Christianity 201

January 25, 2023

The Second Thing You Should Read Today

…for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. – Acts 17:11b NIV

Today’s reading here hits absolutely all of us where we live, because it’s related to what we’re doing at this exact moment!

…This would have been the 12th time we posted something from Gary Henry at the blog WordPoints. Well, actually, it is the 12th time, but it’s not from his devotionals. Rather, something caught my eye on his site, a special article with the title below, and I knew I should share it here.

Daily Devotional Books

Setting aside some “devotional time” each day is a practice that many, if not most, Christians prioritize. During that time, whether short or long, various activities may be engaged in. These are intended to foster greater “devotion” to God: prayer, study of the Scriptures, singing of hymns, devotional meditation, etc.

But many Christians also read a selection from a “daily devotional book.” These books contain short readings on topics of spiritual significance. Hugely popular, devotional books are a major sector in the religious book market. Many people purchase one or more new ones each year and read them as part of their daily devotional time.

Unfortunately, many of the best-selling devotionals are popular not because they produce greater devotion to God but because they give the reader a sugary “high.” They aim to make the reader feel better, but they do little to stimulate significant spiritual growth.

In an article analyzing the popularity of devotional books, author Jen Wilkin noted that most of these are based on a two-fold premise concerning “daily devotion”: (1) it involves being inspired, and (2) it involves being comforted. But while devotion to God is a biblical concept, there is more to it than feeling better emotionally. Read the following words by Wilkin several of times and give them a chance to adjust your thinking:

Are the words of devotional books profitable? Some, but not all. Emotion is certainly an expression of devotion but is not its sum total. Biblical words of comfort are profitable, but so are words of correction. Both are words of life. If devotional reading is our primary vehicle for formation, we run the risk of malformation and — worse still — of forming God himself into an idol, one who comforts without correcting, seeks relationship but not repentance, dotes but does not discipline, and is our companion but not our commander (Christianity Today, October 2020).

So identifying a good devotional book requires that we first understand what devotion means. It means to be consecrated or set apart for God’s special service. When we spend time each day in “devotional” activities, those should result in our being more “devout” — that is, we are more intensely interested in serving God and we have a better sense of what His service requires of us. “Devotion is not mere feeling, but action: It serves and it obeys” (Wilkin). As Jesus taught in Matthew 6:24, being “devoted” to a master and “serving” that master are inseparable.

Concerning the Scriptures, Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16,17, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Scriptures are “profitable” because they provide four things: doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Providing these things to us perfectly, the Scriptures are our source for the Lord’s “words of eternal life” (John 6:68). There is not a devotional book in the world that can give us what the Scriptures provide, but to whatever extent such a book can be an “aid” to us, shouldn’t we want it recognize the priority of these same four needs: doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness?

With the above thoughts in mind, I suggest that you ask these questions about any resource (not just books but any other devotional aid) you might consider using:

  • Does it provoke and challenge me in a healthy, biblical sense (Hebrews 10:24)?
  • Does it contribute to my spiritual formation or my malformation?
  • Does it result in my being more devoted (“set apart for special service”) to God?
  • Does it provide correction as well as comfort?
  • Does it promote service and submission in my life?
  • Does it call me to repentance and change?
  • Does it encourage me to take the next step in my obedience?

But finally, there is one more thing to say, and it is the most important thing of all: not even the best devotional book should take the place of studying the Scriptures and prayer. To quote Jen Wilkin one last time: “Devotional writing, when done with excellence, may supplement our time in the Scriptures, but it must not subordinate or supplant it.” To which this writer says a hearty “Amen!”

January 4, 2023

Created by the Master Creator

Looking at today’s blog post, I was reminded of something I heard decades ago, where a young child turns to a friend — a friend who was possibly being a bit derisive — and said, “God made me, and God don’t make no junk!”

Today we’re featuring a writer who was new to us, but came recommended by one of our other writers. Joshua Jarvis can best be described as an entrepreneur with a background in various types of business ventures. He is also the author of Kingdom Driven Leader.

You can read more at his website, where he writes about God, Family and Leadership, or click the title which follows to get there via today’s article.

I Am A Masterpiece Created By God

Calling yourself a masterpiece feels a bit strange. However, the Bible is pretty clear that we were planned, handcrafted and that we have a purpose. While we might not feel perfect, God sees us differently. Let’s examine how He sees us.

You are a masterpiece.

For we are God’s masterpiece,  – Ephesian 2:10 NLT

A few years ago, I heard a message that really highlighted this verse and what it means.  It’s tough to take what a Pastor says and let it change the way you think when the messages are 30 minutes or less and it focuses only on a part of a verse.  However, I’ve personally always struggled with value and this message bounced around in my head for a long time.  Out of all the I am affirmations, saying I am a masterpiece feels weird.  I know that God has paid the ultimate price for me and I know He loves me, but if I’m honest, sometimes I need reassurance that I was made with a purpose in mind.

After that sermon, I wanted to dive in and find out what does the Bible has to say about me (and you) being a masterpiece.

We have become his poetry, a re-created people that will fulfill the destiny he has given each of us, for we are joined to Jesus, the Anointed One. Even before we were born, God planned in advance our destiny and the good works we would do to fulfill it! Ephesians 2:10 TPT

Almost every translation of this verse uses the word “workmanship.”  It’s pretty easy to see why anyone might have glossed over this verse.   I’m God’s workmanship reads like, “I’m a fantastic chair or object. ” I might be great but nothing that God is proud of, or at least nothing unique. Why then do only a few translations use the word masterpiece?   This is one reason why it’s worth looking into verses.  If the verse whispers to you, then spend some time there trying to understand it.

The original Greek used the word poema, the root word for poem.  If you’ve ever had to write a poem you likely remember how intentional you had to be. Syllables, rhyming, rhythm, and flow, a poem is one big artistic calculation. Today if you write a poem it’s being typed into a document that lives on the cloud.  Every help is available at your fingertips. Thesaurus, dictionary, and grammar helpers all there making suggestions and allowing you to craft something truly better than it could be without that help.  However, when this verse was written, it was a time of intense artistry.  Every letter hand stroked by the author knowing that one mistake could ruin the entire creation.

You were planned

God says you were planned with the intentionality of a loving poem, a masterpiece. Masterpieces have to be planned.  Imagine if one day you just followed every whim you had in your mind.   While it might be fun to imagine, I can’t imagine any masterpiece coming from such a haphazard approach. Creativity is essential, but so is having a clear plan. Psalm says that he crafted us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). God tells Jeremiah in verse 1:5, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.”  You are not a mistake, God planned for you. He has a clear purpose for your life. God has a very specific plan for you but instead of telling you all about it, He wants you to discover it with Him. He’s inviting all of us on an adventure to uncover the story of why He created us.

