Christianity 201

February 27, 2020

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

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

February 26, 2020

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

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

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

More Precious Than Silver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

February 19, 2020

Waiting Is Not a Passive Act

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

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

Braided Up With God

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

Isaiah 40:31, NASB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 27:14



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

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

February 7, 2020

Salvation is Free; Discipleship is Costly

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

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

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

The other was,

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

I love the wisdom of both of those.

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

Counting the Cost

Free coffee!

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

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

The problem came when I failed to check my email.

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

$75 worth of coffee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

February 2, 2020

When The Book of the Law Caused Weeping

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

Tears of Joy!

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

From Nehemiah 8:8-10, NIV

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

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

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

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

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

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


* What does Ellel mean?

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

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


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

January 25, 2020

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

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

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

Ten Years with God

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was phone call interviews on my lunch break.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

January 16, 2020

Learning From the Master Learner

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

January 12, 2020

Understanding the Message Happens with Applying the Message

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

You Need More Than Preaching If You Want to Change

The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4, ESV)

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

The Purpose of the Parables

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

“ ‘they may indeed see but not perceive,

and may indeed hear but not understand,

lest they should turn and be forgiven.’ ”

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

Community Contexts

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

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

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

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

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

Practically Speaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

August 30, 2019

Not All Repentance is Genuine

Today we returned to the site, Already Not Yet. There I found an article shared from the site Core Christianity which we’ve also featured here twice before. The author is Presbyterian Pastor Adriel Sanchez.

True vs. false repentance: what’s the difference?

According to the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Louw & Nida) the word repentance means, to change one’s way of life as the result of a complete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness. In repentance, a person is given a true sense of the heinous nature of sin and, hating it, they turn to God through Christ with the desire to part ways with it. It is a gift that God gives to us and true repentance leads to eternal life (2 Tim. 2:25).

The Bible does make it clear that not all repentance is genuine, though. Paul said to the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11,

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point, you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.

Based on this Scripture and others, here are some of the distinguishing characteristics between true and false repentance:

True repentance does not regret parting ways with sin; false repentance does.

Because God grants us a clear view of our sins in repentance, we don’t regret the loss of them. False repentance is characterized by a continual longing for the “old life.” Although a person may have made certain external changes in their life, their heart is continually drawn back to the sins they miss. Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”(Lk. 9:62).

Now, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean we won’t face old temptations as believers. There’s a constant struggle between the old and the new man (Gal. 5:17), and this conflict is itself an indication that we have been enlightened by God to see our sin as something we must fight against.  We don’t always experience victory on the battlefield though, and often the Christian life can feel like a string of defeats. The good news is when we sin, we have an advocate before the Father pleading our case (1 Jn. 2:1), and as he grants us victory, we rejoice over the death of our sin, rather than mourning its loss.

True repentance hates sin; false repentance hates the consequences of sin.

True repentance is often characterized by a godly anger about the terrible nature of sin. This zealous indignation is concerned with God’s glory and the flourishing of the image of God in humanity. False repentance is less concerned about the glory of God and more concerned with getting caught. This type of concern is what Paul calls “worldly grief.” True repentance often takes the initiative in bringing sin into the light (through confession) since it hates the sin itself, not just its consequences. Jesus said, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (Jn. 3:20-21).

True repentance accepts godly counsel and accountability; false repentance avoids accountability.

It should not escape our notice that the Corinthians’ “eagerness to clear themselves” resulted in honesty and accountability, such that the apostle Paul was able to write to them about the situation in question. The repentant person recognizes they aren’t beyond falling and that they need to be vigilant so as not to give in to sinful temptations (1 Cor. 10:12). False repentance is often characterized by a resentment for authority and a confidence in one’s own abilities to live a holy life. Sadly, this is often self-deception, and the real reason that the falsely repentant rejects accountability is because they don’t yet want to abandon their sinful habit.

False repentance is scary because it can trick us into thinking we’ve truly repented when, in reality, we’ve only found more crafty ways to hold on to our sin. Do you constantly long for your sin? Do you love your sin more than Jesus and find yourself only hating its consequences? Do you avoid brothers and sisters who will be honest with you about your sin because you don’t want to held accountable? There is still hope for you.

