Christianity 201

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.

September 27, 2022

You Will Get Through It

“No weapon that is formed against you will succeed; And you will condemn every tongue that accuses you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, And their vindication is from Me,” declares the LORD. – Isaiah 54:17 NASB

I loved the devotion we’re presenting you today from the very first sentence. We’re introducing another writer here for the first time. Shubricca L Bell (or just Bricca) was a Chef du Cuisne, managed two restaurants, changed careers and became a voice-over artist, has written four books, and hosts a podcast. Clicking the title which follows below will take you to where this appeared earlier today on her blog.

God will give you the strength to endure it, and the grace to come out of it

Oh, the weapons WILL form, but they WILL NOT prosper…

You know what I love. I love when when things that were supposed to take us out, actually makes us better. There’s no doubt that going through the unfortunates of life is wearisome, and we don’t understand it when we are going through, but if we could look through our spiritual lenses, we will see that it’s a set up for something GREATER!

Greater is coming…

You see, what was sent to take you out, God used it as ammunition to make you better. The Word of God says in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

God will give you the STRENGTH to not only ENDURE the pain/test/trial, but He will give you the GRACE to COME OUT of it!

That’s right, you may be stuck between a rock and a hard place, but you’re coming out. On the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand!

The Word of God says in Psalm 118:22, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.” This scripture is referring to Jesus, but guess what? You are in Christ Jesus, so I’m talking to you!

You may be overlooked, rejected, talked about, done wrong, betrayed, laughed at, mocked, spit on, abused, misused, misled, manipulated, kicked when you were down, frowned upon, shunned, I could go on and on… BUT GOD!

This is a reminder that YOU WILL, get through it! God didn’t promise us an easy life. Jesus didn’t have it easy, so what makes you think we will.

It’s all about our focus. Stay true to what God has called you to do in THIS SEASON. It may not make sense, but be obedient. Walk by faith, not by sight and not in fear.

You may feel like giving up, but God is saying keep going. You may not know where the heck you’re going, but keep going. You may not think you have the strength, but keep going. You may get sick, but keep going. You may be alone, but keep going. You may not know how you’re going to do it, when it’s going to happen, where it’s going to happen, what is going to happen, but you can be certain of who it’s going to happen to- you, and why it’s going to happen- God!

The favor of God is on your life! You shall live and NOT die! You will see the goodness of the Lord IN the land of the LIVING.

Your dreams will not die with you, but they will manifest through you, in THIS LIFE!

So, when you can’t do anything else, keep going. God will give you strength for the journey.

September 26, 2022

Introducing People to Jesus for the Right Reason

Israel, what does the LORD your God want you to do? He wants you to fear him, follow all his directions, love him, and worship him with all your heart and with all your soul. Deuteronomy 10:12 GWT

Long before I ever started writing online, I had been following the writing of Keith Brenton who, continually since 2004, has been writing at Blog in My Own Eye. Although he has been featured here a few times before, it’s been eight years!

The scripture he references today is Micah 6:8. In the NLT it reads,

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (underlining added)

To read this where it first appeared click the title which follows.

The Purpose

I don’t believe that the purpose of encouraging people to follow Jesus is to get them to be baptized, or to go to church, or to give to church, or to agree to a certain set of postulates and catechisms, or to observe holy rites, or to memorize sacred scripture, or to vote a certain way, or to engage in a lot of churchly activities, or even to be fanatically worshipful and sold-out about going to heaven.

I believe we should encourage people to follow Jesus for the purpose of following Jesus. Finding out more about who He is; wanting more and more to be like Him; becoming a good person, a better person, a godly person, a person who is more and more like Him.

It’s about becoming less selfish and more selfless. Becoming less hateful and more loving. Less bigoted and more accepting. Less adamant and more inquisitive. Less mouthy and more listening. Less graceless and more gracious. Less judgmental and more equitable. Less helpless and more helpful. Less hopeless and more hopeful.

Jesus mentions church a couple of times in all of scripture. He talks about establishing it. He talks about what to do when something goes wrong in it.

The apostle Paul seems to have to address what goes wrong in it when people try to make it about self and their ideas about practice or theology or eschatology or politics or whatever. We get some lessons about those things in the process, but his undertone is the same as Jesus: love each other, and these things will matter less than your love for each other. And I think the other New Testament writers agree.

