Christianity 201

June 5, 2020

When Following Christ, Intellectual Depth is not Spiritual Depth

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 often crave spiritual depth. They should have recent to expect to receive just that.

  • A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard.
  • A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment.
  • An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.”
  • An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths.
  • A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. And often, I must confess, I default to writers and articles which stimulate the spiritual intellect.

But talk to someone who has walked for decades with God, and you’ll see something else at work. Yes, there is a love for his word, the scriptures. But there is also, simply put, a love for Him.

Again, Spiritual depth isn’t depth of understanding, or depth of communicating truths, rather, it’s about depth of relationship with God; or depth of intimacy with Jesus. You see a person and say, “That person really knows God.” Or conversely, “That person is truly known of God.” Or better, “That person really loves God.”

And what happens in the mind, manifests itself in the life, and can be observed in one’s character. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. Or a situation where you’ve never sought forgiveness, or forgiven the other. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. Then this becomes a natural lifestyle. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen people spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post about them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never properly tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of their personal shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

Conclusion:

We need to live our Christian lives not out of deep reasoning, or deep understanding of the things of God; rather, we need to live out of a deep conviction that comes from walking closely with God.

May 1, 2020

When Comparison is Healthy

It’s been six months already, so we’re back featuring Mark DuPré who is an associate pastor, a film professor, a writer and a musician. If you check out his devotional page you’ll see a number of 2-part and 3-part articles for those of you who want to go deeper on a particular subject. Another way to get there is to click the link in the title which follows.

Comparison Can be Good

I Corinthians 11:1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.
I Corinthians 4:16 Therefore I urge you, imitate me.

As long as there are people around, there will be comparison. Unfair comparisons can hurt, of course, and we need to be on guard about the damage they can do. But avoiding comparison is a futile task.

It’s a little like stress. Years ago there was a shift in training on the subject. In the beginning, there were sessions on “stress reduction.” Then reality hit and the sessions began to focus on “stress management,” which made a lot more sense to everyone.

Comparison is like that. We’re not going to get rid of it, but we can embrace it in God. How? By different thinking and by a new way of embracing it.

Comparison can be a learning moment for all of us. For example, we can begin to realize how much we can learn by properly observing others. For example, by comparing ourselves to others, we can learn how to be more loving, how to bring grace to difficult situations, and how to have godlier perspectives on any number of topics. If we think of ourselves as lifelong learners, and of everyone else as the source of life lessons, we can learn every day.

Of course the big thing to work out (notice I didn’t say “avoid,” because that’s impossible) is resisting the comparison that’s accompanied by the enemy’s attacks. Noticing that someone is perhaps more gracious than you, for instance, can offer us the negative choice of turning in on ourselves and listening to voices that generalize and condemn: “See—you’re a failure in this area.” Whether it sounds like the devil or like us, that talk is straight from our enemy. Let’s learn to resist those voices! The fault here isn’t comparison per se, it’s listening to the negative voices that can accompany it.

Let’s learn from Paul, and release the sanctifying power of comparison by redirecting our focus. Instead of deepening the rut of comparison that leads to listening to the enemy, let’s cut a new mental pathway and embrace the many learning opportunities out there provided by God through the people around us. It’s like nature—sometimes we just have to stop and take a good long look around us at the physical beauty of this world. There are many examples God is providing us to grow from.

When it comes to people, let’s free them and us by taking on the role of the continual learner, and grab all the lessons of love, grace and wisdom we can learn. Yes, a few folks may provide lessons of what not to do (“Wow—note to self: Don’t ever do that!”). But if we have the right perspective, and imitate others as they imitate Christ, we can grow every day.

Prayer: Lord, the enemy has robbed me of so many learning moments because of his accusations. Help me to submit to you first, and then resist the devil. Give me eyes to see and a heart to learn all the many lessons in the Spirit that you have out there for me.


When circumstances suddenly change

Here’s a timely example of the two-part articles Mark writes which I mentioned in today’s introduction. Both look at Joshua chapter one.

April 29, 2020

Finding Jesus in the Hurry and the Hustle

Once again today we’re back at Don’t Ask The Fish written by Lancaster Bible College and Capital Seminary president Dr. Tommy Kiedis who also writes at Leader’s Life and Work. As always, you’re encouraged to click the headers like the one which follows, and read these at their original host sites.

Hope When the Path is Uphill

“You shall seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

— Jeremiah 29:13

I’m beginning to wonder if Jeremiah 29:13 went down with Amelia Earhart. I don’t see it much. I don’t hear it taught, preached, or memorized. On the other hand, Jeremiah 29:11 is as popular as Santa Claus:

““For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

— Jeremiah 29:11

Why does Jeremiah 29:11 find its way onto T-shirts, bedroom walls, and coffee mugs? Probably because it speaks to the gracious nature of God. But could it be — just possibly — because it subtly reinforces our desire for life on easy street?

  • Prosperity? Yeah, I’m down with that.

  • No harm coming my way? Love that idea.

  • Hopeful future (my future)? Sure, bring it on!

Jeremiah 29:7 is also trending nicely.

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

— Jeremiah 29:7 ESV

There is an army of church planters and pastors who have taken up the rally cry of Jeremiah 29:7. That’s a good thing. One Westboro Baptist Church is enough. God, give us more emissaries of peace.

But Jeremiah 29:13 is a different story. It is the awkward friend, the out-of-date tie, the book collecting dust on the shelf:

“You shall seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

Seeking and searching implies effort. Finding Jesus in the hurry and hustle is hard. Contending for the faith in the face of a tough week, a marital spat, or a world pandemic . . . . Come on! Who wants to put up with that?

We may not want to, but we must.

Read the Scriptures. Study history. The way of Jesus is often uphill, over difficult terrain, and carried out under a cloudy sky. I suspect that is how Jeremiah felt. The man who delivered the promise of “prosperity, hope, and future” walked the road of potholes, hassles, and failure:

  • Jeremiah’s parishioners beat him and imprisoned him (Jeremiah 37:15).

  • The political officials called for his hide (Jeremiah 38:4).

  • Enemies cast him into a muddy cistern (Jeremiah 38:6).

  • He walked to Babylon bound in chains with the other exiles (Jeremiah 40:1)

  • His ministry was a fountain of tears (Jeremiah 9:1)

So what gives? How come the one who preached “Don’t worry be happy” sang, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen”? For starters, God’s Jeremiah 29:11 promise was, above all else, his prophetic word to his disobedient people wallowing in the land of Babylon.