You are a new creation

It might be difficult to call yourself a masterpiece when you think about your life and your own accomplishments.  We might view our life through a lens from the past, but God doesn’t do that.  When we accepted Him, we got a new life… we were born again.  This phrase isn’t just to identify weird Christians.  As a born-again Christian, I am a new creation.  I might have scars from my past but I am not defined by my past and neither are you.  Instead, God uses those scars to multiply what He wants to do through you.

You are perfect

Like any great work of art, you are perfect. No great artwork looks for ways to appear more beautiful or to improve itself. It just is. When you accepted the new life of Christ you became this perfect creation. This statement isn’t giving you permission to do whatever you want, I’m not saying you don’t have room for growth.  Instead, because you are perfect you now have abilities that you didn’t have before. You can now ACT perfectly, whereas before you could not. That doesn’t mean you’ll always act perfectly but that you have this ability. The great news is that God has already forgiven us for our past and our future.

Every time I struggle with this, I think about how I feel about my kids. Every new parent thinks their babies are perfect. Their children have done nothing to earn this praise and can do nothing to improve this view.  Parents see their children as masterpieces.   Imagine then, how God in His infinite love sees us!

You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside and my intricate outside, and wove them all together in my mother’s womb. I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex! Everything you do is marvelously breathtaking. It simply amazes me to think about it! How thoroughly you know me, Lord! You even formed every bone in my body when you created me in the secret place; carefully, skillfully you shaped me[c] from nothing to something. You saw who you created me to be before I became me! Before I’d ever seen the light of day, the number of days you planned for me were already recorded in your book.
Psalm 139:13-16 TPT

Takeaway:  You were planned intentionally. You are perfect in God’s eyes. There is nothing you can do to change His love for you.

 

January 2, 2023

When it Feels Like God Has Left the Building

This is our fifth time at Before the Cross, but this time around we’re highlighting a different writer, Daniel Barber. You’re encouraged to visit the page where you’ll find teaching videos and articles. Click the title which follows to read this where it first appeared.

Feeling Forsaken

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1a)

It’s a question we as Christians find ourselves asking throughout our lives as we encounter various trials. God feels light-years away from us as yet another year passes of our weighty prayers going unanswered. We pray diligently, believing that at any moment of any day God will finally answer our requests beyond our wildest dreams. We’ll get that cool job with all the benefits, flexible schedules, and laid back bosses we’ve always wanted. The spouse, whose physical characteristics, personality and theology match everything we wrote out on our lists to a tee, will find us and fall madly in love with us overnight. The doctor will tell us every trace of our cancer has completely vanished. But, these things don’t happen. So we wait. We pray, read our bibles, regularly attend church and bible studies, and we wait.

During this period of waiting, we see others receive the very things we’ve been diligently praying for. People we deem as “less deserving” of God’s miraculous grace. Three months after accepting Jesus Christ as their savior, the newest member of our church is engaged, promoted at their job, and singing on the worship team. We know we should be happy for them, but something is holding us back. We think to ourselves “I’ve been in church seeking the Lord for years, doing my best to honor God in all that I do, and the biggest prayers of my life have gone unanswered. Meanwhile, this person comes in off the street and receives everything I’ve ever wanted. How is that fair?”

Bitterness begins to take root in our hearts. The growth is slow at first, but over time we begin to lose faith. God can’t truly love us. He must have something against us. Why else would he cruelly parade others amazing lives in front of our faces, while we face nothing but hardships and deafening silence?

“Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:2)

But then, we begin to see God’s provision. A friend offers to pay for our lunch, not realizing our bank account is down to double digits. We find a new place to live and get the help we need moving, all on a week’s notice. A tornado lands less than a mile away from our workplace and we don’t even realize it until the next day. God is providing for our needs and protecting us from harm. He must love us.

“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.” (Psalm 22: 3-5)

“God, I know you answer prayers”, we say while down on our knees, “So why have you not answered THIS prayer? The most important prayer of my life?” While some may blame our unanswered prayers on a lack of faith, we know that’s not it. According to Matthew 17:20, all we need is “faith as small as a mustard seed” to move mountains, not because of any inherent power tied to the size of our faith, but because of the omnipotent power and infinite size of our God. Even the most infinitesimal amount of faith is all that God requires to work wonders in our lives. Psalm 135:6 says “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps”, so we know that no matter how much we may want something, if God doesn’t want it, or the timeline in which we want it doesn’t match His, He won’t do it.

This is a particularly hard concept to grasp when what we desire is a good thing. Doesn’t God want us to have spouses with whom we can better serve Him, good jobs in which to provide more for our families and pay better tithes, or an end to our various forms of physical suffering? While we may think we know what God should do and when he should do it, which is usually whenever we want it done, Proverbs 19:21 tells us that “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand”, and no purpose of God’s can be thwarted (Job 42:2).

Sometimes we may receive the good thing we want when we want it because it lines up with God’s timing, but sometimes we may not. We must come to terms with the fact that God’s ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). Who are we to question the one who has commanded the morning since our day began (Job 38:12) or make demands of one who can “send forth lightnings” (Job 38:35)? As highly as we may think of ourselves when the sin of arrogance gets the better of us, we cannot honestly claim to have these abilities or any other of the imaginable and unimaginable abilities of God. Because we are so completely powerless by comparison, why don’t we leave our desires in the mighty hands of the one who is the source of all power?

So yes, we should pray without ceasing about every need and want in our life, but we should not be anxious about any of them. Through this prayer and supplication, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,” will guard our hearts and minds in Jesus (Phillippians 4:7).

When we find ourselves yet again asking God why he has forsaken us, let’s remember He has not and will not ever do so. Jesus is the “friend that sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24) who has numbered the hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7). We may be stuck in the pain of the here and now, but God can see our future, and knows that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Instead of fretting over whatever it is we think we lack, let’s “we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Even when our prayers go unanswered and we begin to doubt God’s love for us, we can rest in the fact our feelings aren’t truth. God’s Word is truth.

January 1, 2023

Building a New Year with Materials that Last

The illustration which follows is not meant to be a description of how heaven ‘works.’

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.

It continued like this until 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 we start a new year, I want us to produce something of substance. Sometimes I get feeling at the end of the day that I simply haven’t accomplished enough for the Kingdom of God. The sun sets or the ‘Goodnights’ are said or the computer is turned off and I ask myself, what did I really do today that was of lasting value or 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 (or self-evaluation) 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 or spoken on podcasts is wood, hay and stubble. I started Christianity 201 because I wanted something that would be of substance; something of a more lasting quality than what I was producing on my other blog at the time; 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 people in our sphere of influence, but touches the heart of God Himself.