Synagogue is never prescribed in the Mosaic law. Church is never prescribed in Christianity. It was assumed, because people who have something wonderful in common like to gather and share it. There was a time when building a great edifice of a temple was part of the plan, but Jesus made it clear that time would pass, and it did. He would build a church, an assembly, independent of place and time and wealth and materiality — and it would be in the hearts of people who wanted to follow Him so He could show them who God really is.

Just, but merciful. Righteous, but gracious. Eager to walk with us. Exactly like Micah 6:8 describes Him.

And people who want to be like Him will want to be like Jesus of Nazareth.

So we’ll walk with Him. Learn from Him. Observe Him. Consider Him. Imitate Him. Reflect Him.

We’ll be people on a journey. Not sitting or standing to praise, pray, recite, assent, ritualize, preen, judge, condemn, divide, demand, legislate or pledge nationalistic loyalty.

People walking. On a journey with the One they adore, the Truth they adore about the Way they adore toward the Life they adore. Every single day and night. Getting a little closer to it. Drawing others with them to that candor and grace and hope.

That’s the Purpose.

And all the sitting in the magnificent buildings, and paying the devout and devoted staff, and listening to the inspiring messages, and giving so that staff members can do the hard work of gathering others, and saying all the right words together won’t bring us an inch closer to that Purpose if we’re not walking. Following.

I’m writing this on my blog-that-nobody-reads-anymore so I don’t have to take as much heat for what I believe. But this is what I believe, and I know these are harsh words for dear people I love; people who are sold on a way of doing church that I just can’t see working anymore; people who are so invested in it that their whole lives are about it and perhaps their income and their student debt and their thinking and their speaking and their actions. All church-centered.

But when church becomes your savior, you will always be in the business of trying to save it. Because we’re all human, fallible thinkers, inconsistent doers — constant screw-ups. And we’ll fail. It’s a given.

However, there is a Savior who is a perfect example of how and whom to be.

And He wants to walk with us.

Really, all we have to do is follow.


From the website Gospel Choruses:

My Lord knows the way through the wilderness,
All I have to do is follow.
My Lord knows the way through the wilderness,
All I have to do is follow.

Strength for today is mine all the way,
And all that I need for tomorrow.
My Lord knows the way through the wilderness,
All I have to do is follow.

He guides me in the paths of righteousness For the sake of His name. -Psalm 23:3b NASB

September 23, 2022

Jesus Doesn’t Want to Be In Your Top 5, He Wants Top Spot

Back in May, 2021, as part of a double-feature, we introduced you to Kevin Carson, a pastor in Ozark, Missouri. This devotional isn’t long, but it’s a call for self-examination that’s vital for each of us. Even the title should give us pause for thought. To read this where it first appeared, click the title which follows.

Significant or Preeminent? Incredible Question!

Last night at the annual September meeting of the Baptist Bible Fellowship International, Timothy Ateek made a statement that made me stop and ponder. He basically asked the question, Is Jesus Christ significant or preeminent in your life? I would suggest this is an incredible question! Today, take just a moment to think through it with me.

Significant or Preeminent?

The Apostle Paul uses this language in Colossians. Speaking of Jesus, Paul writes,

And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence (Colossians 1:18).

In this text, the Apostle Paul writes all about Jesus. Paul describes Him as the Eternal, Creator, Savior Jesus Christ to Whom we owe everything. The greater passage is beautifully written and helps lift our hearts in worship to Him (read Colossians 1:9-23).

In this context, Paul mentions that in all things Jesus may have the preeminence. What does this mean?

Preeminence

Preeminence is a high dollar word. Most of us do not use this term every day. In fact, you may have a hard time even defining it at first. What is Paul talking about when he describes the preeminence of Jesus Christ?

Essentially, Jesus Christ having preeminence means that Jesus is superior to everyone and everything.

Of course, in God’s plan and in God’s perspective, Jesus is completely preeminent. God knows exactly the place of Jesus in eternity past and eternity future. Ultimately, at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Yet future, the certainty of this event is sure. All of creation past and present will know and understand that Jesus is superior to everyone and everything. Related to God, Jesus stands as the preeminent One of all creation.

What about You? Preeminent or Merely Significant?

The question remains. What about you? In your life, is Jesus preeminent? Is Jesus superior to everyone and everything? Or, in your life, is Jesus merely significant? (Let’s be honest, for some of us who engage this article, Jesus occupying the role of significant in life would be an upgrade.)

