Christianity 201

May 12, 2017

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

We’ve linked to The Christian Examiner at Thinking Out Loud before, but never here at C201. We noted this devotional article and thought we would share it here. Better yet, read this at source — click the title below — and then navigate to their news pages for a Christian perspective on current events. Bookmark the site for frequent reference.

Wait Is a Four-Letter Word

by Elizabeth Laing Thompson

Wait is a four-letter word. Coincidence? I think not.

We’re all waiting on something from God: true love or a baby, a job or a cure. And the period between answers can feel like a place where dreams—and faith—go to die.

I have often thought to myself, The worst part of waiting is the uncertainty. I wish God would just give me a yes or no so I can move on with life.

Have you ever thought something like this:
  • If I knew I wasn’t going to find true love, maybe I could get busy building a fulfilling life as a single person.
  • If I knew I wasn’t going to have the career breakthrough I’ve longed for, maybe I could devote my time and energy to other things.

We tell ourselves the problem is the not knowing. Dealing with uncertainty. We tell ourselves we wouldn’t mind waiting so much if God just told us, “You’re going to get what you want in the end, but buckle up for a long ride—it’s going to take awhile.”

But who am I kidding? When I’m waiting, I want more than just a yes or no from God. It’s not enough to know if, I want to know when. I want a timeline. A fat red circle on the calendar.

I’m going to wait two years and nine months before I get pregnant, You say? Okay. I don’t love that timeline, but I can work with it. I’ll do the Pinterest thing and make a cute countdown calendar, and I’ll find a way to be happy the whole time I’m waiting.

But life doesn’t work that way, God doesn’t work that way. It is in the not knowing that God works on our heart, our faith, our character. It is in the not knowing that 2 Peter 1 and James 1 collide:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5–8

Christians are meant to grow—to become godlier, more loving, more self-controlled, better at persevering—so we don’t stagnate spiritually. Spiritual growth doesn’t happen automatically, accidentally, or overnight. Spiritual growth is a lifetime process we never outgrow. It takes conscious effort—every effort, in fact. The perfectionist in me finds this both overwhelming and comforting—overwhelming because I want to be done growing (meaning perfect) yesterday; comforting because I realize I’m not supposed to be done growing yet. Character is built slowly: step-by-step, choice by choice, even mistake by mistake, one strength building on another over time. Smack in the middle of this character-building process we find the trait we desperately need when we are waiting: perseverance. Now let’s pair this passage with what James says about perseverance:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2–4

Did you catch that last phrase—”let perseverance finish its work”—as in it’s up to us to allow that work to happen so we can grow? As in trials produce perseverance, and perseverance can lead to spiritual maturity, but we have to let it happen, not fight the process? If we let Him, God can use our waiting journeys to shape us, to make us into the people He created us to be.

Knowing our weakness, knowing our need, God offers us many stories of godly people who have wrestled with waiting with varying success. People like Sarah, who received a definitive promise from God but then crumbled in the face of bleak fact: seventy-five-year-old women just don’t have babies. The good news for those of us (all of us) who wait imperfectly? Many of our fellow waiters in the Bible got second chances. (Remember Sarah’s miracle baby, Isaac?) And third and fourth and fifth chances, and on and on goes the grace of God.

Waiting seasons aren’t fun, but they are opportunities. Through our waiting seasons—yes, through the not knowing—we can build character one step at a time. Through our waiting seasons, perseverance can gradually “finish” its never-ending work in us. As waiting does its thing, and God does His, we get the chance to become our best selves, the people God designed us to be. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get started.

May 8, 2017

Preaching for Change

CEB Acts 2:36 “Therefore, let all Israel know beyond question that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

37 When the crowd heard this, they were deeply troubled. They said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Earlier today I wrote these words at my other blog, or perhaps I should say these words wrote themselves:

I have been noticing a recurring theme lately in sermons I have listened to online and books I have been reading. Perhaps it’s personal conviction about this subject.

The idea is very simple: Many of us read the Bible and Christian books, and many of us listen to sermons in order to gain information when God is wanting to see our transformation. Perhaps you even are in a position where you give leadership or mentoring to others, or simply have occasion to speak into the lives of friends, and what you’re imparting is more informative than transformative.

I know I’m a guilty of this. Do you ever track your spiritual progress by the month, or by the year? Each day I have more knowledge and a better understanding of the ways of God and the history of his dealings with his people. But am I a different person than I was last month or last year? To ask the question bluntly, what good is all this information doing for me? What good is all that Bible knowledge and understanding of systematic theology doing for you?

Spiritual formation is not simply about building up the mind’s knowledge base. It’s about forming the character of the heart. It leads to different speech, different choices, a different mindset, and different actions.

The Word of God should bring change. As I write this now, later in the day, I realize that there are people for whom God’s truth needs to be rediscovered. They don’t even have the basic Bible knowledge that was once common among people in North America and Western Europe, regardless of their personal beliefs. It reminds me of Nehemiah (see chapter 8) bringing the scrolls to be read to a people who had not heard this word in a long, long time.

At the blog Clergy Stuff I read this:

In this information age, where any piece of information can be accessed at our fingertips at any time, it might be hard to believe that God’s people had lost touch with their God. But they had been exiled – ripped from their homes, families, and faith practices. After so many years of living apart from the community of faith, it is possible to see how easily the faith practices of a broken people could unravel.

But after they returned, a scroll was found. The scroll contained God’s word lost long ago. When Ezra read it to the people, it brought up many emotions for them. It was a word of hope and promise to a people that had nearly lost all hope of ever being a united people again. But the promise of restoration had been fulfilled, and on this day, the word of God spoke loudly throughout their gathering.

At the Our Daily Bread archives, I found this in reference to our key text today:

In 1738, an Englishman named John Wesley entered a church service where someone was preaching from the book of Romans. As he listened to the message of the gospel that night, Wesley wrote that he felt his heart “strangely warmed,” and he knew deep within that Jesus had died to save him from his sins. John Wesley would go on to found Methodism, an approach to living out Christian faith that continues today.

In today’s world, the message of the gospel can sound strange to some who don’t yet know God. The idea of receiving salvation can seem like a foreign concept.

We can be encouraged, however, for a person’s heart being transformed by the gospel takes place through the work of the Holy Spirit—a work we trace back to that first day of the early church.

So today we have both situations: People who have great quantities of Bible knowledge at their fingertips but have not allowed themselves to be changed by it; and people for whom the Bible narrative has gotten lost and they need to hear it as if it were the first time.

