affecting your relationship with God. So take out your pruning shears and begin to cut out any activities you can that will allow you to focus more time on your relationship with your Creator.

2)  Misplaced Affections

1 John 2:15
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

Be careful not to set your heart on things that really don’t matter. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen good people lured away from church life because they have fallen in love with things or activities that have no eternal merit. For example, children’s sports can certainly be a thrilling activity for your kids to pursue. But if those sports begin to adversely affect the spiritual involvement and development of your family, then pull the plug immediately.

3)  Discouragement

1 Peter 1:6,7 1
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

During the past couple decades that I have served as a pastor, I have often watched Satan using his weapon of discouragement to drag people away from spiritual activities. I have seen it many more times than I can number.

When the trials of life cause a person to become discouraged, he often begins focusing on those problems and takes his eyes off of Christ. It reminds me of when Peter walked on the water. He did great until he took his eyes off of Jesus and began looking at the waves beneath him and the clouds above him.

It is important for you to know that when life’s clouds grow dark and your trials become fierce, that is the time to run TO Jesus and not FROM Him.

4)  Abundance

1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

We Americans are so fat with our own prosperity that we often make wealth our god and not the true King of heaven. This has also been a recurring theme throughout the entire Bible. People struggle, God blesses them, they become prosperous, and then they depart from God. Ironic, isn’t it?

The chances are great that you probably do not feel like you are prosperous. But the reality is that nearly all Americans are extremely blessed and have more abundance than the vast majority of the population of the planet. If you are an American, you are most likely already a “One-Percenter” (wealthier than 99% of the world’s population).

People of abundance often choose recreation over worship. Why go to church if you could be out golfing, boating, camping, or going to movies or sporting events?

Satan wants us to be prosperous, because our prosperity and abundance often lure us away from our Creator.

5)  Parasitic Sins

Hebrews 12:1
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Many people begin to drift away from God, because they have sins in their lives that cause them to feel guilt when they show up at church. And they feel reluctant to pray or read their Bible when they know they have these issues in their lives.

Recently, I stumbled upon the most revolting video I’ve ever seen (through my Facebook news feed). The video showed an eye surgeon removing a parasite from a human eye. I won’t go into detail. That brief description alone is enough to send chills down the spines of many. All I can say is that the video was even worse than what you’re thinking right now!

When I watched that video, it dawned on me that many people have sins in their lives that are damaging them just like parasites in one’s body. And those sins will almost certainly affect your spiritual vision.

The solution here is not to run/drift from God. The key is to confess your sin to God who will restore you and make you whole again (1 John 1:9)!

How have you done in your journey with God over the past year or the past few months? Have you drifted? Now is the time to return. Call out to God before you are so far from the shore than you lose all sense of spiritual direction.


1 In both versions of the original article Chris did not have a reference on his third point. We took the liberty of adding one. See A Diligent Heart or OpenBible.info for other related verses.

 

 

February 20, 2014

Reviving The First Love

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Rev 2:4b “…You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!  5a Look how far you have fallen!  (NLT)

Rev 2:4b “…you have left (abandoned) the love that you had at first [you have deserted Me, your first love].”  (AMP)

Matt. 24:12 Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. (NLT)

Jude 21 [K]eep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (NIV)

Matt 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (NASB)

In the area in which I work, Christian publishing, sales of books have hit a slow patch. It’s easy to blame eBooks, but Christian reading as a whole is down as people devote their time and their spending to supporting screen habits that are, at the end of the day, all about entertainment.

In church life, denominations report baptisms and conversions are down. Baptist (SBC) writer Thom Rainer says, “We are reaching fewer people for the gospel today than we did decades ago when we were a much smaller group.”

Yesterday, I was thinking of the song, Revival by Robin Mark. One of the lyrics says, “Like the preacher preaching when the well is dry.” It’s easy to identify people — both clergy and laity — whose well has run dry. Like hamsters running the wheel in the cage, we get caught up in religious life, but all the activity isn’t taking us anywhere.

I maintain that any point in time all of us in either of the two situations:

  • moving toward the cross
  • moving away from the cross

In your life it may be quantifiable on a yearly basis or a daily basis. The daily may be a microcosm of the annual; or your relationship to God, your hunger and thirst for the things of God may have its ups and downs.