That’s living out our Christ-following at the next level or what I would term Christianity 201. And just as that name propels me to go beyond the basic, the elementary, the minimum; I encourage you to set up whatever reminder you need this year to do the same.

In the quotation of the lyrics from a very familiar worship song, I’ve highlighted four of the lines:

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…

When our works are “tested by fire” what is going to be left. Wood, hay and straw will be consumed, but gold, silver and precious stones can withstand the test by fire. Then we will have treasure in heaven.

December 21, 2022

We’re God’s Unique Creation

Although it’s no longer as active, this week I worked on updating the blogroll at Thinking Out Loud. Blogrolls — links to other online writers — were once quite common, whereas today everyone seems to wish to keep their readers to themselves! In doing so, I came across Practical Theology Today writer Curt Hinkle, and although we linked to him back in March, I thought these thoughts bore repeating here at C201.

Clicking the link in the title below will also take you to his site, where more articles await you.

Woodworking and God’s Poiema

A surprising advantage of woodworking using hand tools – one can quietly prep boards and layout dovetails during a church service. A dozen or so years ago I got to do just that. My friend Sonja preached a sermon focused on Ephesians 2, specifically, For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do (Eph. 2:10, CSB). She asked me if I would relocate my workbench and some tools to the church sanctuary stage and then do some woodworking stuff as she gave her message.

As I prepared boards to cut dovetails that Sunday morning, I contemplated the significance that I, Curt Hinkle, am God’s workmanship. What does it mean to be God’s workmanship? And what does it mean that I am his workmanship with purpose? And what are those good works for which God has prepared for me? Some thoughts…

I notice that the Apostle Paul said we are God’s workmanship, not you (or Curt Hinkle, for that matter). In our western, American individualistic approach to faith, it’s an easy miss. I don’t doubt that this is a truism applicable to the individual, but we need to remember that Paul is addressing the Church in Ephesus. It seems that he is saying that Christ-followers as a whole unit are his workmanship, created for good works – individually and corporately.

So, let’s look at what Paul might be saying both individually and corporately. The root Greek word for workmanship is poiema (ποίημα). It describes God’s creative activity. It’s the word from which poem and poetry are derived. It has also been translated as accomplishment, masterpiece, handiwork, or a product of his hand. The Jerusalem Bible’s translation of Ephesians 2:10:

We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life.

God’s work of art! In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis describes us as “Divine work(s) of art, something that God is making…” Or, as Timothy Keller has been oft quoted…

Do you know what it means that you are God’s workmanship? What is art? Art is beautiful, art is valuable, and art is an expression of the inner being of the maker, of the artist. Imagine what that means. You’re beautiful … you’re valuable … and you’re an expression of the very inner being of the Artist, the divine Artist, God Himself.

As a woodworker, I know the reality that every project I work on is a unique creation. Every year I try to make gifts for each of our four kids (i.e. charcuterie boards). On the surface, they all appear to be the same but they are not. They each have nuances related to things like wood types, grain orientation, blemishes, and, of course, operator error. What they do have in common that cannot be taken away from them: They are each a unique creation of mine, an expression of my creative activity.

The Apostle Paul used poiema only one other time in his writings that are included in the New Testament canon. In Romans 1:20 he states…

For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and all the things that make him God [his divine nature] – have been clearly seen [perceived], understood through what God has made (poiema). (EXB)

To be God’s poiema is a big deal! It’s right up there with all of creation (which we discussed in The Theology of Woodworking). We are visible expressions of the invisible God. As a higher schooler once said to me, “We get to be walking billboards.” It’s the “good works” we were created for. What a privilege!

With woodworking, there is a point where I, the artist, say “good enough.” It’s not a statement of shoddiness. It’s more of a comment about return on investment. At some point, I deem a project complete enough for its intended purpose. Satisfied with my poiema, I move on to the next project.

I am aware that not all of us consider it a privilege to be “walking billboards” due to real or perceived warts. But Paul didn’t say “For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works someday.” There is a present tense implication. God’s creative activity is ongoing in the form of transformation into the likeness of his Son (For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his SonRomans 8:29). He doesn’t say “good enough.” As we continue to follow him, the warts (real and perceived) begin to fade.

Transformation. We’ve talked about that in previous blog posts (cf. Metamorfoo). We must remember that it’s not our job to transform ourselves. Our job is to follow Jesus, positioning ourselves so God can accomplish the transformation – For God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what he wants (Philippians 2:13, TLB). This is the entirety of C.S. Lewis’ quote from The Problem of Pain

“We are a Divine work of art, something that God is making and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.”

December 4, 2022

Ditching Grumbling and Arguing

This is visit #5 with Michael James Schwab who lives in Oaxaca, Mexico serving at a home for needy children called Cristo Por Su Mundo (Christ for the World) operated by Foundation For His Ministry.  His blog is ToEnjoyGod.com. Clicking the header which follows will let you read today’s devotional where it first appeared.

Become Blameless

The Bible talks a lot about the importance of being blameless. Especially Psalms and Proverbs:

LORD, who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless. (Psalm 15:1-2)

The blameless spend their days under the LORD’s, care, and their inheritance will endure forever. (Psalm 37:18)

Those who sacrifice thank offerings honor me, and to the blameless I will show my salvation. (Psalm 50:23)

No good thing does the LORD withhold from those whose walk is blameless. (Psalm 84:11)

The LORD holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless. (Proverbs 2:7)

The way of the LORD is a refuge for the blameless, but is the ruin of those who do evil. (Proverbs 10:29)

The righteousness of the blameless makes their paths straight, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness. (Proverbs 11:5)

Better the poor whose walk is blameless than the rich whose ways are perverse. (Proverbs 28:6)

The one whose walk is blameless is kept safe, but the one whose ways are perverse will fall into the pit. (Proverbs 28:18)

It seems there are a lot of benefits to living a blameless life. Good things like living on God’s holy mountain, being under the LORD’s care, salvation, protection and straight paths.

Two questions. What does it mean to be blameless and How can we be blameless?

One dictionary defines blameless as innocent of wrongdoing. Evidently, to be blameless we must never do anything wrong. It seems like an impossible dream. Never offend anyone. Never hurt anyone. Never take revenge. The list could be a long one.

How can we ever hope to accomplish blamelessness?

According to Paul in Philippians 2:14-15, the answer is to stop grumbling or arguing. He writes, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”

That doesn’t sound so hard. I thought there would be a list of do’s and don’ts a mile long that I would have to obey to be blameless. But it is just two things that seem to be everything – Do Everything Without Grumbling or Arguing. And not only will we be blameless, but we get purity thrown in as well.