Speaking of our Lord’s promise to return and judge the world, Peter says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). God doesn’t want you to continue in worldly grief that ultimately leads to death; rather, his will is that you might experience the genuine repentance that leads to life. If you’ve been “faking” it, pray for forgiveness, and ask that the Lord would give you a true sense of your sin so that you might part ways with it. Go to spiritually mature brothers or sisters within the church and embrace godly accountability.  Turn to Jesus, the one who doesn’t cast out those who go to him—see John 6:37—and is not willing that you should perish, but he is for your genuine repentance.

 

 

August 10, 2019

Are We All-In or Just Part-Time?

A year ago we introduced you to John Rothra’s website which contains many great articles. Click the header below to read this one at its source.

July 30, 2019

Putting God’s Grace in Perspective

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Russell Young

  1. God’s grace is person specific and not blanket in nature. It does not rest on the community of a denomination but in the heart of the believer.
  2. People have been called to be holy and to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. The achievement of these objectives is accomplished through a personal relationship with Christ and must be worked out.
  3. The Lord determines the person and the manner to which his mercy and grace will be applied.
  4. God’s grace makes provision to escape judgment but does not eliminate it.

The Word of God has been presented as his truths to humankind. For millennia scholars have tried to understand its contents and from those the Lord’s expectations for the salvation of a people. Teachings concerning God’s grace have become foundational to the many denominational perspectives that have emerged.

God’s grace is just that, his graciousness as he applies it to individuals. Unfortunately, many people have limited their understanding to Christ’s sacrificial offering permitting the gaining of God’s heavenly kingdom through the imputation of his righteousness.

According to Strong’s Greek Dictionary, charis, the Greek from which grace has been derived, means, “graciousness (as gratifying), of manner or act (abstract or concrete; literal, figurative or spiritual; especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude):—acceptable, benefit, favour, gift, grace(- ious), joy, liberality, pleasure, thank(-s, -worthy).” (#5485) God’s grace is his graciousness as applied through his divine influence upon the heart with its reflection in the believer’s life. Of course, the extension of God into the human heart is a gift; It is neither deserved nor can be earned. However, although God’s grace is his divine influence, it does not directly gift the believer with eternal salvation which is accomplished through obedience (Heb 5:9) to his divine influence (Rom 15:16; Gal 6:7−8), teaching believers to live “upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:12) They must work out (complete, finish their salvation. (Phil 2:12)

Many will quote Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in (through) Christ Jesus or Lord.” Careful study of the word “gift” needs to be given in this passage. Although “gift” has been presented as the English translation of the Greek charisma, in ancient Greek it meant, “An extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit; the ability to influence without the use of logic; personal charm or magnetism.” (Glosbe, Ancient Greek (to 1453)) “Gift” was added to the definition following 1453. It is God’s influence through the Holy Spirit, Christ’s “personal charm and magnetism,” that has attracted people—believers—to follow his leadership that will bring about a person’s eternal salvation.

God’s revealed plan is to have a holy nation and a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9), a people conformed to the likeness of his Son. (Rom 8:29) He is making a nation of those whom he finds acceptable to dwell with him. (Rom 15:16) Since people have been unable to achieve his righteous requirements due to their weakened sinful nature (Rom 8:3), God has sent his Son into the world to accomplish his purpose in their lives. (Rom 8:4) It is in this aspect, his divine influence, that his grace is realized. He delivers the willing from their evil imaginations and practices and transforms them into an offering acceptable for his kingdom. (First, he had to release them from the death that they had earned and from covenant law that presented his righteous requirements, so that they might be given the Spirit of promise. (Gal 3:14))

God will not select his people from a specific denomination, but from those individuals in many denominations who have met his requirements. They will have been persuaded by the attractiveness of his message and of his being and will have willingly followed his leadership. They must believe sufficiently (have enough faith) to cling to and to obediently follow him. (Jn 10:27)

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thes 1:8) Of course, those who do not know Jesus cannot be persuaded nor can they believe to the extent that they obey his gospel. “Know” however, has a deeper meaning. It means to understand or to appreciate the heart of Christ.