I also need to pause here and talk about that phrase, “the things of God.” What are these things? Some of the things — the latest worship song, involvement in teaching Sunday School, a spirited discussion about creation science — may be spiritually superficial. Here’s a phrase you can Tweet:

To be excited about the things of the Lord, first you have to be excited about the Lord of the things.

God wants us to be in a constant posture of moving toward the cross. Back to the Robin Mark song, here are few of the lyrics:

Every dreamer dreaming in her dead-end job
Every driver driving through the rush hour mob
I feel it in my spirit, feel it in my bones
You’re going to send revival, bring them all back home

I can hear that thunder in the distance
Like a train on the edge of town
I can feel the brooding of Your Spirit
“Lay your burdens down, Lay your burdens down”.

The song is a clarion call to release yourself from the empty, the meaningless, the burdensome things of this world, and await the revival in your heart God wants to send you.

Here’s the video for the song. It’s long — ten minutes — but I pray it speaks to you. God wants to stir revival in your heart, and in mine. This is something we can ask for in prayer knowing that we are asking in God’s will.

January 1, 2014

Your Best Year, Spiritually

This is from Clay Smith at the website of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter, South Carolina and appeared there as This Could Be Your Best Year Ever, If…:

blank calendarHow will you make [this] your best year ever?

Maybe you will make an impressive list of resolutions, detailing plans for self improvement in finances, health, and relationships. Reality check: how did those resolutions work for you last year? The truth is about 92% of those resolutions won’t be kept. Why?

We don’t keep resolutions because we assume we have enough will-power to overcome our problems. We think if we just try harder we can do it. We make our problems harder because we try to tackle all our troubles at once. By the second week of January (sometimes the second day) our will power is overloaded. In a moment of stress we make an exception. That exception becomes a breach in the dike of resolve. We’re back to the same old patterns with the same old results in a matter of days – or hours.

There is a different way. Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Another translation would be, “Put God in charge and follow His way of thinking, and He will take care of everything else.”

Stovall Weems expresses it like this: “This can be your best year ever if it is your best year spiritually.”

Decide to make this your best year spiritually. Talk to God about what this year could look like. Ask God for His input.

God might tell you to read the Bible through in a year – it’s a doable challenge. God might tell you go on an adventure – it may be a mission trip or it might to lead the group next door. God might tell you to experience true generosity for the first time – giving not out of guilt but out of joy!

Here’s the challenge to you and to me: Let’s make 2012 our best year spiritually – and it will be our best year ever.

Grace and Happy New Year

Go deeper with an article by Jack Wellman at Christian Crier, 5 Christian New Year’s Resolutions for 2014. The article will encourage you to:

  1. Set the Alarm Clock 10 Minutes Earlier
  2. Memorize One Bible Verse per Week
  3. Create a Prayer Journal
  4. Share the Gospel Daily With at Least One Person
  5. End Each Day with Prayer and Bible Reading

December 30, 2013

Four Things to Add to Your New Year’s Resolutions

spiritual resolutionsThe Christian blogosphere is somewhat dominated by American writers, so I’m really excited to mix things up today and introduce you to Enoch Anti from Ghana. His blog is called Truth Publication and to bless him with some blog traffic, you should click here to read at source.

The Glory of God

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. (Revelations 4:11).

To God Be The Glory. That phrase should be our marching orders for 2014. The glory of God should be top priority on our list of resolutions. All things—including you and I ―are and were created for God’s pleasure . We are on earth on His assignment. We are here on His errand. His glory. His joy. His purposes. His agenda. His plans. Everything in the end is to His glory. We are here to give glory to his name: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.“ (Isaiah 60:1-2).

This life is more than us. It is more than our dreams and visions. It’s more than the things we want to achieve for ourselves. There’s a bigger agenda, and that agenda is the glory of God. Romans 8:29 gives us very clear insight into God’s agenda for our lives: it makes us understand that conforming us to the image of Christ (character and virtues) is that agenda. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son…“ Life is for “His name sake“: …he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake“ (Psalms 23:3). As we enter 2014, let‘s seek to put the glory of God ahead of everything we seek to achieve. “He must increase. [we] must decrease“ (John 3:30).

Now, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.“ (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Spirit-Controlled Living

Plans are good. Strategies are needed. Clear cut smart (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) goals are very necessary. But human wisdom, skill and talent is not enough to live a victorious life: “…This is the word of the LORD … Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.”  (Zechariah 4:6). On top of our plans and strategies, we also need the direction and leading of the Holy Spirit.