God would not leave them there. Jeremiah 29:11 was God’s billboard: Better days ahead!

But “better days” does not mean “every day” nor necessarily “this day.” In fact, Jeremiah’s audience would wait 70 years for that promise to become reality.

That kind of delay is okay for people of faith. Walking with God is never about the circumstances. It is always about keeping fixed on the one who sees us through the circumstances, and who rains the sweet fragrance of peace over parched souls.

So we seek him . . . by praying, reading his word, remembering his promises, running to his family, and resting in his presence. He is there no matter our peace or lack of it.

The Apostle John was Jeremiah’s first-century colleague in the faith. John reminds us: Jesus is the vine. We are the branches. It is in remaining in Him (seeking him) that we “find him,” produce fruit, and accomplish more than we ever dreamed.

So what are we to do with Jeremiah 29:11? Well, for starters don’t throw away your coffee mug or paint over the verse. Just add verse 13 to it.

“You shall seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

April 15, 2020

‘Nominal Christian’ is an Oxymoron

“The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.”
― Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus


“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46 NASB)

The mechanism by which the hammers strikes the strings in an acoustic piano was, in its day, a revolutionary invention. To that point, no matter how softly or heavily one engaged the keys, the sound would always be heard at the same volume level. When this new keyboard action was created, the resulting instrument was called a pianoforte which literally (in Italian) means “quiet-loud.” An oxymoron.

This morning at Thinking Out Loud, we looked at the idea of a “nominal-Christian.” After I write an article, I usually come up with a sentence or two to promote the piece on Twitter, and sometimes those ‘teasers’ have an extra level of clarity. I said,

“I’m a Christian, but I’m non-observant.”
Theologically speaking, that makes no sense at all.
And yet… there are people for whom this fits.

Truly, Jesus doesn’t give us the option of half-hearted service.

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! (Rev. 3:15-16NLT)

A pianoforte can be quiet or loud and even both at the same time, but the Christian has no such luxury of spiritual ambiguity. To push the analogy to its limits, we need to be loud all the time!

Mark Batterson posted this summary of his 2013 book All In on his website:

The Gospel costs nothing. You can’t earn it or buy it. It can only be received as a free gift compliments of God’s grace. It doesn’t cost anything, but it demands everything. It demands that we go “all in,” a term that simply means placing all that you have into God’s hands. Pushing it all in. And that’s where we get stuck―spiritual no man’s land. We’re afraid that if we go all in that we might miss out on what this life has to offer. It’s not true. The only thing you’ll miss out on is everything God has to offer…

…The message of All In is simple: if Jesus is not Lord of all then Jesus is not Lord at all.  It’s all or nothing. It’s now or never. Kneeling at the foot of cross of Christ and surrendering to His Lordship is a radical act of dethroning yourself and enthroning Christ as King.  It’s also an act of disowning yourself.  Nothing belongs to you. Not even you…

In the book he also writes,

We all want to spend eternity with God. We just don’t want to spend time with Him. We stand and stare from a distance, satisfied with superficiality. We Facebook more than we seek His face. We text more than we study The Text. And our eyes aren’t fixed on Jesus. They’re fixed on our iPhones and iPads – emphasis on “i.” Then we wonder why God feels so distant. It’s because we’re hugging the rim. We wonder why we’re bored with our faith. It’s because we’re holding out.

We want joy without sacrifice.
We want character without suffering.
We want success without failure.
We want gain without pain.
We want a testimony without the test.
We want it all without going all out for it.

and

There is a fine line between ‘Thy kingdom come’ and ‘my kingdom come.’ If you cross the line, your relationship with God is self-serving.

You aren’t serving God. You are using God.

You aren’t building altars to God. You are building monuments to yourself.

In a 2011 book, Not a Fan, Kyle Idleman emphasized that Jesus is looking followers not fans. Many who heard him teach were fans, but when the going got tough, the tough got going. Scripture tells us that many walked away. The ominously verse-referenced John 6:66 says, From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (NIV)

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. (James 1:22 NLT)

Yet many of those people could have been said to have a fairly good knowledge of what Jesus was teaching. (In fact that was the issue, some of them knew exactly what he was teaching, and exactly what this was going to cost them.)  Kyle writes,

Fans have a tendency to confuse their knowledge for intimacy. They don’t recognize the difference between knowing about Jesus and following Jesus. In Church we’ve got this confused. We have established systems of learning that result in knowledge, but not necessarily intimacy…

…Now don’t get me wrong, studying and learning from God’s word is invaluable. Jesus referenced, read and quoted all kinds of passages from the Old Testament, ample proof that he had studied God’s Word with great care and diligence. The problem isn’t knowledge. The problem is that you can have knowledge without having intimacy. In fact, knowledge can be a false indicator of intimacy. clearly where there is intimacy there should be growing knowledge, but too often there is knowledge without a growing intimacy. …Knowledge is part of intimacy, but just because there is knowledge doesn’t mean there is intimacy.

And of course intimacy is developed over time and time involves an investment. Kyle also notes,

For many Christians the concept of denying themselves was not part of the deal. They grew up with the message that such a radical decision really isn’t necessary. So they signed up to follow Jesus, but if denying themselves was part of the explanation, it was definitely the fine print. That’s especially true of American Christians. In part, this due to the collision of Christianity with American capitalism. It has created a culture of consumers in our churches. Instead of approaching their faith with a spirit of denial that says, “What can do for Jesus?” they have a consumer mentality that says, “What can Jesus do for me?”

…One of the reasons it’s so hard for us to deny ourselves is because the whole idea seems to go against our greatest desire in life. Most everyone would say that what they want more than anything else is to be happy. We’re convinced that the path to happiness means saying yes to ourselves. Indulgence is the path to happiness, so to deny ourselves seems to go in the opposite direction of what will make us happy. The right to pursue happiness seems to be in direct conflict with the call to deny.

…That’s what the story of the Rich Young Ruler is really all about. It’s not just about giving up money and the things that money can buy; it’s about giving up, period. That’s what it means to deny yourself and follow Christ.

 

 

 

 

March 20, 2020

Don’t Lose Your Spiritual Appetite

As we were sharing dinner with another couple last week, and the prospect of church service cancellations was looming large, my friend Randy said, “I had a membership at the gym. I went every week. But then I missed a week. And after I missed a week, I never went again.”

And then he stopped talking to let the impact and application of that to our conversation topic percolate in our minds.

Our tag line at Christianity 201 is “Digging a little deeper.” With its title and tag line, I would expect the people here want to get into the things of God on a regular, if not constant basis. And I would hope that once the churches re-open, God’s people would have a deep desire to plunge back into hearing the Word taught in a corporate setting (along with worship, prayer, fellowship, etc.).