Because we’ve posted this song before, here’s a different version of it.

God, help us all in this information age when we have so many Biblical resources so easily accessible; help us that we don’t track our progress simply in terms of knowledge gained but in terms of hearts and lives changed. For those who lead, help them to lead with change in view. Amen.

 

May 2, 2017

The Cup of Sorrows and The Worth of a Soul

It’s been a year since we last visited with Jack Wellman at the website Rhetorical Jesus. His devotional posts are shorter than what we normally do here, so we’re giving you a double feature. Titles for each are also links back to his site, and there you’ll also find a graphic for each day which you can use to introduce a link to one of his articles on your own social media. (I haven’t borrowed those here to give you another reason to click through.) The topics are most engaging, so choose one that you think might apply to the people in your online social circle.

Can you drink from the same cup that I am going to drink from?

Matthew 20:22

Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.

Who Is the Greatest?

The mother of the sons of Zebedee, James and John, came up to Jesus, knelt before Him, and asked Him if her two sons could sit at Jesus’ right hand (Matt 22:20-21). Can you imagine that? The disciples’ mother came up to Jesus asking Him if her sons could be chief rulers in the kingdom, which is what is meant by sitting at Jesus’ right hand. Jesus then asked the men if they’re able to drink from the same cup that He was about to drink from, and with no hesitation, James and John said, “Yes.” (Matt 20:22). Jesus did agree about their eventually drinking from His cup, but as for whether or not they would sit at Jesus’ right hand is up to the Father (Matt 20:23).

What Is the Cup?

This cup that Jesus was about to partake in was Calvary, and this included His drinking the cup of all the sins of all humanity of all time: past, present, and future. This the disciples could not do, nor could they drink of the cup of His illegal trial, His scourging by the Roman guards, or His torture on the cross. However, they would eventually go through suffering for their faith, but, of course, not to the same extent and measure that Christ did. Indeed, no one has (Isaiah 53). All believers, if they are living out their faith in public, such as at home, school, or work, will suffer at least some degree of persecution for what they believe. It might be behind their back, but they, too, will have a cup of persecution that they’ll drink from, at least if they are living out their faith publically and are bearing fruit of the Holy Spirit (John 15).

Anger and Jealousy

When the other disciples heard what James’ and John’s mother had asked, they were angry (Matt 20:24). Maybe they were angry because they didn’t think of it first or that James’ and John’s mother was trying to cull some favor from Jesus, which made them mad. Jesus saw their anger and called them over to speak with them. He said that the Gentile kings love to sit in places of power and rule over others and to be served (Matt 20:25-28). Jesus said that this is not how believers are to operate. We are to be servants, and just as Jesus said, He came to be a servant and die, giving His life as a ransom for others (like you and me). He came to serve and not be served, and He gave more than all by His dying for us (Matt 20:28).

A Closing Prayer

Father God, You are so kind to me and patient with me for the many times that I try to place myself above others. Please forgive me when I do that, and help me to realize that the greatest of Your people are not striving to sit at Your right hand, but to serve people in humility. I ask for Your help in this area, and in the name above all names, Jesus Christ, I pray.

What is your own soul worth?

Matthew 16:26

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Denying the Self but Not Christ

For much of my Christian walk, I did just the opposite. Instead of denying myself but not Christ, I denied Christ and didn’t deny myself much of anything. This, of course, is not walking with Christ as a disciple. Instead of dying to self, I put Christ to death in my life. I have tried to do better and not deny Christ in public before others, but deny myself before others and not Christ. Jesus said one little powerful word, and it was “if.” If we want to follow Christ, we must deny ourselves (Matt 16:24). If we want to save our life, ironically, we’ll lose it. If we desire to lose our life, we will find it (Matt 16:25). Once more, I tend to do just the opposite.

What Does It Profit?

If we can gain all that we can for a temporary life that is like a vapor (James 4:14), we have gained nothing because life is short, but eternity is a very, very long time. Can you put a value on a soul that is lost for all eternity? A man and a woman’s soul is priceless, and nothing can compare to its worth, but how worthless will it be if that life is forever banished from the presence of God with no hope of ever being reconciled (Rev 20:12-15)? The soul’s value cannot be estimated. Jesus’ point is that we can gain all that there is, but lose or forfeit our very soul for this life. If we do that, then we’ve lost everything because you can’t take anything in this life into the next, unless it is done for Christ. Those rewards that are done in His name are going with us to heaven. You can’t take it with you, but you can send it ahead and have it waiting there for you. In other words, the good we do for Jesus and for God’s glory will remain. Nothing else really matters.

Take Up Your Cross

If we are to take up our cross as Jesus said, what does that mean? Today’s equivalent would be to take up the electric chair or take up the lethal injection and die to ourselves. We must crucify the flesh in order to please God, Who is Spirit (Gal 5:24). That basically means nailing our desires and passions–that sinful nature of ours–to the cross, slaying our own desires for the desire to serve Christ and others, and doing it with the express purpose of glorifying God (Gal 2:20). If we are walking by the Holy Spirit’s leading, we’ll be putting to death earthly desires and passions (Gal 5:16). It is only those being led by God’s Spirit who are the children of God (Rom 8:14), and to live by the flesh will be dying in the flesh, but the Spirit will put the deeds of the flesh to death (Rom 8:12-13). In this way, your own soul will have infinite value, but if you’re living only in the flesh, you forfeit everything.

A Closing Prayer

Great God in heaven, I am so far short of Your glory (Rom 3:23), and there is nothing good in me (Rom 3:10) except your Spirit. Please help me yield to Your Spirit and to slay the flesh so that I might strive to not gain the whole world and lose my soul, but rather help me deny myself, take up my cross, die to self, and live for you. In Jesus’ name I pray.

 

March 11, 2017

Jesus in Luke on Money: Part 2 – The Rich and the Kingdom of God

As we explained yesterday, through a friend I was introduced to the writing of Don Merritt. We asked him for permission to use two of them for which he graciously agreed, but then I decided to split these over the course of two days, since they were on the same topic. Don is working his way through the gospel of Luke, but his blog also features topical items as well. Click the title below to read this one at The Life Project, and then take a few minutes to look around.