The Lord is changing individuals and those who will find a place in his kingdom will establish a committed and loving relationship with him; the accomplishment of becoming an acceptable offering is not a direct gift but is achieved by his grace as he, as Holy Spirit, helps the believer in his or her transformation. The need is not merely a pardon for sin; it is a changed heart. Each person will stand naked before the Lord, except for the covering of their righteous deeds. Each person will stand before him, not robed with their denominational teachings, but by themselves with their exposed hearts and on that basis will face judgment for the things done in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10)

God’s grace does not allow escape from the judgment seat of Christ, but it allows the believer to prepare for it. Of course, his graciousness (grace) is revealed through the many acts of his blessings upon a person’s life, as well.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His first book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link.

July 3, 2019

Paul’s Noble List of Qualities and Characteristics

The Voice.I Cor.6.9-10 Do you need reminding that the unjust have no share in the blessings of the kingdom of God? Do not be misled. A lot of people stand to inherit nothing of God’s coming kingdom, including those whose lives are defined by sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, sexual deviancy, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander, and swindling. 11 Some of you used to live in these ways, but you are different now; you have been washed clean, set apart, restored, and set on the right path in the name of the Lord Jesus, the Anointed, by the Spirit of our living God.

The Voice.Gal.5.19 It’s clear that our flesh entices us into practicing some of its most heinous acts: participating in corrupt sexual relationships, impurity, unbridled lust, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, arguing, jealousy, anger, selfishness, contentiousness, division, 21 envy of others’ good fortune, drunkenness, drunken revelry, and other shameful vices that plague humankind. I told you this clearly before, and I only tell you again so there is no room for confusion: those who give in to these ways will not inherit the kingdom of God.

This article has been shortened from its original form at the blog Jesus Unboxed, which we’re featuring here for the second time. Rev. David Eck is the pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, Fairview, North Carolina, and Chaplain PRN at Mission Hospital, Asheville, North Carolina. You are strongly encouraged to click the header below and read the article in its entirety.

Fruits of the Spirit

…Paul says that those of us who exhibit these behaviors [in the above verses] “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This is a sobering statement, indeed… So, what’s a poor sinner to do? What’s a hostile, argumentative, jealous, angry, fractured world to do?

Thankfully, St.Paul does not leave us hanging. He gives us a list of fruits, of qualities those who wish to be citizens of the kingdom of God, ought to possess. This is one of the most beautiful lists in all of scripture. It’s right up there with Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthains 13. It’s right up there with Jesus’ dual commands to love God, and love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves…

First of all, if we’re going to contribute to the healing of the world instead of it’s destruction, LOVE is at the top of the list. But this kind of LOVE is not mushy or sentimental. It is not camouflage for lustful intentions. This kind of LOVE is described in 1 Corinthians 13 as “patient and kind. It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude…

Next on the list is JOY which begs us to answer the question: “When was the last time you truly felt JOY in your life?” Some of us might find it hard to recall a time when we felt pure joy. And this is a sad state of affairs. JOY is an essential part of life. If we have no joy, it’s easy to slip into all the awful behaviors I read to you at the beginning of the sermon.

     Psalm 30 reminds us that “Weeping may linger for the night, but JOY comes with the morning.” In other words, sorrow should not last forever, Just in case we think this notion is an isolated incident in Scripture, Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.  [Ecc 3:4] …

Third on the list is PEACE. People pay good money to have PEACE in their lives. They take classes on meditation, yoga, and how to live a healthier lifestyle. They go on retreats in nature, to escape the stresses of day to day living.

PEACE is a precious commodity that, to be honest, is hard to obtain if you’re poor, if you’re trangendered, if you’re hungry and homeless. Peace is hard to obtain if you live in a place where war and violence are an every day occurrence.

If we have the first three present in our lives it’s easier to exhibit the rest.

Starting with PATIENT ENDURANCE, which the NRSV translates as simply “patience.” However, I think PATIENT ENDURANCE is closer to the truth. Patience is a lot tougher than some of us think. I scream inside when the person in front of me is driving too slow, or is ringing up 20 items in a “10 items or less line” at the grocery store. I would not consider myself to be a patient person. It is an endurance test for me because my natural instinct is to be less than patient. That being said, if I have enough love, joy and peace in my life, it makes it a lot easier to keep the screaming inside of my head instead of letting it spill out all over the place. This is the fruit I think I need to work on the most! I suspect some of you feel the same way as I do!