Patrick Oben writes,

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. (Matt. 5:6 KJV)

Spiritual hunger and thirst are drivers of spiritual fullness. Only those who are hungry and thirsty get filled. This principle is very important to grow spiritually.

But what is spiritual hunger? It is easy to understand when you consider what natural hunger is. Hunger is the feeling you get in your body when it is in need of food. There are two parts. The first is the sense of need. The body first senses the need. The second part is the desire. Once that need is sensed, it starts craving and desiring food.

Spiritual hunger operates in the same way. First, our spirit recognizes and senses our need for God. The second aspect is that your spirit desires and craves for more of God. God has reserved the fullness for those who are hungry. You will hardly ever receive a level of God’s presence that you are not hungry for. The Father is the Treasure of heaven, and His presence and power are for those who desire and long after Him.

Spiritual hunger is a good thing for the believer. It should be distinguished from the hunger and thirst of a lost soul to find the living God. In Christ, you have already eaten the Bread from heaven and drank of the water of life. But after that experience, the Lord commands us to continue to desire more and more of Him. It is our desire for more of Him that increases our capacity to receive more…


At the website Knowing Jesus, some other scripture texts which apply:

John 6:33-35

“For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.

Psalm 63:1

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.

John 4:13-14

Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”


At the website God’s Leader, a reminder to make the Kingdom of God our priority:

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. Col 3:1,2 NKJV

Natural hunger, persecution, and difficult times have always created spiritual hunger. The Father loves his people too much to let us keep flirting with our out of control fleshly desires and consumerism. He is even now ready to act, but for His precious love for us, has chosen to let things happen slowly and give us time to turn from our wicked ways.

There was no email, no Skype, no texting, and no smartphones when times got really bad in Egypt and the rest of the known world, but somehow news came to Jacob that there was grain in Egypt. Desire motivates us to action. Or in other words, the heart moves the feet. When the stomach cries louder than the mind, we will again begin to put Jesus first.

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, “That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the Lord. Amos 8:11 NKJV

The prophet describes a famine where there is no hunger for the word of God and the things of God! It sounds like he is watching and reporting on Christianity as it is today in America…


Because we live in an internet world, not to mention the wealth of printed materials and Christian broadcast media, we have opportunity to keep our hunger and thirst for the truths of God fed and quenched.

Don’t let your appetite fade during this time of absence from a church building; instead use the present crisis to go deeper into the things of God.

March 12, 2020

Lord’s Prayer? Disciple’s Prayer? Is There a Better Title?

by Clarke Dixon

It is often said that “the Lord’s Prayer,” really ought to be called “the Disciple’s Prayer.” Is that the best title? In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gave us a template for, and teaching about, our prayers as his disciples. Yet I don’t think “The Disciple’s Prayer” is the best title either. Read on to find out why.

We have considered Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and recognized that Jesus was not really giving new rules to add to the old ones, but rather was teaching us about becoming a certain kind of people. Here too, with prayer, it is not so much about techniques, or practices, or even words, but about the kind of people we are as we pray.

We have already looked at not being a people who pray to put on a show in Matthew 6:5,6. Let’s move on to verses 7 and 8:

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:7-8 (NRSV)

“Do not be like them.” The people who were practicing pagan religions are not the kind of people we are to be when we pray. They could be very superstitious about prayer, thinking the gods need to be manipulated through certain words and prayers. We are not to be superstitious people when we pray.

As Christians we can fall into superstition. For example, while some people may find it a meaningful and symbolic experience, the idea of burying a statue of St. Joseph upside-down in one’s front yard, then praying to St. Joseph in order to sell a home, is basically superstitious. Look again at what Jesus said in verse 8; “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (italics added). We don’t need superstition in our prayers when we have a relationship with God. We are not to be a superstitious people, but a people who know and trust that God is a caring, and helpful heavenly Father who knows us well. Prayer is not about manipulating the divine, which is what superstition is about. Rather, prayer is about relationship.

To give an example; imagine if I was not already a motorcyclist, but now wanted a motorcycle. However, I am married, so I am aware that my wife may not be pleased. I know what to do, I will put a St. Christopher, the patron saint of travel, on a toy motorcycle in the garage, and boom, my wife will come up with the idea! Will that work? Obviously not. Wouldn’t it just be better to talk with my wife? Superstition does not work. Conversation does. This is also true with God. Superstition in prayer does not work. Honest conversation does. God is not a smartphone, that we use, that we manipulate, that we poke in certain ways to get certain results. God is personal, he is a Person we relate to, he is our heavenly Father. Likewise, we are not smartphone apps, that we hope God will find useful and not delete. We are His children, in a relationship with a good Father. We pray as people who are in a love fuelled relationship with a devoted and committed heavenly Father.

In teaching us the Lord’s Prayer Jesus goes on to teach us more about the kind of people we are to become as his disciples. As we pray;

  • “Our Father” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, a father-child relationship with God.
  • “Our Father” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, a family relationship with others.
  • in heaven” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of the transcendence of God, and who desire of the presence of God.
  • Hallowed be Your Name” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, the glory of God.
  • Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of, and who desire, God’s Kingdom in the world. Therefore we are to be the kind of people who value servanthood over power, justice over injustice, and good over evil, to give some examples.
  • Give us this day our daily bread” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of God’s provision, and who desire to grow in contentment and trust.
  • And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” – we are to be the kind of people who desire and are aware of the need for reconciliation and forgiveness, both to receive and give.  We recognize where reconciliation is needed, between ourselves and God, and between ourselves and others.
  • And do not bring us to the time of trial” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of God’s help, who desire God’s presence, in the time of trouble.
  • but rescue us from the evil one” – we are to be the kind of people who are aware of evil in the world, and who desire something far greater.

In a recent email I received from “The FOR Company,” pastor Jeff Henderson highlighted how pivotal a moment in history it was when Jesus taught us to pray. God’s people would never pronounce the actual name of God when they came across it in the Hebrew Bible. Indeed we continue that tradition when our English translations use “LORD,” all in capitals, instead of using God’s name, “Yahweh.” Jeff points out that when Jesus taught us to pray, we went from not even daring to use the name of God, to calling him “Dad.”

What kind of people are we to be when we pray? We pray neither as people who are performers, nor superstitious, but as people who know God as a Father who is for us and not against us. We pray with an awareness of being, and a desire to be, God’s child.