The Rich, The Way and The Kingdom

Luke 18:24-30

Jesus was fully aware that the disciples would be confused after His conversation with the rich man because, as we noted last time, He had blown up a major cultural expectation of the time that the rich were more favored by God than others were. As a result, He begins to teach them, even while the man is standing right there…

Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (18:24-25)

The rich man hadn’t been overly enthused at the prospect of giving up all of his wealth, and Jesus underscored the difficulty that many have in entering the Kingdom and leaving the priorities of this world behind. Looking at His example here of putting a camel through the eye of a needle, I think we can safely say that He was engaging in a touch of hyperbole to make the point. The reaction of the disciples speaks volumes about the prevailing assumptions of that culture: “Who then can be saved?”

If you notice, Jesus in His answer blows up a second predominant assumption of that time:

“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (18:27)

There are two cultural teachings that are being corrected here: First, that the rich are most favored by God, and the second is that a person can attain righteousness by reliance upon their own ability to keep the Law; both of these are false. This second teaching is still with us, sometimes it is obvious, and sometimes it is more subtle, we call it “works”. You cannot earn your way into the Kingdom by following the rules, “doing church right” or by doing good deeds, for you can only enter the kingdom by faith in God through Christ. Can the rich enter the Kingdom? Yes, they can, by placing their faith in God, and not in their earthly possessions and positions.

Peter is beginning to comprehend: “We have left everything to follow you!”  (18:28)

In reply to Peter, Jesus indicates that there may be more than just “stuff” that can get in the way…

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (18:29-30)

Notice the relationships that may also need to be left behind, notice also that they are in the same list as “home”, Matthew has “fields”, which is to say material possessions. The real point is that the follower of Christ must be willing to leave anything behind if it interferes with following Him, for with the Kingdom, you are either “all in” or all out. Aren’t these things that we all struggle with at one time or another?

This is one of those cases when the theology of the teaching is very simple, but living it can be difficult, yet with God, all things are possible. Consider this: The man who wrote Matthew’s Gospel was a tax collector. He was rich, he also had a family, friends and associates, but by the grace of God, he was one of the Twelve, and he wasn’t the only one. Remember Zacchaeus? Joseph of Arimathea? Saul of Tarsus?

With God, all things are indeed possible!

March 10, 2017

Jesus in Luke on Money: Part 1 – The Rich Young Man

Recently, through a fellow blogger who is also a personal friend, I was introduced to the writing of Don Merritt at The Life Project. Because some of his pieces are shorter than what we do here, I asked him for permission to use two of them for which he graciously agreed, but then I decided to run these two over the course of two days, since they were longer and also related. Don is working his way through the gospel of Luke, but his blog also features topical items as well. Click the title below to read this one at source, and then go exploring!

Jesus Meets a Rich Ruler

Luke 18:18-23

This account matches up quite nicely with Matthew’s (Matt. 19:18-22) although Matthew tells us that the rich man was young as well.

Social conventions and customs are a funny thing; they influence most of us in a way that enables us to make sweeping assumptions concerning great truths, even eternal ones, and yet those very conventions change often through history. We should take this reality as a warning to question the social conventions of our time, and this tale is a case in point. In Jesus’ day, as in many other historical periods, it was assumed that most wealthy people were the ones favored by God; why else would they be so blessed? Yes, some were not so ethical in their conduct, but many were good, hard working people, the bedrocks of the community; surely God’s favor was upon them!

What a contrast to those little children in the last scene, those little ones that represented vulnerability and humility. Right after Jesus commented about the little ones, a rich young man walks up to Him and asks a question:

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (18:18)

Here’s a guy who appears to have it all, but he apparently believes that he is lacking in the way he has led his life; there is an element of humility here that we often overlook. In the dialogue that follows, we learn more about this young man:

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. (18:19-21)

In Matthew’s account, the man asks Jesus what he was still lacking right here. This young man was righteous, and appears to have good intentions, and as you will see, Jesus doesn’t dispute his claim that he has kept all of those commandments. It would also appear that the man was beginning to realize, perhaps more quickly than the disciples, that merely keeping commandments as was the Jewish prevailing thought, wasn’t quite enough, after all, why else would he have asked Jesus in the first place? Yet, he still seems to have believed that eternal life was contingent upon his ability to do something. Maybe he was right:

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. (18:22-23)

Jesus told the man to sell everything he owned, give money to the poor and follow Him. I cannot over-emphasize how radical this was, for the prevailing thought of those times said that the rich were blessed, worthy and most favored of all, yet Jesus told the man to liquidate and give to the poor. Notice, He didn’t say to give everything to the poor (as some older translations say) but the implication is clear enough. The story ends with the man going away sad, because he had great wealth.

Traditional teaching assumes the man did not do as Jesus told him, but I want to point out that the text doesn’t say so; maybe he did, maybe he didn’t… but he was sad.

This is where we like to bash people who have more than we do; I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this in class discussions and sermons and how many times I have read it, but I would suggest that we should not go rushing into this too quickly. I have known quite a few people who are quite wealthy, rich people, and they usually discover that their wealth, while handy for sure, is also a millstone around their necks; a burden more than a pleasure. Yet once they have it, it is hard to let go of. Even so, let’s not concentrate on those who have more than we do, let’s look in the mirror instead, for there is where Jesus message, and the young man’s predicament resonate:

Suppose Jesus came to you and told you to liquidate everything you have, that’s right dear reader, sell all your possessions, give to the poor and follow Him.

Would that make you happy?

If you answer “yes” to that question, then let’s take a closer look: Your home, your car(s), your accounts, retirement plans, investments, kids’ college funds, the contents of your house… everything. You show up to follow Jesus with only the shirt on your back. Hold on, the shirt on your back is also a possession, so you show up without even a shirt on your back or anything else, to follow Jesus. Are you happy?

More importantly, would you do it?

Maybe we should think carefully before we make this all about pointing fingers at others!

The good news is that we are still in that section where the instruction is for the disciples, and in the next part, we will see what Jesus has to say to them; will it get easier? Well, you’ll have to come back next time to find out!

January 30, 2017

Christianity 201: Devotional # 2500

A man died and went to heaven and on arrival asked if it was true that there are mansions with many rooms with for all. An angel assured him that this was true and offered to guide him to where one had been prepared just for him.

They walked down a street filled with the finest mansions that would be the envy of the highest priced neighborhoods in the western world back on earth.

“Is my house here?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then entered a section of housing which would be compared to a North American upper middle class community.

“It’s here, then?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then moved on to a group of bungalows that were not initially impressive, but, this being heaven after all, were no doubt adequate.

“So here we are;” said the man.

“No, just a little further;” said the angel.

Then the two of them ended up in an area where the houses — more like cabins — were not only much smaller, but there were only a couple of rooms and some elements of the walls, floors and ceilings were missing.