Then there’s KINDNESS which is something that takes little effort on our part. Yet, it’s something that in danger of becoming instinct in a world where mortal outrage is the default button when it comes to speaking with other people. Perhaps, we can set a goal of doing one kind thing for someone every day. Surely, we can pull this off.

GENEROSITY is next on the list. I believe we are generous when we are thankful for the blessings we already have in life. We are generous when we see that there are those around us who have far, far less than we do. We are generous when we are content with who we are and where we are in life.

FAITHFULNESS is a beautiful fruit of the Spirit. I don’t know if its the Ares in me or not, but I’m faithful to those who are faithful to me. It is a sacred, protective instinct. Perhaps you possess this fruit of the Spirit as well.

That being said, the good news is that God is more faithful to us, than we are to God. The aspect of FAITHFULNESS we all need to work on is when people disappoint or betray us. When they ask us for forgiveness, can we be faithful enough to them to accept it?

GENTLENESS goes hand in hand with kindness. I don’t believe we can have one without the other. If we are kind to others, we do so with gentleness. If we are gentle with others, we are being kind to them.

Then, the list comes to a screeching halt when we arrive at SELF-CONTROL. It’s not as glamorous as love, peace and joy, but we cannot grow any of these fruits in our lives if we do not possess a certain amount of self-control. Self-control keeps us from doing all the things I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon. Self-control is that little voice inside our head that quietly tell us, “You know, I don’t think you should be doing that. I don’t think you should be saying that.”

Perhaps Paul got the order wrong because if we exercise self-control we are more likely to grow love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and gentleness in our lives. We are more likely to avoid some of the negative behaviors I mentioned such as hostility, arguments, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, and envy.

My dear friends, the challenge is set before us. Paul has given us a noble list of qualities and characteristics we should try to grow in our lives. If we want our world to be a better place. If we want our nation to heal its divides, these nine fruits of the Spirit seem like a fine place to start. AMEN.

June 29, 2019

Do “Sunday Christians” Actually Exist?

Six months ago we introduced you to Rebecca LuElla Miller, a freelance writer and editor who has appeared in many different publications. Her site is, A Christian Worldview of Fiction. Click the header below to read at source.

Sunday Christians

Sunday Christians may not be Christians. Only God knows. A couple of the pastors I listen to on the radio when I’m doing dishes or the like, repeatedly challenge their congregation—and by extension, those of us listening to the broadcast—to examine our hearts to see if we are of the faith, because it’s too, too easy to sit Sunday after Sunday in a church service and not actually be saved.

But how is that possible? someone may ask.

One way is to sit under the instruction of false teachers who “tickle our ears.” Of course, no one forces us to choose false teachers. This is something we do because we like it that way: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,” (2 Tim. 4:3)

In other words, these false teachers are giving people what they want to hear, but it’s not the gospel.

Another way people calling themselves Christians may not actually be Christians, is if they see their “religious activity” as their ticket to heaven. In other words, going to church is just one activity on a list that they can check off and add to the “good deeds” side of the ledger. In their mistaken way of thinking, as long as the good outweighs the bad, they can bank on heaven for their future home. It’s sort of like depositing money in your savings account so when it comes time to buy a new house, you have a sufficient down payment.

Sadly, for these folk, salvation doesn’t work that way.

There’s a third category, and of course, there well may be Christians in this group. Only God knows their hearts. These are people who come to church, listen, say they believe, and then go away and live their lives as if they are just like everyone else. In other words, their Christianity does not inform their daily lives—what they say, how they work, what they do on their free time—none of it.

Some actually think this is a good thing. The more they can blend in with society, the better they think it is. They don’t want to look too radical, too focused on “just Christianity.” They want the empirical data to govern their every-day lives and the Bible to govern their spiritual lives—never the twain should meet.

What I don’t see or understand is how this approach fits in with the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He told us that we who would follow Him should take up our crosses daily. We are to die to self, and we are to live for Christ. This approach requires a total reordering of our lives, our priorities, our purposes. Can a person be a Christian without such a renewed approach to life?