So what is the best title, “The Lord’s Prayer” or “The Disciple’s Prayer.” I think it should be “The Much Loved Child-of-God’s Prayer.”


Clarke Dixon is a motorcycle enthusiast, a musician, and a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Today’s article continues a series on The Sermon on the Mount. He appears here most Thursdays.

March 10, 2020

Those Early Church Descriptions in Acts 2 and Acts 4

Acts 2.42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

You’re read them.

I’ve read them.

Those classic descriptions of the early church that we find first in a section at the end of Acts 2, and then repeated more concisely at the end of Acts 4.

The early Christians would have trouble relating to so much of what preoccupies us, particularly in North America: Multimedia, megachurches, massive programs for children and youth. They simply met from house to house.

It was what Catholics might term, “the parish system,” but not because you were expected to go to the church closest to you (or the church in your parish) but because you couldn’t realistically go anywhere else in a world without mass transit.

Your churches were in homes because you were a small upstart group of rebels who followed something called “The Way” and believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the long awaited Anointed One, the long awaited Messiah.

At our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud, I recently wrote about how a thing so simple as the automobile sets us apart from the modus operandi of the church we visited in Cuba.

But here at C201, there’s something else in that description I discovered on the weekend in the shorter passage in Acts 4.

Acts.4.32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34a that there were no needy persons among them.

The verse numbering system is unfortunate here because it breaks up a phrase, in verses 33b and 34a, but on the other hand, that’s what drew me to the phrase,

And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.

Listen to how some of the other translations render this…

Phillips: a wonderful spirit of generosity pervaded the whole fellowship
The Living Bible: there was warm fellowship among all the believers
NASB: abundant grace was upon them all
The Passion Translation: great measures of grace rested upon them all
God’s Word Translation: God’s abundant good will was with all of them
NLT: God’s great blessing was upon them all.

Despite the variety shown here, the word grace is most often repeated among the English translations.

The overall picture is painted of a people who are recipients of grace, but are also issuers of grace. Grace flows through them.

Years ago I attended a fellowship in Toronto called “Reach Out.” The motto: “Everyone Gives, Everyone Receives.” Reach Out was based in I Cor. 14:26 which says, “When you gather together everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” (My paraphrase.) So people would jump up — sometimes suddenly — and say, “I have a Psalm;” and then read it; and other would jump up and say, “I have a teaching;” and would give a 60-second teaching; etc. They always said at the outset what it was they were going to say.

But their motto extended into being involved with their community as givers of grace. A place where you received grace and then extended it to the people in your own world; your personal sphere of influence.

At Thinking Out Loud last October, I also shared about the idea of being part of a chain of grace and offered three different models of what this phrase might describe.

Is the place where you worship a place people go to be the beneficiaries of grace and to be equipped to be distributors of grace? I hope so.

 


Postscript: Acts 4 also has another two of my favorite verses:

13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

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

 

February 27, 2020

Be Perfect As God is Perfect: So, Are You a Perfectionist?

by Clarke Dixon

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48 (NRSV)

Be perfect, as God is perfect. So, are you a perfectionist, doing everything perfectly all the time? Do you keep the rules perfectly? Is that what Jesus means?

Perfectionism can affect the culture within a workplace, a family, a church family, an organization, or even within one’s own soul. Perfectionism can lead to a culture of excellence, with high standards coming from high expectations. However, perfectionism can also lead to a culture of judgement, a culture of fear, a culture of exclusion. We can be hard on others. We might be hardest on ourselves.

Is that what Jesus is calling us to? To be perfectionists? Let us look again at the words of Jesus in the context in which they are spoken.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 (NRSV)

In the immediate context, Jesus is telling us to be perfect in love. Nowhere in the Old Testament does it actually say “love your neighbour and hate your enemy,” (verse 43) but some Jewish groups were indeed saying that. In contrast, Jesus tells us to love our enemies (verse 44), and in so doing we will demonstrate a family resemblance to God (verse 45). After all, God provides graciously for all people without distinction (verse 45). The original hearers could reflect on the fact that Roman, or “enemy,” farmers would receive the same amount of sun and rain as the Jewish farmer. Since God loves the enemy, we all should. In the immediate context, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” is not so much “follow all the rules perfectly, keeping a perfect spirituality, while being a perfect person,” as “love like God does.” To quote the Common English Bible translation:

Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.” Matthew 5:48 (CEB)

In the larger context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is leading us to become the kind of people who reflect the goodness of God, in love, and in everything else. We looked last week at how the scribes and the Pharisees were meticulous in studying and keeping the rules, yet were not the kind of people God was calling them to be. Jesus said that we must have a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees (5:20). In pointing to a better kind of righteousness, Jesus was pointing out that those who were merely focused on the rules were no different from anyone else, no matter how perfectly they kept them:

46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:47-48 (NRSV)

As we pointed out last week, it is not about the rules, it is about you and me, the kind of people we are becoming in Christ, the kind of people who show a family resemblance with God in love, and in everything else.

In the even larger context of the whole Bible, Jesus is leading us toward a goal that God has brought within reach. God has a goal for us. What is that goal?

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. Romans 8:29 (NRSV emphasis added)

21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him. Colossians 1:21-22 (NRSV emphasis added)

Being just like Jesus, made holy, blameless, and irreproachable before God; these are lofty goals which we could never attain on our own. God makes it possible.

In speaking of the goal of perfection, there are two big theological words that are worth learning: justification & sanctification. To explain them, let me use an illustration. Suppose your driving instructor is the devil himself. You learn terrible driving habits, and indeed you rack up so many speeding and dangerous driving tickets, you cannot afford to pay them. You are to have your day in court, the evidence is overwhelming, you expect to be in jail for the rest of your life. Judgement day comes. The judge sets the fine, and indeed you cannot pay it. You are headed to jail for sure. The judge gets off his judgement seat, comes down to your level, gets out his chequebook and pays the fine on your behalf. That is justification. You are free to drive. There may be an accuser in the gallery shouting about how guilty you are, how strong the evidence is, and why you deserve to be in jail. However, while you could never justify why you belong on the roads, the judge who just paid your fine can. So what is sanctification? You get back into your car to drive off, and there sitting beside you in the passenger seat is your new driving instructor, the Holy Spirit. You begin driving, you become a better driver. You are not instantly a good driver, but you are improving with every mile. That is sanctification.