Pointing to a nearby dwelling, the angel said, “That one is your house.”

“There is no way,” said the man, “That I can live in something like that.”

“I’m very sorry;” replied the angel; “But we did the best we could with the materials you sent up.”

…This apocryphal sermon illustration is usually told in reference to Matthew 6: 19-20 which reads:

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. NLT

But what constitutes treasure?

As I consider 2,500 posts here at Christianity 201, I look back to when I started this, wanting to produce something of substance that would cause people to dig a little deeper or consider something they might not have thought of before.

I’m a person who can speak with spiritual confidence and authority to an individual or group one minute; and then be struck by a feeling of total inadequacy the next; a form of spiritual intimidation, or spiritual inferiority complex. Why is this? I think much of it has to do with feeling at the end of the day that I simply haven’t accomplished enough for the Kingdom of God. The sun sets or the computer is turned off or it’s time for bed and I ask myself, what did I really do today that was of lasting value of significance?

It’s not that I wasn’t busy doing Kingdom work, it’s just that I fear I wasn’t busy doing the right things. I feel that by not letting my talents be used to the maximum, I have missed the mark (the same idiom by which the word sin is defined in Greek) of God’s highest calling. You could say that I not only have ‘performance-based religion’ issues, but I’m additionally burdened with combining it with a Type A personality when it comes to what I would like to see happen.

So… I need to be reminded that God still loves me even I didn’t do all the the things or type of things that I thought God was expecting of me. I need to be reminded that it’s about what God’s wants me to be that matters.

However, I can’t just toss out the consideration of what it means to give my best to God each day. I have to have certain goals or ideals or standards of attainment. The verses that I think match up best with the heaven story above are these from I Cor. 3 —

12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. NLT

Some of you know these verses from the KJ text as referring to: “Gold, silver and precious stones;” contrasted with “wood, hay and stubble.”

In the Christian internet world, a lot of what is written — including what I myself post at Thinking Out Loud — is wood, hay and stubble. I started Christianity 201 because I wanted something that would be of substance, something made of gold, silver and precious stones.

So while Christianity is not performance-based, if we’re going to launch out into any endeavor at all (in response to what Christ has done for us) we should aim for that thing to be of the highest quality, the finest purity, the greatest depth and the most lasting significance. We can discuss other things, and comment on the issues of the day in religion, politics, social justice, the environment, church life, parenting, education, marriage, missions, theology, or even the weather; but at the end of the day, we need to bring something best to the table; something that not only touches readers, but touches the heart of God Himself.

That’s living out our Christ-following at the next level.

That’s Christianity 201.

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart…

January 25, 2017

Agony: A Sermon Excerpt by Leonard Ravenhill

There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now.  -John 16:12 NLT

Then Samuel said, “Does the LORD take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as he does in obedience? Certainly, obedience is better than sacrifice  – I Samuel 15:22a NASB

 

Today we have something different, an audio sermon with full on-screen text.


Leonard Ravenhill (June 18, 1907 – November 27, 1994) was an English Christian evangelist and author who focused on the subjects of prayer and revival. He is best known for challenging western evangelicalism (through his books and sermons) to compare itself to the early Christian Church as chronicled in the Book of Acts. His most notable book is Why Revival Tarries which has sold over a million copies worldwide.  (Wikipedia)

 

January 13, 2017

The Origin of Our Capacity for Fear

Today’s study is the product of Martin and the team at Flagrant Regard. Click the title below to read this at their site.

Do You Struggle With The Concept Of Having To Fear The Lord? We Have A Patch For That!

Our fall Bible study has been centered on the Book of Proverbs and, a few weeks ago, the term ‘fear of the Lord’ came up for discussion. We examined the mystery of ‘fearing God’ as it often elicits thoughts of, or concerns about, a God who supposedly requires that we be frightened of Him. Our pastor, and facilitator of the study, wanted us to delve into what it means to ‘fear the Lord’ as it seems to stand in direct opposition to our being told that God is love. Is there a paradox here for the way we are to live – either ‘in fear mixed with love’ or ‘in love mixed with fear’ and do such dispositions affect how we feel about God?

As part of a New Year’s commitment, I hope to read more of the Bible and spend less time Internet-ing. Just yesterday, I came upon an interesting passage in Jeremiah that got me thinking about the topic at hand. I hope my personal discovery regarding this proves to be valuable to anyone who has struggled with the whole ‘fear of the Lord’ issue or teachings surrounding it.

fear-flagrant-regardBefore I present the Bible passage, I’d like you to consider something rather interesting. Every good attribute of God that we as humans share – love, gentleness, kindness, self-restraint, etc. – is considered the ‘fruit’ of a spiritual life. But where does fear fit into all of this? Fear is not considered to be a fruit of the Spirit, so what is it to the believer and why do we need it? 1

Fear is interesting in that: a) God does not manifest or experience it; and b) it is a reactive response to an outside stimulus, something we share with the animal world, even.

If God doesn’t possess fear as a characteristic, then why does He regard it as a good thing for us (as per the writers of Scripture) and why would it make us more Godly?

Well let’s think about another good thing God doesn’t need. Repentance. God has no need to apologize for anything (although some prominent atheists would disagree). But without repentance (a change of mind especially concerning the will of God) we are clearly told that no human being can access God. And so, if repentance (like fear) isn’t an attribute of God, then what is it?

Fear and repentance both seem to be presented to us in the Bible as a reflexive action, harmonized with our response to God’s promptings or influence.

In the physical world, reflexes and responses can be honed and sharpened. Watch any budding martial artist working hard at their craft and you’ll see that come into play in a matter of time. Is it the same for those of us whose lives are focused on spiritual development? Can responding to everything life throws at us with a reflexive ‘Godly fear’ be of any benefit to His children? Will it have us thinking better of God’s character or disposition toward us in the long run?

And now onto the passage that shows us why fear of the Lord is not only important, but essential for living well.

(36) … this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: (37) I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. (38) They will be my people, and I will be their God. (39) I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. (40) I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. (41) I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.
Jeremiah 32: 36-41 (NIV translation)

According to the above Scripture, it is only after God gives us a ‘singleness of heart and action’ that Godly fear can even enter into our lives. Further, the fruit or benefit resulting from this particular fear is, “that all will go well for us and our children”. Fear is, if we interpret this text correctly, a reactive or reflexive response to God that not only gives his people peace of mind but extends this promise to those we treasure dearly!