It is probably a little more difficult than it sounds. As fallen, broken humans, bent toward sin, I think that our default mode in life is to start off being negative about most things, especially when things do not go our way, or we are not treated the way we think we deserve to be treated. That negativity leads to grumbling, which is generally a kind of low key, inner discomfort that, if not nipped in the bud, grows into complaining, and then bitterness and anger.

So how do we nip the negativity and grumbling in the bud and stop it before it gets out of control?

I read some positive thinking books about 35 years ago, and two phrases come to mind – Stop your stinking thinking and turn that frown upside down. At first blush those two ideas seem really simplistic when we are dealing with major downers in our life. But I think that is what Paul would have us do, in a manner of speaking. In chapter four of Philippians, Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (vs. 4) We must make the choice to rejoice.

What a contrast. In chapter two he is basically saying NEVER grumble or argue. In chapter four he says ALWAYS rejoice. So when we feel the negativity bug begin to bite into our thought process, we should get out the pesticide of Rejoicing in the Lord and find something to be thankful for. And if we can somehow manage to do that, we end up blameless and pure. And we get all the benefits from God that go with it.

I think, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can do it. God loves us and wants us to be happy; full of joy. By replacing grumbling and arguing with praising and adoring, we can become blameless and pure. And happy.

 

November 30, 2022

His Will for My Life is My Food

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:11 NIV

Today our search for new sources of devotional writing took us to Portugal and the blog of Tashmness. She writes about food, and travel and (mostly) the “Love of God” or L.O.G. for short. After scanning about 20 articles, we chose this one. She uses a number of guest writers, but we wanted to feature one which is her own. (She mentions struggling with faithfulness in writing, in the piece below.) Click the title which follows to read this where it first appeared, and then take some time, as we did, to look at some other items.

Committing To The Commitments

I spoke about making a new or another commitment in a blogpost I posted January of this year. About posting weekly and even several times a week. But lately I noted that when I feel worn out or my soul feels weary, I start to postpone. I wait for the energy to come back. I look for “food” to refuel me, so I get the energy to continue. But what if, when I feel weak, hungry, empty and it’s hard to even get up and out of bed or off the couch.. What if, that when that feeling comes, I just take one little step. How about I start by writing one word, which hopefully stubbornly makes me want to write at least a sentence. Which then attaches to a couple more.. A start. A step. What if, when I make that step I push myself to continue. To continue to walk and to do the work of God. To continue to do as He has asked and commanded me to do. To obey and to do His will.

Now I know. Not just because I have recently experienced it, but most importantly, because the Bible tells me so. I Know now, that I will be strengthened, fed, refueled and energized to continue When I do His will. His will for my life is my food.

John‬ ‭4:34‬ ‭[HCSB‬‬] – ““My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work,” Jesus told them.”

I’m doing another Fasting & Prayer. An end of the year one, where I fast and pray for three months to finish the year strong with God and to leave my old ways behind. You know we have so many “ways”. So many versions of ourselves we have been through. Several times before, I have looked at my ways and found out that my ways should not continue on like that. That my ways were not the ways God willed for me. And so, gratefully, when I found out about these ways to be left behind, faithfully I left them or worked on them to leave behind and did my best to follow a new way.

“I did my best”. Saying I will do my best, is not really Doing my best. It’s leaving that “extra mile” free, which actually is just the last mile to reach “the best”. The best version of yourself and the best that you can give. What is it about full commitment that scares us? For me the answer is: knowing that when I make that full commitment, I come through and stay committed. I know I can be very disciplined and I never break a promise. Sooner or later, but I WILL do what I promise to do. Otherwise, I just don’t make that promise. “I’ll try to.. I’ll do my best.. Let’s see..”. These are my ways of not making a promise. Or better yet, my ways of not committing.

This week God has been cancelling and rearranging my plans and appointments. Making me homebound and putting me on a stricter fast. I’m being disciplined. When two days in a row my swimming plans got scratched, I obeyed and walked up the stairs of my building on my way back to my front door dancing and praising (Psalm 34:1).

Gary McIntosh – “Sometimes the promise isn’t just given, sometimes it is fought for.”

The last time I wrote this same quote, it was me working to see the promise of God. This time, God is working on making me make a promise. And so I did. I entered my house dancing and praising, continuing to my room. I worshiped God on some Maverick City Music & Kirk Franklin and then I made my promise.

Today on 19th of October of the year 2022, I PROMISE God, to never ever slack again on this blog. It is Your gift, to me. Your commandment, to me. Your calling, to me.

It’s time for action, the promise is made. No excuses. Now don’t just stay committed, but BE committed and be consistent. Another lap of this race has started and it’s time to show my endurance and perseverance again. And by your endurance gain your lives (Luke 21:19). It is time for my self-discipline to be built.

Charles Metcalf – “Only disciplined ones are free. If you are undisciplined you are a slave to your Mood.

Hebrews 12:11 [HCSB] – “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

One last note to self: Go get it.

 

November 12, 2022

You Don’t Have to Know Everything to Share Something

Can you imagine someone preaching in your church whose education was sorely lacking in certain areas? You might feel their training was woefully inadequate.

On the other hand, there are seminary graduates, not to mention rank-and-file church members, who will tell you that they are always learning new things, they are always seeking to learn new things. For those with an unceasing thirst for knowledge, we have the term lifelong learning.

Still, you want the teaching that goes out from your church in weekend services to be accurate, and there’s nothing wrong with taking someone aside and mentioning some area of doctrine, or scripture, or theology with which they seem to be unfamiliar. Done lovingly, it will be received lovingly.

This was the issue with Apollos:

NIV.Acts.18.24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

Note that the text says he spoke about Jesus accurately. His gospel account, such as it was, was presented with the type of precision you want a good message to have.

But there was a knowledge gap.

Eugene Peterson renders vs. 25 and 26:

Apollos was accurate in everything he taught about Jesus up to a point, but he only went as far as the baptism of John. He preached with power in the meeting place. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and told him the rest of the story.

As radio Paul Harvey said for years, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

Apollos wasn’t the only one with gaps in his learning of the Jesus story. Remember, they didn’t have the printed scriptures as we do today; not to mention the wealth of resources that exist for us today in print, and on video and audio. As it turns out, our other example occurs in the very next chapter, and for this one, we’ll stay with Eugene Peterson’s version of the text:

MSG.Acts.19.1-2 Now, it happened that while Apollos was away in Corinth, Paul made his way down through the mountains, came to Ephesus, and happened on some disciples there. The first thing he said was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace him with your heart? Did he get inside you?”

“We’ve never even heard of that—a Holy Spirit? God within us?”

“How were you baptized, then?” asked Paul.