Bible scholar Michael Wilkins talks of a “restful dissatisfaction.” We rest in the fact of God’s love and what God has done for us in the death and resurrection of Christ to enable us to reach the goal of perfection. Yet, we are dissatisfied if we do not experience movement towards that goal in the here and now. We are not concerned with how our lingering imperfections might disqualify us from belonging to God as His children. We are concerned with how our lingering imperfections can have a negative impact on our children, or anyone in relationships with us.

Are you perfect? If that is a question on an entrance exam for eternal life, then the answer can be yes; God offers to make you perfect in Jesus Christ. If that is a question we ask the people in our lives based on their experience of us, then no, we can likely make some improvements.

Are you a perfectionist? If you are the kind of person who loves like God loves, then you will not be. You will walk with imperfect people along a journey, putting up with their imperfections along the way. You may even learn to put up with your own imperfections. If you are a perfectionist, you may be hard on other people. You may be hardest on yourself. Perfectionism is not a part of love. God walks alongside us, not as a perfectionist judging our imperfections, ready to ditch us when we stumble, but as a Heavenly Father Who helps us walk better on our way to a wonderful goal.


Clarke Dixon is a minister with the Canadian Baptists denomination. For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

February 26, 2020

You Can’t Have a Song Written Without a Life Lived

Yesterday at this time, I was reading the “musings” of songwriter and recording artist Lynn DeShazo who wrote the worship song, “More Precious Than Silver.” What follows are partial excerpts from four different articles she wrote last year about the 40th anniversary of that song, which you can locate at the link in the title below.

Note: Because the full original articles are also interwoven with insights into Lynn’s life which are key to the story, you are strongly encouraged to click the link and read all four parts of this reflection at source.

More Precious Than Silver

…Forty years! Sounds biblical, doesn’t it? Periods of forty years and forty days are found throughout the Scriptures. So when I realized that a significant milestone was approaching in my life, the fortieth anniversary of the creation of “More Precious Than Silver,” it got me thinking.

The Bible is full of instances where our fathers in the faith built altars of stone to mark life-changing encounters with God. In years to come, they would revisit these altars and recall to mind the faithfulness of the Almighty in their lives. They used these memorials to pass on their legacy of faith to their children. An anniversary is a bit like a memorial stone. It marks something significant and perhaps unique to you. It says, “Hey! This event happened here in this place, at that time, and it made a lasting impact on my life.” Here then is my memorial stone, my “Ebenezer raised,” as I reflect on what writing “More Precious Than Silver” has meant to me.

Every creative effort has a beginning. You sit down with your instrument and a pad of paper, or a laptop computer. You hum a melody, strum a chord, or pick out a tune on the piano. Sometimes a song takes shape effortlessly, but usually there’s a struggle involved in the creative process. Every baby born comes into the world with a degree of pain and struggle, some more than others. I think it’s the same with a song. I also think that long before there’s such a creative expression as a song written, there’s a life lived…

…God spoke very clearly to me one night following a powerful message preached at our campus church. He asked me to give up my guitar and, by implication, everything that went along with it – writing and performing my own songs. This was a difficult thing for me to hear and very painful to actually do, but thank God, I found the grace to obey Him. At the close of the meeting, I tearfully handed my guitar over to my pastor for safekeeping (something I freely chose to do), and I did not touch it again for months. As I cooperated with God’s work in me, my spiritual foundation repair began. I learned to trust in Jesus alone for my right standing with God. My striving to please began to give way to restful trust in His love for me. God had big plans for me, but the right foundation had to be in place for Him to build them upon.

Once a field is plowed sufficiently, the farmer stops plowing and starts sowing seed. In like manner, the difficult seasons of God’s dealings with us only go on until He accomplishes His intention. My season of not playing guitar and writing songs did not go on forever. It only lasted until God was satisfied that my spiritual foundation was solidly upon Christ alone. Now He was ready to build upon that foundation, and I began to walk into His purpose for my life…

…When God spoke to me about laying down my guitar, I had a decision to make. My music was very important to me – almost all the self-esteem I could muster up came from being able to play my music “for the Lord.” How could God possibly take that away from me? I chose to trust Him, but it was still difficult.

Putting selfish flesh to death is a hard business and, let’s face it, dying flesh stinks. In ancient times, fragrant spices were used to prepare bodies for burial in order to mask the stench of death as a body decomposed. When Jesus’s body was taken down from the cross, myrrh was one of the spices used to prepare His body for burial (see John 19:39-40). Myrrh is also one of the spices used in the anointing oil of the tabernacle worship. One of the blessings of the Holy Spirit coming into our lives is that He works to mask the stench of our dying flesh as we learn take up our cross and follow Jesus. We begin to produce the fragrance of the Christ within us, even in the midst of our “dying.” (See II Corinthians 2:14-16)

Jesus, speaking of His own imminent death, said, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Before a single grain of wheat can produce a stalk bearing multiple grains, it must first go into the ground where it dies. Its hard exterior is softened through a process hidden from view until the germ of life within is finally able to sprout up through the soil. The tender green shoot is the first sign of the harvest to come…

…Music has a natural power to lift your mood, but it’s the anointing* that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27). So how is it that some ministers have such an evident and consistent anointing flowing to people through what they do, whether it’s preaching, leading worship, counseling, or you name it? I believe it is because of a significant spiritual sacrifice made by that person before the Lord, and a firm commitment to obey Him in every season and circumstance of life.

God called Abraham to Mt. Moriah and required him to sacrifice that which was most precious to him, his son Isaac (See Genesis 22). Thankfully, it was only a test of Abraham’s faith. Isaac’s too, for that matter. But you must understand that Abraham’s test was a foreshadowing of what our Father in heaven would do in giving His only Son as a sacrifice for sin. Now, anywhere in the world that the Gospel is preached, there is an anointing upon the message for people to believe and be saved. Why? Because there’s an anointing at the place of sacrifice, and that place is the Cross of Jesus.

Every believer in Jesus Christ who desires to be a fruitful disciple must come to the Cross, to the place of total surrender to Him and be willing to be made a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). We are called to obedience, and God will test that in every one of us. Will we live by the strength of our own will, or out of obedience to His will for us?


*Read the entire (4th) section of the article where Lynn defines ‘anointing’ quite clearly at this link.

February 19, 2020

Waiting Is Not a Passive Act

The website Broken Believers “is all about serving through a message of Christian discipleship and helping Christians with mental illnesses and other issues. Bryan is a pastor who also suffers from clinical depression and now ministers to those in need.”

This is our seventh time with Bryan Lowe. An understanding of the Hebrew word used in a very familiar verse really enhances its meaning. As always, click the header below to read this at source.