God then compounds the importance of fear in verse 40 by showing us that after something incredible (i.e., salvation) has been gifted to us, as well as promising to continually do good things for us, He will ‘inspire us’ to fear Him.

Why?

So that we will never turn away from Him.

This healthy Godly fear is like His word: ‘God-inspired’. It is furthermore something you cannot actively develop or appreciate in your own strength. This fear is more like a gift (once again similar to repentance) that is infused into our souls to keep us on the straight-and-narrow where, to put it simply, it is a safer and better place to be. Is it so wrong for Godly fear to hold prominence in our thoughts and actions so that all will go well for us and so that we may continually recognize, as the Psalmist said, “It is good to be near God.”? 2

I think it’s important, at this point, to distinguish between Godly fear and worldly fear.

Worldly fear is primal and can result in one’s being frozen like a deer in the headlights or in the fight-or-flight response. It can prompt chivalry in some and cowardice in others and is rarely viewed as a desirable thing.

But Godly fear is fruit-of-the-Spirit producing. The more of it we have, the better (and more immediate) our response is to the moral quandaries presented to us by the world we live in and the better our ability to see our way through the many challenges we will face in our lifetime. In conjunction with holy fear, we are given oceans of hope that are fed by the springs of God’s many great promises – promises we’d be fools to forget or ignore lest we lose out on all the benefits God has already showered on us, His children.

Preacher George MacDonald once said, “A perfect faith would lift us absolutely above fear.” That’s very true, but our faith is not yet perfect. We are ‘in process’. We live in the ‘now and not yet’ because of our frail humanity. Fear of the Lord then, in its purest form, can do nothing but evoke our deep love and utmost respect for the God who rescues us from darkness every day we find ourselves still breathing.

Truly, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.3

© 2017 Flagrant Regard


1 See Book of Jude, Chap. 1, vrs. 23, Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians Chap. 5, vrs. 11
2 Book of Psalms Chap. 73, vrs. 28
3 Book of Proverbs Chap. 9, vrs. 10

October 17, 2016

Warning Whispers

Job 23:10  But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.

I Kings 19:12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.

Today’s thoughts are from Knowing-Jesus.com. Click the title below to read at source, and then click the tabs on the right margin to source other resources.

Every Yearning Satisfied

Simple Reflection

I was reflecting on the many earthquakes that have recently been rocking the world..quakes and distresses have been striking the globe with increased intensity and frequency, and earthquakes are just one pointer to the soon return of the Lord in power and great glory.

Still Small Voice

But my thoughts transferred to a different earthquake – one the prophet Elijah saw. My mind sped to his shattering experience with his violent earthquake. He stood in the presence of the Lord and experienced a devastating wind – a fierce and mighty wind. And after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice… 1Kings 19:12. And through the gentle whisper of God’s voice, Elijah knew his God in a new and powerful way.

Mind the Checks

I want to share a special reflection from, ‘Way of Faith,‘. – about that quiet, gentle stillness:- A soul who made rapid progress in her understanding of the Lord was asked once the secret of her easy advancement. She briefly replied, “Mind the checks ! Mind the checks !”

Warning Whispers

Perhaps the reason that many of us do not know and better understand Him.. is that we do not give heed to His gentle checks.. His warning whispers – His balanced counsel. His quiet restraints and gentle constraints are often passed unheeded, in the clamour of life.

Gentle Pressure

The Lord still whispers in His small and gentle voice… a still voice can hardly be heard; a still voice must be almost felt; a still voice is like a steady, gentle pressure upon the heart and mind – a still voice is like the touch of a morning zephyr on your face. A still voice is a small voice, quietly, almost timidly spoken in your heart. A voice that if heeded, will grow noiselessly clearer to your inner ear.

Ear of Love

His voice is spoken into the ear of love, for love is intent on hearing even the faintest whispers from the Beloved. But there does comes a time also, when love ceases to be heard.. if love is not responded to – if love is not believed in.

Take Heed

He is Love, and if you would know Him and His hear His voice.. take heed and give constant ear to His gentle touches and His hushed breath. Take heed in conversation, when about to utter some word. Give heed to that gentle voice, “mind the checks,”  – and refrain from speech.

Wait on God

Take heed when you are about to pursue some course in life, that seems clear and right.. until there comes a Heart to heart suggestion that almost has in it the force of conviction – give heed and “mind the checks!”. Learn to be still and wait on God, to be hushed in His presence and listen. Learn to wait upon Him for the unfolding of His will, for He knows the way you should take. Job 23:10

Perfect Direction

Let God form your plans about everything in your mind and your heart, and then let Him execute those plans through you – but in His way. Do not possess any wisdom of your own, but rely on His perfect direction. Many times His execution will seem contradictory to the plans He seemed to give. If it appears that He to work against Him or counter to your thoughts.. listen and “mind the checks.” Simply listen, obey and trust the Lord, even when it seems high folly to do so.

Losing Game

He will in the end cause “all things work together,” Romans 8:28, though many times initially the outworking of His plan appears contradictory. In His wider knowledge He is content to play a ‘losing’ game!!

Quiet Obedience

So if you want to know His voice, never consider results or possible effects. Obey the quiet voice, even when He asks you to move in the dark or the opposite way. He Himself will be glorious light in you, as He leads you down the path you are to take.

Secure in Him

You will discover an acquaintance and a fellowship with God holding you.. holding you and Him together, even in the severest testings – holding Him and you together.. even under the most terrible pressure.

Anchored to Christ

In this time of earthquakes and many other terrors that are coming on the world, men’s hearts will fail unless their heart is anchored to His voice of love. Listen for that still small voice of the Lord that whispers deep within the heart – and mind the checks !

October 7, 2016

Pruning Time

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Today we’re paying a return visit to Donna Wood at the blog Food For the Journey. Click the title below to read this at source and then look around.

Pruning needed?

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. ~ John 15:2

Today, I gave Kailua a blessing because I wanted to and it seemed the right thing to do.  Also, because she is beautiful and she is teaching me a lesson.

hoyaKailua is a house plant – a Hoya (sometimes called a wax plant) – and that is what we usually called her (The Hoya is blooming…).  When we moved, we decided to give her a name so we named her after a city in Hawaii because we thought that was where she originated. Not so, but oh well.

Kailua was given to me 36 years ago by a friend when we came home from making our Cursillo.  It was a cutting from her plant and was in a teeny tiny pot.  The thing about Hoyas is that they like to be pot bound in order to bloom. It will usually take a couple of years before they do and they do not like to be moved around.  They like light as well.  If you mess with them, they just might not bloom at all.  They like to be grounded in one place and they don’t like changes.