By Spirit-controlled living, I mean a life that is controlled by the Holy Spirit. He leads and we follow. We cannot live a Spirit-controlled life and still have control over our lives so to speak. There must be a place for the leading of the Holy Spirit of God in the life of every child of God, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the [children] of God.“ (Romans 8:14).

Speaking about the Holy Spirit, I am not only speaking about church meetings, prayers, reading our bibles, living a holy life(very important), speaking in tongues, anointing, prophesy, unction and all our other repertoire of “spiritual“ cliches. I am speaking about the totality of our lives. Every other area of our lives—career, marriage, family life, finances, education, entertainment, etc ―matters to God.

A few days away, we will be walking into a new year with its uncertainties and unknown territories. But we have a guarantee of God’s guidance and direction if we will heed to His voice. “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left“ (Isaiah 30:21).

Using Your Gifts

“…he gave…to every[one] according to [their] several ability…“ (Matthew 25:14-15).

Everyone is gifted. There are no exceptions. God has endowed everyone with what they need to live a fulfilled life. However, just like the parable of the talents, it’s not enough to be gifted. It’s not enough to be talented. It’s not enough to have dreams and visions. No matter how gifted you’re, you have to step out there and get started. The only time a difference is made is when people step out to use what they have. If you read Matthew 25 further down, you will realize those who made a difference are those who stepped out to use what they received.

The problem with many of us is that we sit in the stands “spectatoring“ and cheering people who are using their gifts on without doing anything with ours. I am in no way saying it’s wrong to cheer gifted people on. We all need encouragement and a push, but while you are cheering people on, be encouraged with what others are doing and get to work with your gifts. You can also make a difference if you start using what you have.

There are I believe a number of reasons people don’t use their gifts. Top on the list will be: (i)Fear (ii) Self-doubt (iii) Waiting for the right time (iv) Waiting for inspiration from others to start. You see, it is ok to have fears and self-doubts. But those who step out despite their fears are the ones who make the difference. You have a gift—no doubts about, but step out and get things done.

Impacting your World

Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life (Genesis 45:5)

Life is not about us only. There are destinies tied up to our lives (beyond blood relatives). Sometimes the routines of life can get you wondering. Is this all there is to life? But life gets interesting if looked at from the perspective of assignment. In this life, we are on an assignment: A God given assignment. An assignment to fulfil God’s will in on earth, an assignment to impact other lives.For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption (Acts 13:36)” Read Genesis 45: 5 above again and note: “for God did send me before (ahead) of you to preserve life“. In other words, whatever evil was done Joseph was part of God‘s agenda to save lives. The nations Israel and Egypt would have been destroyed by famine if Joseph had jumped into bed with Potiphar (taken a shortcut route to his destiny).

Life is that simple. Every life is a life on purpose and assignment. We are on a God sent errand. Life  is a string of interdependence. Like a food chain, we all contribute to the survival of each other. For the sake of all the lives intertwined with our destinies, let’s look beyond ourselves. Our pains, temptations and challenges (I still love the old word problems) are part of God‘s grand design to change other lives. All things indeed work together for good for those who love God. Look beyond yourself, it’s not all about you. Step out into the New Year and impact your world.

February 2, 2013

Try Our Signature Dish!

Restaurants have signature meals, a particular menu item that the place is well known for and with each menu revision, it’s always left intact. Preachers have signature sermon series as well, a particular book of the Bible for which they have great affinity and/or expertise, or if they are academics, a particular commentary that they have authored that stands apart from all their other writing.

For Andy Stanley the signature dish is the Book of Nehemiah — you can read more in his book Visioneering — and when he preaches it, one of the key verses is:

Neh 6:2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”

But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.   (NIV)

This is a verse about distractions that can take us away from spending time with God and doing God’s work.

Blogger Alyson Browning calls this one of three marks of leadership:

Third mark of leadership – ignore the annoying distractions (chapter 6). In this chapter, we see the enemies of God – Sanballet, Tobiah, and Geshem – attempting to discourage and distract Nehemiah from everything he was doing to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah ignores their plot to distract and harm him. He gives this now famous response, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (6:3, HCSB). Nehemiah kept his focus on the task God had for his life and ignored those who were trying to distract him.