Braided Up With God

Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

Isaiah 40:31, NASB

The particular word “wait” is a vital force. It’s definitely not a passive word in the Scriptures. It does not mean to be apathetic or lazy. Sometimes we wait in line at the grocery store or maybe waiting on a phone call. We regularly wait all the time, and usually, we don’t even realize it.

The Hebrew word used in v. 31 is ‘kawvah’ which means, ‘to bind together by twisting.’ It sometimes will mean, ‘to braid.’

It’s an interesting word picture, isn’t it? Sometimes we only take the English idea of waiting and turn it turns into a frustrating delay. Often this is why we lose out on what ‘wait’ is really about. I have to believe the Holy Spirit wants to teach this idea of becoming ‘braided up with God.’ All too often we are limited by our definitions and not God’s Word.

For those of us who are ill— physically or mentally, just to be told simply, “wait on the Lord” is a real challenge. Often, we will end up resenting this counsel (and the counselor) because we misunderstand what it means to really ‘wait.’

Yet when I truly wait on God, I’m actually weaving myself into Him. He becomes my strength; He is now the strong cord I am braided into. (Perhaps this is how He imparts strength and might to His people?) We desperately need this and the Lord is eager to lead us into this new intimacy.

The promise in Isaiah 40:31 tells us about new strength, the eagle’s wings, and holy stamina. This verse is relevant to us today, and we need this kind of strength now. I only want to encourage you in your own prayer time, to see yourself intertwined to the Lord, and to recognize the good gift of the Holy Spirit freely given.

“Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!”

Psalm 27:14



Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. Your suggestions of articles and websites to consider are always welcome.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

February 7, 2020

Salvation is Free; Discipleship is Costly

Today we return to Youth Pastor Joshua Nelson who writes at The Sidebar Blog. In the interim, since the article by him we posted a few months ago was written, Joshua took a break from blogging.

There were to paragraphs he wrote when he returned which stuck with me; the first was,

I oftentimes would find myself writing multiple pages of material just to exit the page without saving. I can’t tell you how good it felt to write down my thoughts knowing that only God would know and remember them.

The other was,

I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t just simply adding to the noise. You see, in today’s world, we are inundated with information, stories, and opinions. It seems like everyone can claim to be an expert about anything, and if they have an internet connection, they can tell the world. Facts go unchecked and mere opinions rule the day.

I love the wisdom of both of those.

For today’s thoughts at his own blog, click the header below.

Counting the Cost

Free coffee!

I saw the ad and immediately was intrigued. The flyer promised free coffee shipped to your house, all you had to do was pay $1 for shipping.

I went to the company’s website to get my free coffee, and I was pleased to see no hidden fees. I searched the site and was confident that all I was signing up for was free coffee with $1 shipping. A few days later I got my free coffee and was proud of myself for finding a good deal.

The problem came when I failed to check my email.

You see, in fine print (even though I thought I had checked that) the company informed me that an email would be sent to me and that unless I “opted out” I would then be signed up for a monthly coffee program. I didn’t know this until a box arrived at my door.

$75 worth of coffee.

I like love coffee. But I was unprepared to pay $75! Especially because that was certainly not what I had thought I signed up for. I was unready and unwilling to count the cost.

There are many things in life in which we must “count the cost.” If you want to be physically fit, you must work out and eat healthily. If you want to have a family, be prepared to say goodbye to sleep. If you want to do well at your job, show initiative and work hard. If you want to follow Jesus, be prepared to give up everything.

But here is the problem, like me and my coffee fiasco, many people are unaware of what it truly means to follow Jesus, and unfortunately, too many are unwilling to count the cost.

Unlike the coffee company, however, Jesus has no hidden fees. He is very clear on what it means to follow Him as well as all the potential risks involved.

In Luke 14 Jesus proclaims, “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” In Luke 9:23 Jesus calls for His followers to deny themselves and take up their crosses. Galatians 5:24 reminds us that true followers of Jesus are those that have crucified their own passions and desires. And Matthew 7:13-14 says, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Jesus offers hope, life, love, grace, and mercy. This is good news, but we cannot expect to take all that Jesus offers and remain unchanged by it. Jesus changes us.

If we claim to follow Jesus, but our lives look exactly the same as they did when we were not following Him then something is very very wrong.

Romans 12:2 tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Following Jesus transforms us.

And as believers, we have a responsibility to share this truth. For far too long Christians have tried to “sugar coat” the Gospel message. For far too long people have tried to hide the costs of following Jesus. With messages like, “Jesus loves you just as you are, come let Him be a part of your life and watch how He will make it better. No pressure, no risk, no obligations.” This message may sound good, but it sounds far different from what Jesus Himself said.

That kind of sales pitch is pathetic and unworthy of our Savior. The fact is that we all have sinned and fallen short of His glory. The relationship between us and God has been broken and it is our fault. God graciously sent Jesus to restore that relationship. He offers life to anyone who would believe, but we must leave our old ways behind and be willing to give up everything for Him. Anything short of that is convenient and consumeristic “Christianity” and I want no part of that.

Is following Jesus easy? No. Is it worth it? Yes.

Will you have to give up everything to follow Him? Maybe not. But must you be willing? Absolutely, because He gave up everything to save you.

 

February 2, 2020

When The Book of the Law Caused Weeping

Today we’re back again at Seeds of the Kingdom the devotional page of  Ellel Ministries*, an organization with locations on many continents.  Today’s author is Peter Horrobin, Founding and International Director of Ellel Ministries. The work was originally established in 1986 as a ministry of healing in the north-west of England, but today the work has spread round the world, with Ellel Centres in over thirty nations. Where I live, there is an Ellel about an hour north of Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Click the title below to read at their website and then take some time to look around.

Tears of Joy!

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read . . . all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law . . . This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

From Nehemiah 8:8-10, NIV

The people of God had been in rebellion against God and His Word to them in the Law. As a result they lost their covering and protection and had been carried off as captives to Babylon. But then there came a time when God stirred the heart of one of those prisoners, Nehemiah, to ask the King’s permission to return to Jerusalem and repair the walls and gates of the city. Nehemiah’s book tells the amazing story of how he did it.

Then, after they had completed their task, in spite of a lot of opposition, and all the people had been settled back into their homes, Nehemiah, with Ezra the priest, gathered them all together, in the square before the Water Gate, to hear the Word of God in the Law of the Lord. A high wooden platform was built for the occasion (the first pulpit?!), from which Ezra read to them.

Not only did he read it to them, but he explained what he was reading “making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.” Ezra was not only reading the Word, but preaching the truth. And as he did so the people came under conviction for all they had done which had been in rebellion to the living God. Tears of repentance were flowing down their faces as the Word of God impacted their souls.