We have moved several times in the 36 years.  Some places she loved, some she tolerated, and in a few she pouted in serious dislike.  I moved her to bigger pots twice bringing on the pouting, but she got over it.  So, before we moved into this new house she wasn’t doing well.  I decided she needed a new pot and a serious haircut on some straggly vines and on her root ball. I hoped she would come out of it someday and talk to me again.  I saved some cuttings, now named Junior, rooted them and put them in a new teeny, tiny pot just in case Kailua decided that this was all too much to deal with. Surprise of all surprises, she loves the whole thing – the haircuts, the new pot, the sunny window – and she is putting on new shiny leaves daily.  Junior is, too.

And so……what’s the lesson?  You might ask. You could have your own meditation regarding Kailua’s story if you set with it for a time but this is mine.

I am so like Kailua.  I like to be grounded in one spot.  Moving, along with other issues, has been stressful. I really don’t like change though I’m getting used to it. Many times my haircuts are hard to manage (Can you tell?). It takes me a while to settle in and let blooming begin. In the meantime, there may be weeping and pouting.

God does not worry about that for which I am grateful after a time.  He knows how beautiful we can become after pruning, cutting out our dead wood, much of which we don’t know we have, and put in a larger pot.  He, unlike me, can see a long way down the road to where he wants me to go, what he wants me to do, what tangled up root ball he wishes to dismantle and what beautiful gifts of abundant new leaves will be able to grow after the pruning.  If we allow it, he will begin that transformational process.  It is easier with our active consent.

These last 18 months have been a challenge.  They have been stressful and I’ve had to struggle to keep balance in my life.  I know God is working deep in me because I’ve had similar times before.  Not quite so many issues at once but very stressful times, anyway.  I’ve always, so far, come out the other side of these with more inner healing, more understanding of the workings of God in my life, more compassion and more love – sometimes a new ministry. I expect that will be the case this time as well.  Thanks for the object lesson, Kailua. I’m grateful.

Thank you, God.


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.

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

Image: Wikipedia

 

September 29, 2016

Aiming for Perfection

Matthew 5:48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Today we’re featuring a new author here. John Mark Reynolds writes at Eidos a Patheos blog. Click the title below to read at source, and then browse the site to see other things he’s written.

Let’s Be Perfect!

Jesus said a hard thing when He said: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

I don’t know about you, but I am not perfect. In fact, we pass off our failure by saying to ourselves: “Nobody is perfect.” This is wrong since at least the God-Man, Jesus, is perfect and there is a good theological argument that in her obedience His mother was also perfect.

When we demand perfection of ourselves, then we do great harm. We put our false ideas of perfection and our efforts in place of the good we can do. Striving to be perfect can drive a person utterly mad.

So here we are: imperfect. One strategy is to not worry. We are all imperfect, so imperfection can love company, but this foolish. Instead, we can look to what can help us get better. If we cannot be perfect, perhaps we can be more perfect than we are. This at least stops our perfectionism that strains for something we cannot do.

Yet this is not enough. Jesus commanded us to be perfect and sadly, “closer to perfect” still is not perfect and only perfection will do. God’s utter joy is to intense for soul with even a slight fault. Hell is the collapse of a broken soul in the face of the weight of God’s glory.

We must be transformed from within and the task is beyond our abilities. God must come and live in us and those parts of us that He inhabits are made perfect. As Saint Paul says there is the imperfect old man and the new man that is coming.

We are simultaneously perfect and broken. Death will cause the broken bits to fall away  while the perfection God makes, the persons we were meant to be, will be left. This impacts every part of us, if we will let it. Our minds can be made ready for paradise by Divine Wisdom, our hearts by Divine Love, and our passions purified by Divine Goodness. All we need to do is turn from our lies to God’s nature.

God is wisdom.When a man says: “I want to know,” then he is seeking God. When a man says, “I want to understand,” then he is seeking God. God is wisdom, there is no division. To know God is know virtue, wisdom, and joy. We know wisdom, because God knows all things and give His children vision, understanding, and decidedness. We seek God and He reveals Himself to us. This vision of God, the experience of being born again, gives us a fresh understanding of the world.

We commit ourselves and then we see.

Is this experience for all? It can be. Christians are invited perfection and we can move forward into divine transformation if we wish. Why don’t I wish this good thing? Simply because I am unwilling to lose what seems good enough.

 

 

 

September 27, 2016

The Target: Perfect Obedience

James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

Today we pay a return visit to the blog Christians in Context, this time around the writer is J. Mark Fox. Click the title below to see other thoughts from the Epistle of James.

We grow according to our obedience

The late poet Archibald Rutledge told of meeting a man whose dog had just been killed. Heartbroken, the man explained to Rutledge how it happened. Because he worked outdoors, he often took his dog with him. That morning, he left the animal in a clearing and gave him a command to stay and watch his backpack that had his lunch in it, while he went into the forest. His faithful friend understood, for that’s exactly what he did. Then a fire started in the woods, and soon the blaze spread to the spot where the dog had been left. He stayed right where he was, in perfect obedience to his master’s word. With tears, the dog’s owner said, “I always had to be careful what I told him to do, because I knew he would do it.” That’s the kind of obedience that Jesus demonstrated to the Father. He went through the fires of suffering and death to accomplish God’s purpose, to win our pardon, pay for our sin and invite us into a relationship with Him. For His glory and for our great good, He also calls us into obedience to the Father’s will, no matter the cost.

In James’ powerfully practical book, he says the key to obedience to God is found in looking intently into the perfect law of liberty, God’s Word, and then doing what it says. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Why then do most of us struggle with this? James said a person who hears the Word and doesn’t do it is like a man who looks in a mirror and walks away, forgetting at once what he looks like. Most scholars believe the man forgets what he looks like not because he has short-term memory loss, but because he chooses to forget. He looks at himself in the mirror and sees the ravages of sin, the scars of lifestyle choices, the marks of laziness or lust, bitterness or gluttony. And he hurries away to the rest of his day, because he doesn’t even want to think of what changes he would have to make if he really took the image in the mirror seriously.