Christopher Scott notes that we’re getting an inside look in this story:

One of the reasons I love the book of Nehemiah is that it allows the reader to peek inside the heart of Nehemiah because it was written as a memoir from Nehemiah. Most of the books of the Bible tell about events that happened, but rarely do they tell about the thoughts and feelings of the biblical characters. However, because the book of Nehemiah was written as a memoir, we get to take a peek past what has happended and actually read about what Nehemiah was thinking and feeling.

Michael “Sinbad” Creighton writes:

Nehemiah was doing something that could only be blamed on God. He led a group of people in the rebuilding of the wall around the city of Jerusalem and completed it in only 52 DAYS! And all through the process, he had distractors and distractions. Check it out here. And every time he stood firm in what God was leading and equipping him to do.

Notice the first line of the 2nd paragraph here from Steven Ruff:

Proponents and opponents: those for and against something. Every leader has both in the circle of influence. Nehemiah was no different. He had received word of the condition of Jerusalem’s walls and his heart was broken. He had prayed, sensing a God-given mission, and approached the king for assistance. He made the long trip to Jerusalem, surveyed the situation first-hand, and gave a reasonable and attainable goal to the people. When Sanballat and Tobiah approached Nehemiah, sounding like children on the playground, a choice had to be made. Does he move forward with his plans or does he come down off the wall and argue with them about the legitimacy of his work? Does he make wise use of his time and strength by carrying out the work or does he waste time, energy, and strength arguing whether it could or could not be accomplished? Nehemiah chose in that pivotal and critical moment to not argue. As the work continued and his opponent’s displeasure became louder, he later made his decision known, loud and clear. He said, “So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” [Nehemiah 6:3]

There is a difference between casting and defending a vision before those you lead and arguing with them about the legitimacy of that vision. There is a difference between answering legitimate questions from the organization and arguing with them about it. The difference : the opponent’s spirit. Nehemiah opponents were not genuinely concerned with his vision. They were not there to understand better the work at hand. They were not there to investigate how they might be involved. Instead, their spirit was one that simply wanted to see the work stopped and the Israelites embarrassed. Period. Leaders must decide where they will spend their precious time, strength, and energy. Will they spend it helping their opponents who genuinely want to better understand their vision and decision? Or, will they spend it arguing with an opponent who only wishes to see the work stop or fail? Nehemiah answers this question for us. Leaders lead confidently and choose not to argue, instead, inform and encourage. Ed Stetzer sums this matter up perfectly. He said, “You do not have to show up to every argument you are invited to.”

Like Andy Stanley, I’ve tried to take ownership of this passage, helped by the fact I’ve heard him refer to it several times. Just today I was watching something on a popular media channel and realized that it was serving solely as a distraction. It reminded me of this verse, which led to today’s thoughts. I hope you’ll find the spirit of this principle useful in the days ahead.

October 1, 2012

Living in a Christian World

KJV Ephesians 5:18 …be filled with the Spirit;  19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;

Phillips  Ephesians 5:18 l…let the Spirit stimulate your souls. Express your joy in singing among yourselves psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making music in your hearts for the ears of God!

NASB Phil. 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Message – Phil 4:8Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

The verses above usually receive a fairly specific application. The first, from Ephesians, has to do with allowing the Word of God (in a parallel Colossians passage) and the Spirit of God to overflow from your heart resulting in worship to God, in this case worship that is specifically musical; with the result that Christianity is essentially “a singing faith.”

The second verse from Philippians is usually used in reference to controlling our thought life; controlling what we allow to control us. Both verses have been referenced here at C201 in their primary contexts.

But today I want to think in terms of the everyday lives we live on Monday morning, after weekend services are over and we’re back to work, or school, or raising children. We spend at the very least an hour on Sunday in the “world of church” or “world of faith.” But many people walk out the door when the service ends and find themselves back in a culture situation that afford no opportunity for “psalms and hymns” and makes it hard to think about things which are “pure, lovely and of good repute.”

Their connection with Christian culture vanishes.

Those of us that blog, or work in vocational ministry at a local church or parachurch organization can be thought to represent one end of a continuum which has, at the other end, people who attend a church, but don’t allow the a Christian “seasoning” to permeate their lives throughout the week.

They possibly don’t read a daily devotional either; in print or online, so we’re not speaking to readers here necessarily.

Now having said that I can anticipate two objections.

The first is that we’re supposed to be “in the world” (though “not of it.”) This means that we’re not to spend our week living in the religious bubble or the Evangelical bubble. We’re expected to be out there getting our hands and feet dirty. Our time at worship before God is a type of retreat from the cares of the world, but then we return to the mission field where God has placed each of us.