“In John’s baptism.”

“That explains it,” said Paul. “John preached a baptism of radical life-change so that people would be ready to receive the One coming after him, who turned out to be Jesus. If you’ve been baptized in John’s baptism, you’re ready now for the real thing, for Jesus.”

5-7 And they were. As soon as they heard of it, they were baptized in the name of the Master Jesus. Paul put his hands on their heads and the Holy Spirit entered them. From that moment on, they were praising God in tongues and talking about God’s actions. Altogether there were about twelve people there that day.

Taking these two accounts together, we could easily ask ourselves, ‘How could they not possibly have heard of the Baptism of Jesus or the giving of the Holy Spirit?’

Fair enough. But despite the printed pages, the downloads, the streaming media, there can people today who might not overtly have gaps in what they teach, but may in fact emphasize certain aspects of the Gospel so as to inadvertently omit other essential aspects. You can be in a certain church for years and never hear the full compendium of teaching about living the Jesus-centered life in that particular church.

Or… we could equally ask ourselves, ‘What gaps are there in my knowledge?’ Or, ‘What types of doctrine have I missed out on by only chasing after other aspects of doctrine?’

There’s a verse I wanted to close with today, and to my amazement, it turns up in the next chapter of Acts; so our thoughts today have taken us into chapters 18, 19 and now 20:

NLT.Acts.20.27 for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.

Other translations have:

  • the whole will of God (NIV)
  • the whole counsel of God (YLT, KJV, ESV)
  • the whole plan of God (CSB, ISV)
  • the whole purpose of God (NET)

Decades ago, Pentecostals and Charismatics appropriated the phrase “the full gospel” to mean a gospel that is inclusive of supernatural gifts and being filled with the Spirit and speaking in tongues.

But we should all want to be speaking/announcing/declaring “a full gospel” that is inclusive of everything. Nothing left out.

Commit yourself to spiritual lifelong learning.

In the meantime, you don’t have to have learned everything to begin to share a public witness. Apollos didn’t; he spoke boldly. You can, too.

And if you’ve been around the church for awhile, remember that you may be the Priscilla or Aquila who someone needs.

November 11, 2022

Possessing Automatic Grace

Today we’re back for a third time featuring the writing of Glenn Kaiser, a leader in the Jesus People USA community in Chicago which gave birth to Resurrection Band, Cornerstone Magazine and the Cornerstone Festival. Click the header below (there’s two today) to read this where it first appeared.

Roots

No plant, flower or life grows healthy and well if laced with bitterness.

“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.” -Hebrews 12.15

Two weekends ago I brought a message to a fellowship about holiness, both imputed by God and lived out/walked by followers of Jesus. That largely focused on verse 14. Here we see the verse immediately following it.

Injustices have happened since Adam and Eve blew off God’s command, God’s “No, all but that over there…” so to speak. The bitterness in human life is partly what came of that non-trust and disobedience toward God. How many bitter people have we known… perhaps ourselves during our lifetime?

Bitter people are not at peace, not happy, anything but fulfilled, often as self-righteous as the smug, uncaring powerful who seem to (as even God’s Word tells it) have plenty of everything and get along just fine while the godly so often suffer. One of the reasons I love and trust scripture is that this scenario is written, preached and sung about a great deal in The Bible.

So what of a sense of what I’ll call “automatic grace”? Doesn’t a follower of the Lord experience this? Of course we do on many levels. And then injustice comes our way, illness or heartbreak or shocking, perhaps very deep loss occurs. Where was God in all this?

I met a man in a cancer ward years ago, being asked to visit and pray for him which I did. He only wanted to know one thing which I admitted I could not answer- “Why?” He said he’d lived a good life, had given to others, was a veteran, had laid his life down right through and now incurable cancer, pain and the end of life came in terrible misery. I do not know whether he was in fact a bitter person but many have taken that option. Many do in such circumstances or similiar situations.

Is is possible to “fail to obtain the grace of God”? I believe it is. Every sinful choice, foolish decision opens such a door. It does not fully eradicate grace (“eradicate” by the way means to “tear up by the roots…”) in one’s life, but surely can cause one to not actually obtain it. To miss God’s grace in the Greek = “be late, come behind, come short” — instead of, rather than “looking upon, caring about and exercising oversight” re. His grace.

Jesus taught that it is in our heart, our deepest place within where real defilement comes from. How we NEED God’s grace, eyes to see and repentance from a bitter heart! Forgiving, sowing grace and love toward people, prayer that God will be merciful to them, even bless them is a tall order and maturing followers of Jesus will take that route — or perhaps “fail to obtain.”

I’ve known far too many who have ditched any faith relationship with God at this very intersection.

Thankfully, I’ve known and know a great many who walk in grace rather than bitterness, who seek and love and grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ their Lord.

We need to be mindful of our own root.

I wrote a lyric many years ago that concluded “Draw us from the bitter water, to the garden once again.” We need to tend our garden or things just… decay.

Mixed metaphor alert, but As the old preacher said: “The dog you feed is the one that grows.”

This article (below) on a similar theme appeared the next day on Glenn’s blog, and we couldn’t post the one without the other! —

Rooted -and- Grounded

“that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” -Ephesians 3.17

I am convinced the more our roots are IN GOD’S LOVE our own sense of deception, pretense, desire for vengeance, control, harsh attitudes that DEMAND x, y or z from others begin to fade.

The thought struck me that Paul’s prayer for those in the church at Ephesus is totally relevant for us today. Well, for all in any time or place on earth.

Is love actually the soil we are planted in, in our relationship to Jesus? Is that the ground we live in, stand on, offer care and concern for others -from the stability of His love? Are we doing all (as scripture teaches) we do in love?

Believe me, if you fail in this, know [that] I do plenty! Yet the target, the mark, the place we seek, as the NRSV renders it, “you are BEING”, so it’s a process.

If it isn’t all about love what is our aim in life, work and relationships?

Lastly we best consider what the Spirit does to nurture good health and growth in the roots of such ground.

Prayer, His Word, repentance and confession of sin, actually living out the Word and example of Jesus, growing in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5) are all part of the weed-pulling and nutrient-imparting for the life of a growing Christ follower. Yes!

November 3, 2022

Lessons We Can Learn

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.Romans 15:4 NIV

NLT.Heb.11.32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. 33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.

But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

39a All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith…

Scripture offers a wealth of examples of those who trusted God through difficult circumstances, including those recorded in the First Testament, who never lived to see all of the fruition of their faith, which only arrived with the appearing of Jesus Christ.

It’s important, I believe, to use the term narrative to describe their exploits, because in our time, the word stories conveys a fictional or mythical “once upon a time” sense.