Maybe. God only knows. I mean, none of us enters the Christian life as fully formed, mature believers with all the right priorities. We talk about growing in our faith because we do need to develop from little seedlings into more sturdy plants, on our way to fully developed trees that will withstand the storms of life. We simply don’t start there once we acknowledge our need for a Savior and turn to Jesus for our redemption.

The point is, can a person be saved and still look like pretty much everyone else? Maybe. Maybe the Holy Spirit hasn’t convicted them about things others see in their lives. They might think there’s nothing wrong with porn, for example, because the world tells them nothing is wrong with porn. But at some point the Holy Spirit will convict a true believer and they will deal with that sin in their lives.

We all face this sort of roller coaster experience in our Christian lives. We repent and then find ourselves needing to repent all over again. To repent means to turn from, but our turning too often seems like a U-turn. We can’t seem to continue on the path of righteousness that God would have us walk. We want to. We pray to. And we see our baby steps taking us along the way more and more, but not all at once. Never all at once.

So who’s to say that another person is a believer or not?

Of course if they say they’re not, they’ve answered the question for us. If they think they are, but are sitting under false teaching, that’s pretty easy to see they have deluded themselves. Same with those who think doing religious duty is the same as following Christ.

Truly, becoming a Christian requires us to declare who Jesus is, what He’s done, why we need Him.

Who is He? Jesus is God’s Son who died for the world, to pay they penalty for our sins which we have no way of paying for on ourselves. He is Lord—not only in a future sense when every knee will bow to Him, but now, in my heart.

What has He done? He’s stepped in to do what we could not do for ourselves. He’s become the Mediator between God and humanity. He’s made it possible for humans to see God and to know Him and to enter into a relationship with Him.

Why do I need Him? Because I’m a sinner and have no way to reach God on my own. I’m mired in the world system, entangled by my own evil desires. I need Jesus to rescue me from the “dominion of darkness.”

In the end, I don’t want to go my own way any more. But sometimes I do. I wish it weren’t true, but that’s the reality Paul described in Romans 7—“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (v. 19).

So, do Sunday Christians exist or are they all pretend Christians who don’t exhibit a sold-out lifestyle?

I have no doubt that some are saved and some are not. God knows who’s who. My responsibility is to examine my own life, to lay it before God, and ask Him where He wants me to grow in order to become conformed to the image of His Son. I really have no way of doing that for anyone else.

June 28, 2019

When Jesus Gets Angry

In 1964 a man named Elton Trueblood wrote a book titled The Humor of Christ. I believe I was given a copy but can no longer place it. An artist once painted a picture called Jesus Laughing (see below), which I believe was intended to act as a contrast to Warner Sallman’s popular Head of Christ picture.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have a new book by Tim Harlow titled What Made Jesus Mad? Rediscover the Blunt, Sarcastic, Passionate Savior of the Bible. (Thomas Nelson, 2019) We often speak of “the wrath of God,” but we don’t usually focus on “the wrath of Jesus.”

I have not read the book, but I find the concept challenging. At the book’s website, we read:

Christians love to focus on the gentle and tender heart of Jesus.

We often don’t know what to do with the Bible’s stories of his righteous rage. Yet the truth is, while the Son of God was loving and tender, his words could be equally sharp and biting. The same man who said, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) also said, “You snakes, how will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33).

What if by coming to understand God’s holy anger, we come to know a savior we never knew before?

Yesterday, in the Pastor2Pastor newsletter I receive, there was an interview with the author. I hesitate to post it all — though it would fit here — because of the copyright notice, but I’ll share a few of the questions and part of the answers.

Q: This month your new book was released, called What Made Jesus Mad? What did make Jesus mad, would you say?
A: I think there was a theme to Jesus’ anger: Denied Access to the Father. 

Q: For you, what is the key story of Jesus getting mad? 

A:  I think the key story has to be what I call the Temple Tantrum.😊 At one point Jesus says: “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” Mark 11:17

There are three parts to that statement: a den of robbers, house of prayer, and for all nations...

Q: Was Jesus really mad a lot?
A:  To be clear, I can only really find three times when the Bible tells us Jesus is angry.  But listen to the language.  It’s hard to call someone a “brood of vipers” or a “child of hell” or tell someone they’d be better off with a “millstone” necklace and thrown into the sea – with a smile on your face.  There are more red, red letters than we like to admit.