The second objection would be that Christian culture, such as it exists, is somewhat flawed. ‘Christian’ is not an adjective that can be layered over music, books, radio, movies, web channels, restaurants, video games, etc. Reading Christian blogs — which I do a lot of — doesn’t make me more spiritual.

And yet, it bothers me that despite these valid objections, there are people who choose to almost abdicate from the world of faith for the other 167 hours of the week. They don’t have a preset for the local Christian radio station, they don’t take advantage of the resources available from online ministries, they don’t read any Christian books in the course of a year. Some don’t read their Bibles all week either; whatever reading is done in the worship service constitutes their only direct contact with the God’s Word throughout the week. (No pressure, pastors; right?)

Personally, I could survive a month on a deserted island with just my Bible, but in general, I need help. I am a better person in terms of my interactions with the world at large if I can approach those interactions with the flavor of faith. I need books to keep me thinking on things that are “true… honorable… right…” and I need music to keep me “singing and making melody to the Lord.”

I’m not trying to justify an industry, or several industries, or those industries’ excesses, but I’m saying that I do believe that at their genesis, there was a noble purpose of fanning the flames of faith; fanning the flames of what the Holy Spirit is already doing in our lives and wants to do.

And I’m concerned for people who are missing out on programs, resources, and opportunities that could greatly enhance their relationship with Jesus and their knowledge of God’s ways.

 

 

March 4, 2012

Slow to Learn

Elsie Montgomery is a Canadian, blogging daily since 2006 at Practical Faith. She also teaches people how to write Bible study materials and devotionals. This post is from yesterday where it appeared under the title, Slow Learner.

When I was six years old, my mother signed me up for piano lessons. My sister went on with them and still plays the piano. My brothers learned some piano, then guitar and banjo. I struggled for about a year. My mind would not let my left and right hand do two separate things. Finally, my teacher, my mother, and I all gave up at the same time. Even though I regret my lack of perseverance, the piano was not for me.

The past few weeks while reviewing old spiritual journals, I’ve been appalled at my slowness to learn obedience to God. Every old lesson has been repeated and repeated. Things that I have relearned this year were first learned decades ago. Why didn’t they stick? Why did it take so long to get God’s truth into my head and into my life? As I’ve pondered this question, God amazes me with today’s devotional reading. (Yet I’m sure He has told me this more than once also.)

It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea. (Deuteronomy 1:2)

One simple verse describes how far it was from where Moses and the people of Israel left Egypt and began their journey to the promised land. As the devotional reading says, it was only eleven days away, yet it took them forty years to get there!

Why did this journey take more than 1300 times as long as it should have? Because this is the way of humanity and the depth of human sin. Even when we give ourselves to God and to a life of faith, sin in us resists every step of the journey and instead of moving on, we fumble and stumble, even go backwards.

In the same way, just as it took them far longer than it needed to go that short distance to freedom, so has it taken me far longer than it needed to move from salvation to a set-apart and sanctified life. My sin also has resisted God every step of my journey. I’ve fallen and gone backwards so many times.

The reading says, “How slowly we get over the ground! What windings and turnings! How often we have to go back and travel over the same ground, again and again. We are slow travelers because we are slow learners.”

I think about the way my mind works. I live in the “now” and am easily distracted. That means I do not dwell on the stuff of the past, good or bad, or think much about the future. Worse yet, when I think about anything, my mind doesn’t stay there very long. For example, reaching for my calculator to figure out that 1300 number took me into a shelf that contained a document that grabbed my curiosity. Instead of the calculator, I picked up the document and looked at it for a few minutes. Easily distracted.

Very little meditation and being easily distracted means that lessons barely scratch the surface before I’m off to something else. As today’s reading says, “God is faithful and wise, as well as a gracious and patient teacher. He will not permit us to pass cursorily over our lessons.”

Just when I might think I have mastered a lesson because I “got” it, my wise Teacher knows better. He sees the need of deeper plowing. He does not want me to be a mere theorist with a smattering of this or that in my head. Instead, unlike the music teacher, He will not give up. He keeps me year after year playing scales because He wants me finally making music.


God, as I read the Old Testament account of Your people wandering in the wilderness, I see myself engaged in the same complaining and rebellion. I also see how You wanted to put an end to their resistance before You allowed them to get to the real work of receiving the promised land and conquering their enemies.