Then Nehemiah made a very insightful comment – “for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” He knew this was a very holy day as he sensed that the people’s repentance was bringing joy to the Lord. And that, in turn, the joy that the Lord has, when His children return to Him, becomes the strength that everyone of us needs to rise up as men and women of God to live for Him and do the works of the Kingdom.

Our tears of repentance bring great joy to the Lord as we are restored in Him and are equipped and empowered by His presence. May I encourage you to come to the Word of God with an open heart, being willing to listen to the Lord’s voice. And when the Holy Spirit touches your life and He begins to change you from the inside out, remember that your repentance is bringing joy to the Lord and His strength will fill your life.

Prayer: Help me, Lord, to read Your Word with an open heart, listening to your gentle voice of encouragement and challenge. I’m sorry for the times of rebellion there have been in my life. I pray that You will help me rebuild the gates and the walls of my life, so that I may be strong in You and empowered by the joy of Your presence. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


* What does Ellel mean?

In old English, the name Ellel means ‘All hail’ which means ‘All glory to God’
In Hebrew, Ellel means ‘towards God’
In Mandarin Chinese, it means ‘love flowing outwards (愛流).

So Ellel could be said to mean ‘All hail, Jesus, All glory to Him’ and be expressed as ‘Love flowing outwards’ into a fallen and broken world, where we are helping people move ‘towards God’.  It is all for His glory.


Read more: From the same website, Lambert Bariho together with his wife Catherine currently leads the work of Ellel Ministries in Rwanda. He looks at Romans 12:3 in an article asking the question, is there every any reason for pride?

January 25, 2020

Not in Valleys, Not on Mountaintops: Formation in the Middle

… Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and temporary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.… I Cor 4:16-18 Berean Study Bible

A year ago our sister blog linked to the writing of Phylicia Masonheimer. I decided this week to look back and she what she was writing more recently and came across a piece I thought would be useful to readers here. Click the header below to read this on her site and then from there, look around at other articles.

Ten Years with God

Ten years passed in a blink and I almost missed it.

I didn’t realize it was a turning of the page, a gentle leaning into a new decade, until an Instagram post stopped me mid-scroll. Ten years. In 2010, I was turning twenty years old, just returned home from residential college and a stint in New Mexico, unsure what the future held. I was particularly annoyed at my lack of romantic prospects. The ripe old age of twenty was pressing heavy on my mind.

I believed God was taking me somewhere, but my twentieth year seemed like a regression. I went away; I came back. I had a boyfriend; I had one no longer. I didn’t even know what job to take next, so I worked two, back in my childhood bedroom like a baby bird kerplunked back in its nest. It was a new season, but it felt so much like the old one.

It was mornings at one job and evenings at the other.

It was letters to old friends and awkward attempts at making new ones.

It was tiny raises and job transitions, wearing scrubs instead of heels and sorting medical files in the office basement.

It was phone call interviews on my lunch break.

It was the catch-and-release of an almost romance.

And then it was over. A little less than two years later, I moved away again. The season ended, with all of the hard and good it held, over before I had fully embraced it.

That’s how seasons tend to go. We fight them for so long, wishing they were different, thinking it will be better when they’re over – then they are. We stand there between what was and what is about to be, unsure how to make the most of waning things. There’s a frantic urgency to fully live now that the end is in sight. But what if we did it in the middle?

Ten years with God have taught me that the middle is what He’s most interested in. I am sure He loves the mountaintop moments, but we are formed in the valleys. We are formed in the dirt, made from dust and getting rather dusty in the making. I think there’s significance in the richness of valley soil, too, because fields don’t grow on mountaintops. Harvests aren’t taken from rocks and crags.

No, it’s in the valleys we are planted and grown and harvested. It’s in the middle seasons of commute, long winters, singleness, on-call hours, and schoolwork that God does His shaping work. In the seasons that feel old and rote, the jobs that are uninspiring, the singleness that seems perpetual God invites us to stop waiting around for the ending and start living from the middle.

Those two years of “not my plan” tumbled into everything for which I’d hoped. I met a man. We married. I finished my degree. We made a home, I became a writer, we had two beautiful babies, we moved to a farm in Michigan. But those were the mountaintop moments. Those were the grace everyone else could see, the monuments built on months of slowly trusting, days of “long obedience” with no particular end in sight.

Ten years with God took me from a light and momentary existence to considering hardship a “light momentary affliction” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Loss of friends, jobs, money, and health were as much a part of my ten years with God as were His blessings, and in both I have learned that strong faith lives from the middle. The more I know Christ, the more I understand deliverance; the more I understand that the presence of the Deliverer is sufficient while we wait.

Ten years with God took me from wondering if He was good because I didn’t have what I wanted… to knowing He is good whether I get what I want or not.

In 2010, at the end of a prayer journal, I wrote:

Everyone lives for something… I’ve been living for my dreams, plans, and pursuits. But no more. I place You on the throne of my life… You are the guide of my journey…That which I do not have, I do not seek… my heart is lost to You.

I asked for what I didn’t understand. I committed to what I couldn’t handle. The grace of God carries us forward in that kind of weakness, and how grateful we should be for it! I didn’t know what ten years would hold, or how hard-won those sweet blessings would be. But I have seen the goodness of God in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13). I have seen the goodness of God in middle places, in the valleys and the dirtiness of an average day.

And I can say, after ten more years with God, “How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.” (Psalm 31:19)

 

January 16, 2020

Learning From the Master Learner

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus is arguably the greatest teacher that ever taught. His teaching was recognized as profound by those who first heard it:

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:28-29 (NRSV)

The teaching of Jesus continues to be revered in our day, by Christians and non-Christians alike. The impact of Jesus’ teaching is undeniable, on both individuals and societies.

Neil Peart was arguably one of the greatest rock drummers ever. The one known as “The Professor” said this on why he took drum lessons despite his already high level of drumming proficiency: “What is a master but a master student?” (Rolling Stone Magazine 2012). Was Jesus, the master teacher, also a master student? While the Bible tends to focus on the teaching of Jesus, there is one passage which speaks to his learning:

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.  Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:41-47 (NRSV emphasis added)

Before Jesus taught, he learned. There are two things to take note of.