Jesus as significant means that Jesus occupies an important part of your life. You may go to church, pray, let people know that you follow Jesus, allow Jesus’ priorities to influence yours, and give money to your church. All of these things are “good” things. However, Jesus as preeminent in your life is much different than Jesus merely as significant.

What does it mean then for Jesus to be preeminent in your life? It means that loving, following, and honoring Jesus Christ rules your life. You love Jesus supremely. All of your life flows out of your relationship with Him. As you interact with your world, you interact with it through your worship of Jesus. He is your everything. In fact, you could think of it this way… As you enjoy your world immensely and interact with your world thoroughly, you do so through Jesus. The people in your life, things in your life, and nature around you all pop because of your walk with Jesus. Colors are brighter. Deep breaths are fresher. Significant relationship are sweeter. Significant events are fuller.

Why? Because you engage your life in and through Jesus Christ. When Jesus is superior to everyone and everything, then you enjoy everyone and everything from the absolute best perspective. Yes, people, things, and events remain significant and emotionally impact us – sometimes incredibly so. However, you engage all those people, things, and events through your walk with Jesus Christ. Everything fits under the blessing of walking with our Savior, seeking to recognize His preeminence in our lives as it is already in heaven.

September 21, 2022

Pressing Past Defeat

Today we’re highlighting a new contributor, Roberta Elaine who is appearing here for the first time and writes at Purposeful Pieces. Clicking the title which follows will take you to where this first appeared earlier today.

The Viewpoint of Your Wins

Are you in a season where it feels like everything that you are doing is invaluable? You keep trying over and over again to no avail. Everything you are putting out has been met with defeat. It seems as if you are losing to everything that is surrounding you. During this season, God is setting you up for your major win in Him. Sometimes you have to lose the battle to win the war. You have experienced loss after loss, but God is reconstructing the viewpoint of your wins.

The losses you have been handed are bringing you closer to actively pursuing your assignment and purpose. Those moments hurt you. The failures constantly creep into your mind. You keep replaying different scenarios in your head on what you could have changed. Everything happened the way it was supposed to. Those constant closed doors were not in vain. The work that you have been putting in is not fruitless.

Yes, the results may say that you have been unsuccessful. The doors may have closed on you. Subsequently, this does not mean you will never succeed; seasons change. God is just equipping you for your purposeful breakthrough. God is preparing you to step into the thing that you have been praying about. This is your winning season. You have been struggling for so long. God has been there with you in the pit of your sorrow.

The empty battles that you have been fighting are part of His plan. God needs you to change your narrative of your losses this season. Your viewpoint is changing for a win. It is hard when you are looking at the barren mountains around you. Your attention has been focused on the desolate results. God wants you to realize that it is only a part of your story. Your depletion cannot last forever. You have to get up and keep trying.

You could be one step away from that life-changing moment. The losses are putting you in position for a monumental win. Something has to be untied and undone for it to be built. You have to experience disconnected pieces in order for something to come together. This process is pruning you. The development that will transpire will help you to change your viewpoint of your current disappointments.

God is with you. Although you are experiencing defeat in the small battles, you are getting ready to become triumphant in major successes. Your minor setback is setup for your win in this season. God is constructing your comeback. Doors are opening in your favor. The viewpoint of your wins will become the sight of the desires of your heart actualized.

“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” -Psalm 126:5

“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” -2 Chronicles 15:7

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” -2 Corinthians 4:16-17

September 12, 2022

Too Much Milk, Not Enough Meat

In the Northern Hemisphere, as the school year begins, local churches also reset to begin a new season of ministry. It’s customary where I live for this to incorporate a series of sermons on the first principles of our theology and practices; with titles such as “Who We Are,” and “Why We Do What We Do,” and “The Bible is our Foundation,” and “Getting Back to the Basics.”

We also recognize that in the present “post seeker-sensitive movement” times, there is a realization that the person sitting across the aisle, or a few rows ahead of us might be attending church for the very first time in their life, and we need to define our terminology. There is also a long-standing idea that it doesn’t hurt the regular parishioners to review the fundamentals.

However, the past few days I’ve heard comments like,

  • “We’re doing another navel-gazing sermon series. It’s the same thing every year.”
  • “It seems like just days ago that he was saying the same things. It’s recycled notes with nothing updated.”
  • “I just wish he’d toss us something deeper somewhere in the middle of the sermon, for some of us to chew on.”