You are doing the same with me. On one hand, I’d like to forget the past and press on, but on the other, it would be prudent to at least remember the lessons. Layer by layer, You keep teaching me. Has anything finally permeated deeper than the surface, deeper than merely “knowing” what kind of person You want me to be and how I should live? Sometimes I don’t think so. I could sit here and rue all my mistakes, weeping and regretful. Or I could remember the lessons, even the repetition of each one, and simply be obedient, allowing You to finish all that You started and keep moving toward a fuller victory.

~Elsie Montgomery

July 16, 2011

When 99 Out of 100 Isn’t Good Enough

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Walt Mueller posted this on his blog, Learning my Lines…

What I Saw At Home Depot. . . And A Good Ending. . .


So last night I’m standing at the paint counter at our local Home Depot while the clerk’s got my two cans shaking violently in the machine under the counter. I’m guessing that most Home Depot stores are set up in the same way. The paint counter sits on the open aisle spanning the width of the store way up front, just across from all the check-out registers. If you want to see all the action at a Home Depot – and who wouldn’t!?!? – then the paint counter offers a pretty good 360 degree vantage point.

Quickly bored while waiting for shaking paint cans, I started watching people. A young woman carrying a potted plant started walking in my direction from the door to the outdoor garden center. She was moving fast and looking up each aisle. “Must have lost her husband,” I thought to myself. At about the time she passed me I noticed that traffic near the store’s front door had come to some kind of halt, with a half a dozen folks just standing there after coming into the store. Then, a few orange-aproned store employees starting moving toward the exits. Three of them merged right next to me. One had a walkie-talkie and was barking instructions about a “Code Adam.” I assumed someone was seen pocketing an item and trying to walk out of the store. Stupid me.

In a matter of seconds, I figured out what a “Code Adam” is. I looked towards the garden center doorway and saw a middle-aged woman walking briskly in with a little two-year old boy in her arms and a smile on her face. The woman had a big smile on her face. At this point, the young woman with the potted flower started walking from the other direction with a look of pained relief on her face. Before mother and way-ward son were reunited, I realized what “Code Adam” was all about. The young mother held the potted plant in one arm and her son tightly in the other as she went to the register. The tears in her eyes and her grasp on that little boy spoke loudly. It was a story that ended well.

On the way home, I wondered to myself about how “Code Adam” got its name. I figured it might have something to do with the 1981 disappearance of little Adam Walsh in Miami, Florida. A quick search of the Internet confirmed my hunch. I lived in Miami when Walsh disappeared. I had been away for the weekend on a retreat with my youth group kids when Walsh went missing. I remember driving back and passing through toll booths plastered with “missing child” flyers covered with the little boy’s picture. It was all over the news. That story did not end well.

Watching that mini-drama unfold from my paint counter vantage-point really got me thinking about kids lost to the culture, what it means to be spiritually lost, and our loving Shepherd/Father. I was thinking about the story of the Prodigal Son. I was thinking about Jesus leaving the 99 to go after the one lost sheep. I was thinking about the urgency He has and the way we need to share that same sense of urgency. Everyone at Home Depot was focused on one thing for those few very long minutes last night.

Is there a lesson in there for me?

~ Walt Mueller

June 21, 2011

Thought Monitoring

Recovering alcoholics use the phrase “one day a time” as a reminder that progress, to be successful, has to take place on a daily level; and resultant sobriety is measured in weeks, months and finally annual celebrations.

When it comes to controlling our thought life however, our progress can rise or fall in minutes, or even within the seconds of a single minute.  However, as long as we understand that, we won’t be defeated when unwanted thoughts creep into our heads.  We can say, “Okay, my mind may have been going down the wrong path that past few seconds, but I can now get back track for the next few seconds.”

Falling asleep and waking up are probably the toughest times for me.  As in any professional sports match, I can be more effective when I run a good defense.  For myself, I find in those minutes I can slam dunk some of those thoughts simply by reciting the phrases of the Lord’s Prayer. 

Of course, in the morning, simply getting up and starting the day a few minutes earlier also solves the problem.  I remember Larry Tomczak saying years ago that “most Christians are defeated between the bed and the breakfast table.” 

So if the AA program can claim the phrase, “one day a time;” I propose that we appropriate the phrase, “minute by minute.” 

II Cor 10:5 in the KJV contains the phrase, “Bringing every thought into captivity.”  Here’s how the NLT renders that passage:

 3 We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. 4 We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. 5 We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. 6 And after you have become fully obedient, we will punish everyone who remains disobedient.