Isn’t that what Sunday morning can become, and has for many? We hear the Word and know that God is speaking to us, but as soon as the last amen is uttered we are out the door and on our way and whatever rumblings we were feeling in our soul during the sermon are gone. I have been in the movie theater, and so have you, where the credits are rolling and no one is moving. Everybody is sitting speechless, powerfully moved by what they have just seen and heard. There’s not a whisper in the place and if there is, it seems unholy. Everyone is stunned by what just happened, and no one wants to leave. That begs the question: when was the last time you responded to the Word like that? When was the last time you heard the message of truth from the Scripture and could not move from your seat until you had dealt with what God was speaking into your soul? Those times are much too rare, friends, but they don’t have to be. They increase at the same rate with which we take the truth of God’s Word for what it is.

Do you ever wonder why some Christians grow to maturity with rocket-like speed, and others seem to plod along in the same place for years? This is a key. We grow up in proportion to our obedience.

 

August 16, 2016

The Baptismal Formula; The Discipleship Formula

As we did last year at this time, yesterday and today we’ve been re-visiting the website GCD (Gospel-Centered Discipleship) and this time around the featured writer is Pittsburgh young adults pastor Austin Gohn. Click the title which follows to read this at source, and then spend some time looking at other articles.

In the Name of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit

“In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Whatever the format—swimming pool, font, bathtub, or baptistery—this simple, rhythmic phrase has “stirred the waters” (Jn. 5:4) of baptism since the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20). As a second grader, I remember hearing these words at my own baptism while trying to catch one more breath. Now, as a pastor, I pronounce them over young adults as I baptize them in my church’s small and under-heated baptistery (complete with its own Bob Ross worthy Jordan River mural).

As we step into discipleship, though, we often leave this phrase (and the reality it proclaims) in the water. We attempt discipleship in the name of the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit, but not in the name of the Holy Three. We might confess the Trinity at a doctrinal level, but we forget, sideline, or ignore the Trinity at a practical level. As Eugene Peterson noted, “We know the truth and goals of the gospel. But we have haven’t taken the time to apprentice ourselves to the way of Jesus, the way he did it. And so we end up doing the right thing in the wrong way and gum up the works.”[1] Instead of living “life to the fullest” (Jn. 10:10), we end up stuck, smug, or spent somewhere in the course of discipleship.

But, what if Jesus intended baptism “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” to set the tone for discipleship? Listen to the way Dallas Willard paraphrases the Great Commission:

“I have been given say over all things in heaven and in the earth. As you go, therefore, make disciples of all kinds of people, submerge them in the Trinitarian presence, and show them how to do everything I have commanded. And now look: I am with you every minute until the job is done.” (italics mine)[2]

The Trinity is not a mere entry point into discipleship but the ongoing environment for discipleship. This means that gospel-centered discipleship is only as gospel-centered as it is Trinity-centered (please read Fred Sanders on this). Perhaps, this is what St. Paul meant when he prayed for “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” to be with the Corinthian church (2 Cor. 13:14).

If we want our discipleship to bear fruit, sometimes we need to be pulled aside like Apollos and have explained to us “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:24-28). We need to uncover the areas where we only lean into the name of the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, and recover discipleship in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Discipleship in the Name of One or Maybe Two

When we attempt discipleship in the name of one or two persons of the Trinity, it’s like attempting to live on only food or oxygen or water (or two out of three). Sooner or later, you are going to feel the effects of forgetting to eat, drink, or breathe. It’s a life or death matter. Discipleship is no different. Without the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, disciples (and even entire communities of disciples) start to shrivel up.

Trinitarian DiscipleshipAlthough there are many angles from which we could consider this (e.g. overemphasis on one person of the Trinity), let us consider what happens when we neglect one person of the Trinity and attempt discipleship in the name of two, but not the other. If we attempt discipleship apart from the Son, we might begin to equate our progress in the faith (or lack thereof) with our status before God (Eph. 2:8-10, Gal. 2:15-16). If we attempt discipleship apart from the Father, we might attempt to live like Jesus without knowing the fundamental knowledge about the Father that made his life the logical overflow (as expressed in his Sermon on the Mount, especially Mt. 6:25-34).[3] And, if we attempt discipleship apart from the Spirit, we might burn out as we try to overcome our sinful habits through own insufficient power and discipline (Rom. 8:12-13, Gal. 5:16-25). Whether through ignorance or intention, each of these mistakes can be deadly for discipleship.

In my own life, I tend to lean into the Father and the Son but forget the Holy Spirit. Even if I believe (and teach) that transformation is not possible apart from the Holy Spirit, my own discipleship growth often centers on correct motives (the finished work of Christ) and correct knowledge of the Father.  Borrowing the language of A.W. Tozer, it’s possible that 95% of my own discipleship would go unchanged if the Holy Spirit were withdrawn. As a result, I am prone to feeling burned-out, tired, and exhausted.

Since these kinds of oversights are difficult to notice on our own, we need a community of disciples who can gently point out where we need some course correction. This is not something that can be figured out with a Trinity survey or checklist, but by careful listening to our brothers and sisters in Christ. In our church, this happens best in discipleship communities (our equivalent of missional communities). While we are eating together and talking, I’ve heard phrases like:

  • “I don’t feel like I can change.”
  • “I feel like I am letting God down.”
  • “I don’t understand why Jesus would tell us to do that.”

These phrases act like signposts that clue us into areas where we need to be reminded of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are an open door to talk about the Trinity-centered gospel.

Discipleship in the Name of All Three

The best way to get back on track is to remember that we are already locals in the neighborhood of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Discipleship is not a way into the neighborhood, but something we do as part of the community. As St. Paul made clear in Ephesians 1:3-14, our participation in the life of the Trinity is thanks to the saving work of the Trinity in the first place. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit chose, loved, predestined, redeemed, sealed, and adopted us (just for starters!). At baptism, the Trinity became our home.

With this confidence in the saving work of the Trinity, we are free to explore how discipleship in a Trinitarian shape might look. Although there are many possibilities, we can start by considering some of the implications of John 13-17 (which is arguably the best discourse we have on life with the Triune God). Here are a few implications from Jesus’ conversation with his disciples:

  • Discipleship in the name of the Father is dependent on the Father’s provision (15:16) and love for us (16:27).
  • Discipleship in the name of the Son is made possible through him (14:6), looks to him to see what the Father is like (14:9), converses with the Father through him (14:24; 16:23), and trusts him to bring about the fruit of discipleship (15:1-4).
  • Discipleship in the name of the Holy Spirit relies on the Spirit to remind us of what the Son taught (14:25-26), convict of us sin (16:8), and teach us how the truth applies in present circumstances (16:12-15).