These narratives need to be rehearsed periodically because we live in a time in history when Biblical literacy is on the decline, and familiarity with these Bible personalities is ebbing away.

There is a term used among professional classical musicians, “knowing the literature,” or having “knowledge of the literature.” It refers to the situation that there are certain piano concertos which every great pianist knows by heart; there are symphonies that every clarinet player can play without printed music. A lifetime of interaction with those compositions means that the mere mention of those pieces starts an internal audio file playing.

Are we as familiar with the Bible’s literature?

Years ago an acquaintance was describing his ordination exam. This is where a candidate is tested by a body of senior pastors and denominational leaders to see if they are fit for the term, “Reverend.” The chairperson started out by asking, “Tell us about John’s gospel, chapter one.” The next question was “Tell us about John’s Gospel, chapter two.” And so on. You get the pattern.

I don’t know if he had been given any warning that the ordination council would take that route, but that day he needed to have that level of familiarity with John’s Gospel.

Sometimes the Bible narratives — and here you might want to compare not just the Hebrews passage cited above, but all of Hebrews 11 — are written with a concision or brevity that requires us to interpolate details not provided.

A month ago I listened to a sermon wherein the account in Mark’s gospel was very stark. The pastor speculated as to the circumstances surrounding an encounter with Jesus, even to the point of giving the key character in the narrative a name.

A friend who was there objected strenuously to this speculative manner of presenting the encounter. When I told him that this is called narrative preaching, he very much condemned the entire genre.

But I believe it’s important to do whatever we can — within limits, of course — to spark these Bible snapshots to life. If the Bible teacher pictures an overcast day, it doesn’t threaten the integrity of the story to add that. What matters is that the core elements of the narrative remain intact.

We do this to help people remember the scene presented.

We do this to help people be able to apply the principles waiting to be extracted from the Bible text.

Our key verse in Romans (above) reminds us that all these narratives were written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

The best narrative preaching I’ve ever witnessed is that which invites the listener to through the use of their imagination, place themselves in the middle of the scene. That’s when the genre is being utilized at its best, where the hearer finds themselves immersed in the unfolding drama.

In Christian Education, one approach is to read the text like the one we heard preached that day (a) from the point of view of the person having the encounter with Jesus, (b) from the viewpoint of the disciples, (c) from the vantage point of the crowd and (d) from the perspective of the person having the encounter with Jesus.

If you wish to try this exercise, a great text is Jesus healing the man born blind, because you’ve also got (e) the man’s parents, and (f) the Pharisees.

Again, the goal is to remember and then to apply.


Related reading:

Several years ago we shared this quotation:

“A spiritual community that does not transmit its sacred writings to its children is one generation away from extinction.”

Read more at Generation Lost from 2014.

also, consider this quotation:

Of all the major religions of the world, Christians are the least acquainted with their own sacred writings.

Read more at Jesus Began with Text from 2012


Our roving Thursday devotional correspondent, Clarke Dixon is on assignment and will be back next week.

 

October 25, 2022

Humility in an Age of Embellishment

The verse this morning on my NIV Bible app was Matthew 23:11

The greatest among you will be your servant.

What was Jesus saying here? He’s trying to tell the disciples to not seek titles or positions. Two verses back he says, “And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your Father.” v9, NLT and then in the following verse we read, “You are not to be called instructors either, because you have one Instructor, the Messiah.” v10 CSB.

Which brings us to our key verse. BibleHub has something called the Worsley New Testament, which renders this as, “But let him that is greatest among you be your minister: and whosoever will exalt himself shall be abased.”

Finally in verse 12, he clarifies again with a verse which ought to be familiar to you,

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

At risk of quoting the “Philippian Hymn” one time too many — it’s a favorite passage of mine — the preamble contains this in verse 3 of chapter 2 of Philippians, which I cite from one of BibleHub’s highlighted versions, the Berean Standard Bible:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves.

…Just two days before, the same Bible app opened my day with James 4:6

And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (NLT)

I began to think about how these words on humility might land. Most of us would say we live ‘average’ lives. We’re not expecting anyone to write a book about our lives, either now or when we’re gone. We might never have that “15 minutes of fame” that Andy Warhol thought would be common experience.

We have no problem attaining humility; circumstances have done that for us.

And yet…

We live at a time where social media often compels people to present an online persona which is perhaps more colorful than our daily reality.

What’s really interesting about this is that at least three of the dominant social media platforms right now are image-oriented; dependent on there being media; requiring that each post have a photo or video. And as everyone knows the saying, “The camera never lies.”

But we actually live at a time when that old adage isn’t true.

Photoshop allows you to make major changes to pictures. But you don’t need Photoshop. Two weeks ago I joined a church group on a fall hike in the woods. My wife posted a picture, but I thought it would look better cropped, so I posted a cropped version of it and added some contrast. Then someone else put it through a filter so that the fall leaves — which hadn’t fully arrived at that point — were given some added red and orange to make it look like a more seasonal fall scene.

But that picture lied. The trees on the right side were green at that point; in fact, I think one of them was an evergreen anyway. It would never have fall leaves!

We live at a time when anyone can make everything from their vacations to their boring, everyday lives look more enticing and more beautiful. And I gotta admit that a vacation picture of frustrated people in an airport missing a connection isn’t all that engaging. And I would choose the picture of the kids at home hugging the dog than the picture of the dog throwing up on the couch moments later.

The reason we want social media to show what Hollywood stars called their “good side,” is because everyone else does this. It’s another way that Christians can find themselves conforming to the culture.

There’s a type of humor called “self-deprecating.” The writer or speaker is putting themselves down. It can be quite funny, and it does create a level playing field between writer/speaker and audience, though it can have its own issues.

That’s not what I’m recommending here. That can lead to something called ‘false humility.’

I think the principle we need to apply is honesty. Where this is honesty, humility will naturally follow.


But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the LORD who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the LORD, have spoken!   Jeremiah 9:24 NLT

“Nevertheless, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names stand written in heaven.” Luke 10:20 NET

 

 

 

 

 

October 21, 2022

One of the Bible’s Anti-Role Models

NIV.Heb.12.2a fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Not every personality we encounter in scripture is a positive role model. Some are just the opposite.

This is our fifth time 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. Clicking the title below will take you to where this first appeared.

I Don’t Want to be Demas

“for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.

— 2 Timothy 4:10

Four photographs hang on the wall in my office. Each captures an iconic moment in baseball history. Each reminds me of an important aspect of life and leadership. I shared their significance in my inaugural address. You can click here if you want to learn more.

These days I’m wondering if I should add another picture to my collection, that of Demas walking away.