In verse 5 Paul personifies our thoughts and writes that we teach our thoughts to obey Christ. In The Message read how Eugene Peterson looks at this:

3-6The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.

Note the phrase, “fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.”  Yes, there are going to be “loose thoughts,” but we redirect them. 

Last year I wrote on this subject for three consecutive days, and if you want to continue reading here are the links on this vital topic:

We can also help each other by praying for specific people God brings to mind and asking for His help for them to keep their thought life focused on things that are pure, lovely, praiseworthy, containing good news and virtuous.  You pray for me, and I will pray for you.

~Paul Wilkinson

March 20, 2011

Study

I always hated to study.  My study habits in high school weren’t great, despite some great academic coaching, and how I got through university is anyone’s guess.

So I have a natural aversion to the term “Bible study,” as it suggests someone staying up late in the dorm under a study lamp, cramming in order to pass some test; when instead, we should she shared times in God’s word as more of a feast, or a banquet.   I don’t want to communicate the idea that something that is designed to be joy-filled is actually ardous labor.

So the verse I learned as a kid,

Study to show thyself approved onto God…

Is fortunately translated differently in newer translations:

(NIV) II Tim 2: 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

(The Message) II Tim 2:15Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple.

(NASB) II Tim 2:15Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

(NLT) II Tim 2:15 Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.

Do your best… concentrate… be diligent… work hard.  No late nights with the study lamp burning! It’s not about cramming to pass a test, it’s about living a life!

Now having said all that, this does not diminish the responsibility of the Christ follower to, for lack of a better word, study the Bible.

I recently dialogued with a young woman who, after a year of Bible college was unfamiliar with a Bible concordance.  This is a basic reference tool that, while not necessary for admission to heaven, is one that should form part of your personal library at some point.  Of course, it’s functionality is also available online through sites such as Bible Gateway.

This morning a visiting pastor shared with me this quotation, “Evangelicals are people who know more than they do;” which he attributed to Canadian church leader Brian Stiller.  We don’t want to just fill up with head-knowledge, we need to find ways to put feet to our faith.  But the quotation also implies that historically, we have been people who knew their Bibles.   The term “Methodist” actually refers to a group of people who had a methodical way of studying the scriptures.   The Bereans are held up in Acts as an example of a group who studied the sacred texts with great diligence.

Wanna dig a little deeper?

One way to start is to carefully examine related books:

  • Compare the ‘fatherly’ advice in Proverbs with the New Testament proverbs in the book of James…
  • Study the book of Acts in such a way that you break out into Paul’s epistles to the different churches mentioned in the last two-thirds of Acts…
  • Compare the end-time prophecies of Daniel and Revelation with the things Jesus said about the end times in Matthew…
  • Study the passages in the gospels which are present with all four writers, and then take a contrasting look at the ones that are unique to particular books, especially the gospel of John…
  • Using a concordance, and several different translations, do a word study on a particular theme or idea in scripture…
  • Read books that deal with the “hard sayings” or “difficult passages” of scripture and try to figure out, based on all your other readings, where you stand on these sometimes-labeled “issues”…
  • Here’s a fun one:  You have a blog consisting entirely of scripture passages copied and pasted from an online site.  (Not very challenging so far, right?)  Now, your job each day before you post something is to come up with the post tags, those little one-word things that would bring readers to your page.  How you would tag the various sections is indicative of what you’re seeing in each individual section…
  • The above is very close to something called inductive Bible study.  For this you you make a hard copy (photocopy) of a Bible passage and using a technique practiced by Kay Arthur and others you underline, circle and highlight key words and phrases.  It slows you down and forces you to really consider what the passage is saying…
  • Buy a commentary on a particular book of the Bible and get into depth with the Bible scholar(s) who wrote it.  If you don’t know Greek or Hebrew, get help picking out one that doesn’t go deep into what’s called ‘textual criticism’ and just get one that’s devotional or more user-friendly.  I can’t really list series here because some involve different writers who dig deeper in varying degrees.  So have someone qualified — ideally in a Christian bookstore, not online — help you make that choice.
  • Do a study on the theology of the hymns.  Many contain multiple allusions to scripture, and some hymnbooks have a key verse on the page to help you get started.  Some of the modern choruses also contain a similar depth.

Hope these ideas propel you to greater love for God’s word.