These represent three different people and three different churches.

The commonly used contrast between “basics” teaching and “deeper” teaching is the one the writer of Hebrews uses in chapter 5, distinguishing between milk and meat.

12 Although you should have been teachers by now, you need someone to teach you an introduction to the basics about God’s message. You have come to the place where you need milk instead of solid food. 13 Everyone who lives on milk is not used to the word of righteousness, because they are babies. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose senses are trained by practice to distinguish between good and evil. (CEB)

(I did find it fascinating that the third comment above referenced craving something “to chew on.”)

While there is one verse in 1 Peter 2 which casts milk in a positive light — “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (2:2 NLT) — the picture of a milk diet is generally one of spiritual infancy. The scriptural model is growth or progress toward spiritual maturity.

Paul strikes this contrast twice in 1 Corinthians:

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.You are still worldly. (3:1-3a NIV)

Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. (14:20a NIV)

…The general direction of many churches has been to provide easily-communicated sermon content in the primary weekend gathering of the congregation, and then offer various other options for those who wish to go deeper. These might include,

  • a mid-week gathering for prayer and Bible study
  • home-based small groups studying a particular curriculum
  • adult elective classes earlier on Sunday mornings
  • enrolling the church in an online portal to free streaming of top teachers
  • book recommendations
  • podcast recommendations

To various degrees these provide the deeper teaching needed, but do so outside the context of the gathered body. I believe there is much to gained by coming under the hearing and teaching of God’s word corporately. (“Remember that time when the pastor explained how that passage was understood by the early church?”)

One of the best sermon summaries is in Luke 24:27, though sadly, the audience at that particular message was rather limited: “Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures. (CSB) Arrgh! If only Cleopas & Company had taken more notes!

I believe this is what our spirits long for. To long to know more about God, is to long to press in and know God himself more. As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.” This is what we crave. (Psalm 42:1 NLT).

…I realize that this may stepping on some toes, and that the annual “basics review” may be a sacred cow in your church. But what if? What if the church continued to probe the deeper things of scripture, and offered those who are beginning their spiritual journey the opportunity to understand the basics through;

  • a mid-week gathering for studying and asking questions
  • home-based small groups doing the Alpha Course materials
  • an alternative classroom situation running at another time or parallel to the church’s main meeting
  • encouraging newcomers to work their way through selected Bible Project videos
  • basic doctrinal book recommendations
  • a good podcast tailored for new believers; new Christians

Just an idea. What do you think?

 

 

September 6, 2022

The Day Approaching

The worldwide pandemic has certainly taken a toll on church attendance. And regular weekly attendance was already suffering, as some people took a more casual approach to the discipline of weekend gathering, while others found themselves compromised because of commitments to their job or their childrens’ sports programs.

A popular verse lately has been

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24,25 (NIV)

I tend to remember this verse in terms of three parts:

  1. urging each other toward love and good deeds
  2. not forgetting to meet together
  3. encouraging each other

But there is a fourth element I realized I was overlooking

4. even more so now as we see “the day approaching.”

The Amplified Bible renders this as “the day [of Christ’s return] approaching;” while Phillips has “the final day drawing ever nearer.” Most others simply have “the day” or “the Day” (capitalized) leaving both new and veteran Bible students wondering what is in the writer’s mind.

Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer. – Hebrews 10:25 (CEV)

Personally, I think of this as, ‘Don’t stop meeting together… especially right now, of all times.’ Or, “‘… especially these days.’ I hear it as, ‘If ever there was a time we need each other and need to gather corporately, it’s now.’

Don’t you agree?

The idea here isn’t just that we (ourselves, personally) remember to keep meeting together, but that we spur (NIV) each other toward this, as the phrase is bookended by phrases about encouraging each other.

In November, 2013 we heard this from Jim Thornber who appears here frequently:

…Look at that word “spur.” It means to provoke, incite, irritate. When you gather with other Christians then you should be spurring them, provoking and inciting and even irritating them on towards good works. It also means when you gather you are willing to be spurred. But we cannot be spurred if we are not gathering, and we cannot be spurred or provoked towards good works if we only show up every once in a while to a church and leave as soon as possible. Still, this happens week after week in churches all over the world. But according to the Great Commission, to be a disciple and to make disciples means you are personally investing in the lives of others.