This is just a taste of discipleship in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Alongside this and other Trinity-soaked texts, read authors like St. Augustine, John Owen, Eugene Peterson, Susanna Wesley, Dallas Willard, Fred Sanders, and Wesley Hill—people who have both written about and experienced life with the Triune God. Steep in these for a few minutes and the possibilities for discipleship in a Trinitarian shape really start to open up.

It’s Missional

As a final note, doing discipleship in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not just about us. It’s for the sake of everyone else. The process of discipleship is just as critical to God’s mission as the product of discipleship. In a culture that is looking for the next self-improvement strategy, discipleship in a Trinitarian shape offers people a transformative relationship.Discipleship itself is an opportunity to show the world not only different goals to pursue, but also a different way in which to pursue them—in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And that’s good news.

[1] Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 300.
[2] Willard, The Great Omission, (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2006), xiii.
[3] I am thinking here of the way Jesus deals with anxiety. He doesn’t say, “I’m not anxious, so you shouldn’t be anxious.” Instead, he says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (italics mine). Anxiety is rooted in wrong ideas about the Father.

 

August 7, 2016

The Signs of Eternal Salvation

•••by Russell Young

Each of us wants assurance of an eternal hope.  The apostle John has provided clarification concerning this matter, but did not let assurance rest on a confession of faith once made.  Near the end of his first epistle he has recorded: “I wrote these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 Jn 5:13, NIV) The things that he wrote were contained in his first letter. From his epistle fifteen characteristics have been identified that expose knowledge of the believer’s hope. A person may know that he or she has eternal life if they:

  1. img 080716enjoy fellowship with Christ and the Father. (1:3, 2:24)
  2. do not keep on sinning. (2:29, 3:6,9)
  3. obey God’s commands (2:3, 3:24, 5:3)
  4. do not love this world or the things in it (2:15, 16, 5:4)
  5. purify themselves. (3:3)
  6. see a decreasing pattern of sin in his or her life. (3:3, 6, 9, 5:18)
  7. love other Christians. (2:9, 10, 3:10, 14, 4: 7, 11, 12, 4:19-20)
  8. experience answered prayer. (3:22)
  9. experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit. (2:27, 3:20, 24, 4:13)
  10. know the truth; can discern between spiritual truth and error. (2:21, 3:6)
  11. suffer rejection (hated) because of their faith. (3:13)
  12. love others. (4:7)
  13. have concern about the material needs of others. (3:17)
  14. are like Christ in this world. (4:17)
  15. have a clear conscience. (3:21)

No one can “work” to achieve what is required for eternal life and a single confession of faith will not accomplish it.  Without the Spirit the believer does not have the capacity to accomplish that which is needed, but would be left with his or her own sinful nature and a demanding body.  The life that manifests these characteristics is being worked in the believer by the Spirit of Christ in order that the Lord might be the first-born among many brothers and sisters in his likeness.  A person’s work is to believe and to believe to the extent that he or she is willing to submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit (Heb 5:9; Rom 8:4).  The transformed believer will display the identified characteristics.

A person’s eternal salvation is not accomplished by adhering to the practices of an institution, nor living by a list of rules.  It does not take place through a specific religious experience or by engaging in a certain type of service.  Neither is it superficial “belief” that lacks trust and obedience.  Eternal salvation comes through Christ and the believer’s personal relationship with him.  The hopeful person must practice obedience so that Christ might live in and through the person who claims his name. (Col 1:27) A relationship must develop that leads the believer in a righteous walk because that is the only walk engaged by the Lord.

The apostle Paul said, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I might be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:27, NLT) He did not rest in the belief that he had mastered the life of faith.

God does not want his people to walk in fear but in love for him and in obedience to his will. Perfect love (which is obedience) casts out all fear and like the Israelites of old, his people have been told of his expectations. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37, NIV)

The love that God expects is revealed in a close relationship with him.  It requires reading his Word so that the Spirit might use it for any cleansing that is necessary to accomplish the believer’s transformation and develop holiness. And, it is based on an active prayer life through which sin is confessed and forgiveness sought so that a clean conscience can be maintained.  The importance of being made holy, washed by the cleansing of God’s Word (Eph 5:26), was made clear by Paul.  Righteous thoughts and actions lead to holiness (Rom 6:19, 22) and without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Heb 12:14)

All of God’s creation was fashioned for his good pleasure.  Humankind is part of that creation.  When all is said and done, God will be eternally satisfied with his work and the transformed believer.  Those who have listened to his voice, who possess the characteristics of his Son and those revealed by John, will be part of his eternal joy.

May 5, 2016

The Time for Boasting

This wasn’t planned, or I would have run them back-to-back, but today’s devotional pairs well with the one from May 2nd, Lest Anyone Should Boast. The writer is Mark McIntyre at the blog Attempts at Honesty who has appeared here previously. To read this at source, click the title below.

A reason for boasting

For the most part, I really don’t enjoy listening to postgame, on-field interviews of athletes. If the interviewee is on the winning side, too often the interview amounts to boasting about how he is faster, stronger or smarter than his opponent. We live in a day where self-promotion is encouraged and expected. This is an aspect of our society with which I am not comfortable. Perhaps this is why these two verses in Jeremiah jumped out at me when I read them this morning:

“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”” (Jeremiah 9:23–24, ESV)

For believers, if we are to boast at all, let it be boasting about the God we serve. Let us boast about that God makes himself understandable to us. Let us boast that God allows us to know him and be in relationship with him.

We have a reason for boasting, but that reason is not us. Let us boast about God’s character.

If we understand God’s character and boast about it, some of that character is bound to rub off on us. Please look at the list that is given in the verses above.

  • Steadfast love
  • Justice
  • Righteousness

If ware know God and are in relationship with him, it seems to me that these traits should be increasingly operational in our lives both individually and collectively. If we are seeking hard after God, it should be these traits that define the church.

Ask yourself these questions,

  • Are visitors to my church enveloped by a sense of God’s steadfast love (lovingkindness in the NASB)?
  • Is my congregations known for pursuing justice in the local community and around the world?
  • Do I convey an accurate portrayal of true righteousness, that which is granted by God through a relationship with Jesus Christ?

Not only is this a corporate challenge for us as we gather on Sundays, this is a challenge to us as individuals. We should be in prayer to God and give him permission to work these traits into the fabric of our lives. Paul tells us:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12–13, ESV)

Notice that there is effort required on our part. We need to extend effort toward becoming what God wants us to be. But ultimately it is God who works these traits into us. We need to allow Scripture to shape our desires and submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit. This is a good news, bad news situation.

The bad news is that we fall short in love, justice and righteousness. The good news is that God is not done with us.

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