Demas occupies a place of quiet significance in the New Testament narrative. He helped the Apostle Paul to such an extent that Paul identifies him by name in his greetings to the church in Colossae. Paul highlights Demas again when writing to his friend Philemon. Both these letters, written from prison, find Demas locked arm-in-arm with Paul advancing the gospel.

But something happened and it wasn’t good.

Paul is released from prison, apparently Demas as well. But then under the persecution of Nero, Paul finds himself back in the Roman slammer — this time without Demas.

Demas had enough. It was time to relax a bit. “Peace out!”

What follows from the pen of Paul haunts me these days.

Make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. . . . only Luke is with me. 2 Timothy 4:9-10 NASB

Chrysostom, the early church father, paraphrases Paul’s words about Demas as follows:

“Having loved ease and safety, [Demas] chose rather to live daintily at home than to suffer affliction, than to endure hardship, with me, and with me to bear these present dangers.”

Demas is not the only runner to quit the marathon of faith. Look over on the side of the road. You’ll find Hezekiah there as well.

While Demas occupies a mere footnote of Scripture, Hezekiah is the subject of chapters. In fact, you’ll find a gold star next to his name. Hezekiah is a model for monarchs, the epitome of what a good king should be. Look what Scripture says about him:

Hezekiah trusted in the LORD . . . . There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the LORD and did not stop following him; he kept the commands of faith. And the LORD was with him . . . 2 Kings 18:5-7 NIV

Remember, Hezekiah followed David, “a man after God’s own heart.” He was a shining star . . . or was he a shooting star? As Hezekiah neared the end of his life God told him to put his house in order… his days would soon be over. Like most of us, Hezekiah was not ready to go. He cried out to the Lord!

“Remember, LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And he wept bitterly. 2 Kings 20:3 NIV

And God, in his graciousness, granted him an additional fifteen years of life. FIFTEEN YEARS! And God backed up his promise with a powerful sign of confirmation.

One would think the biblical account would read: ‘And Hezekiah followed God happily ever after!’ Right? Wrong! No sooner does God grant him more days, than Hezekiah begins to walk away from faith.

The son of the Babylonian king shows up on his doorstep. Babylon was having a hard time on the world stage, twice upended by Assyria. Hezekiah opens the door, welcomes him in, and shows off his ENTIRE kingdom: treasures of silver, gold, spices; his armory . . . “there was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them.” 2 Kings 20:13

Foolish! Idiotic! Arrogant!

One commentator notes that Hezekiah was more intent about displaying his wealth than declaring God’s glory — and God had just blessed him with fifteen more years.

As might be expected, God was a little more than upset. He sends the prophet Isaiah to pronounce judgment. This is serious. Read the words carefully, and then even more carefully, read Hezekiah’s response:

“Hear the word of the Lord: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”

“The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?” 2 Kings 20:16-19 NIV

You can hear Hezekiah paying lip service to God, but in his heart he is not too bothered. It won’t happen in his lifetime. “Let the good times roll! I’ve got fifteen more years!”

It is not lost on me that Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, who was born in that fifteen year stretch and would follow his father to the throne, was the worst king in Judah’s history. How bad was he? Scripture says “he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood.” ”He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.” 2 Kings 21:5 NIV

I’ve heard it asked, “Why is it that opportunity knocks once, but temptation pounds on my door every day?” Hezekiah gave into that insistent pounding. So did Demas. They quit the race!

I don’t want to join them on the side of the road.

So how do one cultivate faithfulness? I’ve been thinking about that this morning. My list is not exhaustive. What would you add to it?

  • Revel in God’s goodness: I have a tendency to think what I must do to maintain my walk with God, so it is imperative to remember what Christ has done and is doing for me. Paul writes, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him” (Colossians 2:6 NIV). MacLaren notes, “As in wisdom so in character, all progress consists in coming closer to Jesus and receiving more and more of His many-sided grace.” I was saved by God’s grace. I need to rest in God’s grace, and live by God’s grace.”

  • Cling to the Vine: Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing“ (John 15:5 NIV). George Müller said, “the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord.” Müller’s words come back to me time and again, especially when I think “I don’t have time to meet with God today!” He would tell me, “You can’t afford NOT to meet with the Lord.”

  • Take appropriate times to rest: Jesus said to his disciples, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). My friend Wayne Cordeiro wisely says that when life gets exceptionally busy, you must actually “increase play.” This is counterintuitive, but so important. Watch his talk, “Dead Leader Running.” It is excellent.

  • Embrace community: On two occasions, Paul wrote, “The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings” (Philippians 4:21. See also Galatians 1:2). Study Paul’s life. He lived in community. He served in community. Paul knew we are not meant for isolation. Isolation should be an occasional rest stop on the road of life, not one’s destination.

Cultivate faithfulness . . . or join Demas and Hezekiah on the side of the road.

The day before yesterday, I met a member of our Board of Trustees coming out of our office complex as I was walking in. This man can add “octogenarian” to a long list of accomplishments. He is as wise and winsome as the day is long. His handshake is a vice grip. More importantly, his grip on Christ and what matters is equally strong.

This man is still running with perseverance, eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). I don’t want to be Demas. I want to be where my older friend is, where Paul was — faithfully running the race — until the very end.


Notes:

October 15, 2022

Your Week Outside the Church Bubble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their connection with Christian culture vanishes.

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

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

Now having said that, and before I move on, I can anticipate two objections.

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

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

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

Personally, I could survive a month on a deserted island with just my Bible, but in general, I need help. I am a better person in terms of my interactions with the world at large if I can approach those interactions with the flavor of faith. I need books to keep me thinking on things that are “true… honorable… right…” and I need music to keep me “singing and making melody to the Lord.” I need other people in the “iron sharpens iron” (Prov. 27:17) sense with whom I am interacting on Tuesday, or Wednesday or Thursday.

I’m not trying to justify the Christian publishing, radio, or music industries; or those industries’ excesses, but I’m saying that I do believe that at their genesis, they originally started with a noble purpose of fanning the flames of faith; fanning the flames of what the Holy Spirit is already doing in our lives and wants to do.

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

Challenge: While being very much ‘in the world but not of it’ (see John 15:17; 17:14-16), how do we at the same time maintain our connection to Christ throughout the week? How do we keep a clear channel of communication open despite the interference and the noise? What elements can we include in our agenda that makes room for mid-week contact with brothers and sisters and faith-focused input in our lives?

 

 

October 6, 2022

Growing in Jesus, Evolving in Faith

by Clarke Dixon

What does growing as a Christian look like?

We may think that we growth happens just by adding, so, for example, just add enough Bible knowledge and you will have a mature Christian. But is it as simple as that?