First, Jesus went to the right place and the right people to further his growth and learning. He went to the temple, he sat under those who taught things about God. According to the custom of that time and place, Jesus should have been focused on learning carpentry from Joseph. No doubt most his days were taken up with learning that trade. However, even from a young age, Jesus had a sense of a much deeper calling:

When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? Luke 2:48-49 (NRSV emphasis added)

Yes, Jesus would have called Joseph “Dad.” And yes, Jesus would have been learning carpentry from him. However, in being in his “Father’s house,” and in learning things about God, Jesus showed his awareness of being someone special, of being called to something special. Jesus, being the Son of God, was called to do what no one else in history could do; be Lord and Saviour.

Do we know our identity in, and calling from, God? We may immediately think of our vocation or volunteering. We may have matched our passions and gifts with what we do with our time. There is a calling more basic and fundamental than that. We are called to follow Jesus. We are called to be his disciples, a word which simply means ‘student.’ If Jesus, being aware of his calling and identity as the Son of God, went to the Temple, we, as disciples of Jesus, will want to go to Jesus. Perhaps you thought I was going to say we go to church. Yes, that is part of it, but even in church we focus on learning from Jesus.

Second, Jesus engaged in conversation, asking questions and giving answers:

. . . they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:46-47 (NRSV)

There is a theological question we must answer so that we can better understand this Bible passage. Was Jesus, since he was God the Son, and therefore potentially knew everything already, showing off his knowledge? Or, was Jesus actually engaged in learning? While Jesus is fully divine, he is also fully human. Bible passages will sometimes put the focus on one or the other. In this passage, the emphasis is on the humanity of Jesus. Note the verses immediately preceding and following this passage of Scripture:

And the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. Luke 2:40 NASB

And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Luke 2:52 NASB

Before Jesus taught, he learned. He asked questions, he dug deeper. He gave answers, giving opportunity for correction. This was how people learned from the rabbis in those days. The teachers were not annoyed with the answers of Jesus, as they would be if he was coming off as a ‘know-it-all,’ rather, they were amazed. Before Jesus taught with great wisdom, he learned with great wisdom.

Are we asking good questions? There is never a dumb question. But there are questions that are are more wise to ask than others. For example, I have often been asked whom Cain married. Since the Bible only told us about Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel up to the point of Cain going off and getting married, whom did he marry? This is not a dumb question. However, a better question, a wise question to ask is: “what is the nature of, and God’s vision for, the Bible?” When we find the answer to that question, the question about Cain goes away. In a nutshell, the Bible is given to teach us what we need to know about ourselves, God, and our relationship with God. It is not given to tell us everything. Are we asking good questions? Are we open to correction? Do we have a teachable spirit? Sometimes this means, not adding to our understanding, but making adjustments to our understanding. Are we learning with wisdom?

Like Jesus, the master learner, we want to be in the right place to grow into our identity and calling. We want to be learning at the feet of Jesus. Like Jesus, we want to be wise learners, asking questions, digging deeper, giving space for correction.

Jesus is not just a great teacher, but being God the Son, Jesus is Lord and Saviour. Jesus is not a self-help guru! Our growing in, and learning from, Jesus is not just about living the good life. It is part and parcel of our salvation. Salvation is not just about going to heaven when we die. It is also about heaven’s influence on us now. Are we learning from the Master Learner?


Clarke Dixon is a musician, motorcycle enthusiast, and pastor in Ontario, Canada. He is the single-most-frequent contributor to C201, with articles appearing most Thursdays.

January 12, 2020

Understanding the Message Happens with Applying the Message

A year ago we quoted a short excerpt from the blog of author Rick Thomas. Today we’re doing the same, as this is taken from a much longer article written for pastors and leaders. I encourage you to read it at its source, in full. Just click the header which follows:

You Need More Than Preaching If You Want to Change

The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4, ESV)

1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The Purpose of the Parables

10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that

“ ‘they may indeed see but not perceive,

and may indeed hear but not understand,

lest they should turn and be forgiven.’ ”

13 And he said to them, Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?

Community Contexts

In verses 1-9 Jesus was teaching to a very large crowd from the pulpit,so to speak. In verses 10-13 He begins to unpack the teaching lesson in a personal, customized, relevant, and practical way for His community.

The pulpit is a great place to exalt the Savior and expound the gospel, as well as call people to live lives of holiness. To be sure, God-ordained preaching for the proclamation of His Word. It is the foolishness of preaching that confounds the wise and empowers the faithful (1 Corinthians 1:18).

In addition to great preaching, you also find in Scripture that it is in the living rooms of the communitywhere the truths preached from the pulpit are worked out in the contexts of lives.

You can exhort someone over and over again from the pulpit to serve, and its possible he will understand, personalize, and apply that idea. But if you bring a towel and basin to his living room and wash your friends feet, you can be assured he will never forget that one act of other-centered serving (see John 13:15; Matthew 26:13).

Helping others is where Jesus excelled. He contextualized His preached Word in the community of the believers. He did not let the preached Word stand alone. He modeled His message to drive home His points.

Practically Speaking

Rachel has heard wonderful preaching the past 16 years of her life. Nearly every Sunday, she has been encouraged, enlightened, and envisioned about how to be a woman for God.

Recently, a growing bitterness took root in her soul toward her church, her pastor, and some of her friends. The more she hears the wonderful truths from the Word declared from the pulpit, the more cynical and suspicious she becomes. 

She’s seeing the discontinuity between the preached Word on Sunday and her marriage and family during the week. The dots are not practically connecting for her.

Sadly, her cynicism and suspicion are directed toward Godthough she would never say it that way. She hoped for a different life and believed it would come by “going to church,” as she put it.

Her belief about the church is why she committed herself to God and the meetings of the church. She even took on a ministry in the church to help in whatever way she could. Her faith and practice were real. Rachel loves God.

But like a person asleep in a boat, only to awake hours later to find they drifted beyond the buoys, Rachels marriage has seemingly slipped past the point of no return. All the while she is faithfully committed to her local church.

Rachel is not struggling with sound doctrine. She does not have a theological problem, as far as her understanding of the Bible. What she has is a methodological problem.

Building a knowledge base through learning and growing in theological understanding, is half the equation. Rachel is getting good information on Sunday morning. It is consistently biblical, easy to understand, and well-delivered.

Her problem is the other half of the solution she needs. Her church has not provided or trained her on how to take the good Word preached and work it out in the milieu (contexts) of her life. She needs a clear and practical application. The Sunday church meeting is not designed to fulfill that part of her solution.

Rachel is half-full: She knows the Word, but she has not been equipped to apply it practically in ways that matter to her life, marriage, and other relationships. If she continues this way, she’ll be running on empty before long.


Rick then continues with ten action steps for local churches. See the closing section of the article which I am again, linking here.

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