Q:  What were the main issues Jesus got mad about?
A:  Four things caused Jesus to be angry, and all of them were directed at the “church” people: Legalism, Hypocrisy, Judgmentalism, and Indifference to need...

…I don’t think Christians are comfortable with grace; that’s the problem.  And when we’re not comfortable, we sure don’t want other people to be.

We are not comfortable with Jesus’ approach to the woman caught in adultery in John 8.  Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you, now go and leave your life of sin.”  We believe Jesus should have said, “go and leave your life of sin, and then I won’t condemn you.”…

Again, we cannot overlook to whom his anger is directed.

I think that any book which causes us to delve further into the person of the Son of God Incarnate is going to be helpful, even if it looks at themes in ways we may not have considered.

I want to add again, that this isn’t a review and neither was I compensated for promoting the book in this way.


Go Deeper:

We are more familiar with the idea of grieving the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:30 reads:

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (NIV)

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.
 (NLT)

Where would you begin your list of things which grieve the Holy Spirit?


* The Jesus Laughing painting

June 18, 2019

Christ, the Bread of Life

by Russell Young

Some Jews tried to entice Jesus into performing a miraculous act asking him what sign he would give so that they might believe and offered that their fathers had eaten manna from heaven. Christ responded that it was not Moses who had given the manna but his heavenly Father. He followed that by asserting that the true bread from heaven gives life to the world (Jn 6:33) and declared that he is the bread of life. It is easy to skip over this pronouncement without further reflection. However, later in the passage he presents, “For my flesh is real food and my blood real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.” (Jn 6:55−56)

The requirement to eat his flesh and to drink his blood caused many disciples to leave him. He is not talking about literally eating his body of drinking his blood. Such a thought is certainly repulsive; his words are metaphorical. As well, “eats” and “drinks” should be understood as “is eating” and “is drinking”; they do not represent a single act, but a continuous one.

Christ, the rider on the white horse of Revelation, is referred to as “the Word of God.” (Rev 19:13) That is, to eat his flesh is to be feeding on the Word. Matthew has recorded, “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mt 4:4) Eating his flesh is continuously feeding on his Word.

Likewise, the blood refers to that which is life, or the Spirit. The LORD admonished the Israelites, “But be sure that you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life.” (Deut 12:23) Paul has written that the last Adam (Christ), is “a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45), and the Lord stated, “the Spirit gives life.” (Jn 6:63) While life exists in the blood of a living body, it is the Holy Spirit who gives life to the body of death by cleansing it from its misdeeds. (Rom 8:13)

When Christ said that you must eat his body and drink his blood, he is presenting that you must feed on his Word and allow the Spirit to quicken or to give life to the body that loves sin. This though is born out in Revelation. “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev 12:11) These believers had overcome Satan by the blood of Christ which provided atonement for sin and by the words that their life-testimony spoke; they way they had lived. In speaking to the woman at the well, Christ reported, “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (Jn 4:24) Paul wrote: “God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth (his Word).” (2 Thess 2:13)

It is unfortunate that communion services have limited understanding to the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine as emblems of Christ’s offering on the cross. He also commanded people to eat and to drink of those emblems, to take them in, for he is both the Word and the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17, 18). Communion is to be a reminder of what Christ has accomplished and of what he is still accomplishing and needs to be completed through his Spirit, the redemption or sanctification of the body. It is a reminder of that which believers must do to complete or to finish their salvation. (Phil 2:12)

John has recorded the Lord’s words of admonishment that people should “remain” in him and that they could be cut out. He stated, “Remain in me and I will remain in you” (Jn 15:4) and “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) and in John 6:56 it is recorded, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” The one who would remain in Christ and who would enjoy fellowship with him must feed on his Word and practices the life-giving power of the Spirit.

The person who would avoid God’s wrath and seek his eternal kingdom cannot gain his or her hope through easy-believism; the truth of God’s Word must be honored, and the Spirit must be obeyed. Christ is to be the bread of life and the Spirit must give life through the defeat of temptations as the believer is conformed to the likeness of the Son of God (Rom 8:29) and made into an offering acceptable to him, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Rom 15:16)



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His first book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link

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