We can think of a child growing between grades one, two, three and so on. Just keep adding knowledge each year to what was learned last year and you have a growing child. Maybe so, but there is another kind of growth happening at the same time. That same child is growing taller, and heavier, and “brainier.” Growth is much more organic than simply adding knowledge as the child has an evolving body and mind. Likewise, when we speak of maturing in Christ, it is something more organic.

Maturing is not just about addition, it is also about loss. Our boys will never be knee high to a daisy again. I mourn that. But I also celebrate the men they have become. Actual growth requires alteration, even loss and the destruction of what once was. When a seed grows into a plant, the seed is destroyed.

We can think of heart growth. We can think of growing in the fruit of the Spirit, for example. Growing in love may require the destruction of hatred, apathy, or inactivity. Growing in generosity may require the destruction of selfishness. Growing in gentleness may require the destruction of tendencies toward violence. True growth requires vulnerability, a capacity to be altered, a willingness to change, to evolve. Change, evolution, not by chance, but intention, is part and parcel of growing in Christ.

Evolution is not just a process that happens in our hearts. Sometimes we need to change our minds. Growth in our Christian thinking is not always accomplished in adding new knowledge to old, but replacing old knowledge with new. Just as with heart growth, we can talk of an evolving faith which, in our current series, brings us to our next “cultural statement” from Open Table Communities:

A Culture that Celebrates an Evolving Faith
We nurture questions, doubts and uncertainty because of where they lead us. We celebrate the movement of learning, un-learning and re-learning that takes place in all of life and specifically a life of faith.

Open Table Communities

Questions, doubts, and uncertainties can be a great catalyst for change, for growth. A change of heart, of growing in love, for example, is made possible when we question if we are really all that loving. A change of mind can happen when we are uncertain about what we think. Indeed certainty can stunt our growth terribly.

A church which “gets Jesus” will nurture questions, doubts and uncertainties because they lead us to maturity in our faith. Learning, un-learning and re-learning is part and parcel of what we call discipleship. If we are not questioning, doubting, and allowing uncertainty, then we are not growing in our faith, we are merely taking on someone else’s.

When we have an evolving faith we are in good company. We see evidence of evolving faith in the Bible.

The disciples had an evolving faith. They did not know anything about Jesus when called by Jesus. Three years later and they were still quite in the dark. It took the resurrection of Jesus for them to really clue in. Their faith evolved.

Peter had an evolving faith. He likely believed what every other Jew believed before meeting Jesus. Then he came to believe Jesus was the Messiah. Then he came to believe that Jesus was risen, and more than the Messiah, the Lord. Then because of a vision from the Lord and a visit from some people he questioned his whole Jewish understanding of how things are. Peter’s faith evolved.

Paul had an evolving faith. He went from being certain that he was serving God by persecuting Christians, to serving Jesus. At some point he had to have a massive amount of doubt to overcome his huge amount of certainty. It is no accident that blindness was part of his story, as if he had to come to a point of admitting, “I’m not seeing clearly.” Once Paul made that huge shift in thinking he had it all figured out, right? Well no, he spent some time in the desert, likely thinking it all through, rethinking everything in light of the fact that Jesus is risen. But after that he had it all figured out, right? Well no, years later Paul said,

…we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)

Paul had an evolving faith, and he knew there was yet room for growth, for further change in his thinking.

Looking at the entire scope of the Bible, God’s people as a whole have had an evolving faith. What was said about God and humanity in the earliest events recorded in the Bible are not nearly as filled out as what is said in the later events recorded in the Bible. Note the words of Jesus,

But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it.

Matthew 13:16-17 (NLT)

Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many other heroes of the faith did not know what we now know. God has had great patience with humanity, revealing himself over time, and supremely through Jesus. Do we have patience with the humans around us, and with ourselves, when there is yet room for growth?

Do we celebrate an evolving faith? Do we allow people, and ourselves, the space to grow, to have an evolving faith?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario and appears here most Thursdays. The sermon on which this is based here, and is also available for a limited time at this podcast.

September 28, 2022

The Bible: Reading it and Writing It

NIV Deut:1118 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

NIV.Gal.6.11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

The picture above is of a scripture passage my oldest son chose to write out by hand eleven years ago and post on his bedroom wall.  It’s remarkable for two reasons, the first being that a few years before this his struggle with cursive writing would never have produced anything so legible, the second being the love that he has for the Word of God, evidenced by the time he spends in scripture each day.

Writing out Bible passages by hand has become somewhat archaic in a world of word processing.  But it’s just one of a number of subtle changes taking place in terms of our relationship with the printed word:

  • Many of us leave our Bibles at home on Sundays, finding it more convenient to use Bibles provided at weekend services
  • Many choose to use Bible apps on their smart phones instead of following from a print text
  • Many have their devotional and Bible study time driving to work using a an audio devotional downloaded, or a podcast
  • Scripture memorization has become less commonplace in our children’s and youth ministry programs
  • People like myself often ‘absorb’ scripture throughout the day through online articles and blogs but don’t directly read anything at source
  • Our worship music is ‘vertical’ which can derive from psalms and similar passages, but is therefore less reliant on the ‘Scripture in Song’ type of choruses that were based more directly on scripture
  • The giving out of tracts has died as a practice; many of these began with scripture and contained several Bible passages
  • The reading of Christian books has diminished in a screen-saturated world.
  • Scripture plaques, often seen in the living rooms and kitchens of homes have been deemed inadequate in a world of interior decorating and replaced by “inspirational” wall art with single word admonitions like “dream,” “believe,” “hope,” etc.
  • Where once people would add a scripture verse by hand to a greeting card, today — if we send cards at all — we purchase Christian cards with a verse already included

Combine all these, and the handwriting my son did might seem rather quaint. But I’ll bet that taking the time to do this means he knows this passage well.

Of course, more than writing scripture on the doorframes and gates of our houses, God desires for us to write his words on our heart. But how we do this if we don’t know the passages and precepts in the first place? God is revealed to us first and foremost in scripture; this is the primary revelation of God in our times.

So here’s the challenge.  Take a passage and write it out by hand today. Start with a short one, such as Titus 3: 3-8 or you might consider Colossians 1: 9-14 or the Galatians passage above, or a passage of your choosing.  (Those are just two of the first I did myself, so I’m not asking you to do anything I haven’t done.) Today my recommendation would include Philippians 2:5-11.

In 2019, before leaving for a one week intensive course on the book of Galatians, I copied the entire book from N.T. Wright’s Kingdom New Testament (since it was he who was teaching the course.) That took much longer than I expected. I now have a better understanding of what the scribes did. Consider doing this one of the epistles, or even hand-copying one of the gospels.

And then, having copied them on to paper, allow the words to be written on your heart.

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