And this is terribly inconvenient. It means you will have to invest the one thing that means more to many of us than money – our time. We would rather pay someone to take our neighbor to the grocery store than actually drive them ourselves. We’d rather pay someone to work on the church than show up ourselves. We’d rather buy someone a book on finances than commit to going to their house for 12 weeks and taking them through the book and teaching them through our own example. I’m very glad that Jesus didn’t send someone else to earth to do His work. He came personally. He took time away from His throne in Heaven to invest His life, and then His death, so He could make disciples. That is what it cost Jesus. What are we willing to invest to make disciples? It will cost us our time, our talents, our personal touch and yes, even some of our treasure. But that is what it means to be a disciple. So ask yourself: “Am I a disciple, or am I just content with being saved?” I don’t know how anyone can think of the price Jesus paid to bring us to Heaven and be content with merely being saved…

In November, 2014, Ben Savage quoted this verse in an outline of six evidences of discipleship.  He simply called it “being present.”

  1. Connection through prayer
  2. Engagement with scripture
  3. Being present
  4. Acts of service
  5. Investment in others
  6. Worship through generosity

In July, 2015 we noted seven benefits of meeting together.

  1. Fellowship
  2. Corporate Prayer
  3. Receiving prayer ministry
  4. Corporate worship
  5. Corporate giving
  6. Confession
  7. Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Communion

By April 2016, we noted that data collection organizations were classifying being in church only once or twice a month as “regular” church attendance. But writer Phillip Pratt refocused our attention that “the context here is not about clinging to a particular local church or congregation but about clinging to Christ.” Using the KJV wording of the verse, “Forsaking the assembling ourselves…” he wrote:

The book of Hebrews has a theme and it is not about religious attendance but about clinging to Christ, specifically the hope of Jesus Christ (verse 23)…

…“Forsake” in Greek is egkataleipō = quit, leave entirely, abandon completely, desert, to give up or renounce

The same word is found in Matt 27:46 My God, My God, why have You forsaken (egkataleipō) me? & also in 2 Tim 4:10 for Demas has forsaken (egkataleipō) me

Now, is someone who attends a church service once a month or once every 3-4 months completely abandoning or renouncing anything?

Hebrews was addressed to persecuted Jewish Christians who were completely (or considering) abandoning “faith in Christ”.

“Assembling together” is a one word phrase from the Greek word episunsgoge or episynagoge = to be gathered together but to who or to whom?

It can be found in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together (episynagoge) unto Him…

This verse is telling us to cling to & “gather ourselves unto Christ” & don’t be shaken. It has nothing to do w/ church attendance & everything to do w/ persistence to stay focused on Christ & His return…

We have to say here that yes; of course our motivation for gathering must be that we are gathering unto Christ. It also begs a question similar to the one I asked earlier, ‘How can we then simply be skipping church from week to week?’ We’re not reflecting a casual relationship to our local congregation, but a casual attitude toward God Himself.

So now… especially now… with all that’s going on in our world, and “as we see the day approaching,” let’s not be lax or casual in our commitment to the Body of Christ, His Church, and Jesus Himself. (capital letters intentional!)

As Danniebell Hall sang in 1974, “This is not the time for giving up, it’s time for holding on.”


Related: What did a commitment to church look like for First Century Christians? Check out a book called The Didache, introduced in this article here from October, 2021.
 

August 20, 2022

Teach Me

If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.” – Moses in Exodus 33:13 NLT

“When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and give praise to your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them the right way to live, and send rain on the land you gave your people for an inheritance…”– Solomon’s Prayer in 1 Kings 8:35-36 NIV

Teach me your ways, O LORD, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you. – A prayer of David in Psalm 86:11 NLT

Make me know Your ways, LORD; Teach me Your paths. – David in Psalm 25:4 NASB

From the website, Theology of Work:

The original Hebrew of Psalm 86:11 reads “Teach me, O Lord, your ways, that I might walk in your truth.” To walk means, in this context, to live each day. The psalmist is not asking for God to impact only his religious life. Rather, he wants to be guided each and every day by divine truth.

The second sentence of Psalm 86:11 could be translated, “Unite my heart so that I might fear your name.” It assumes that our hearts are confused and in need of unifying. Don’t you know this reality in your life? Fearing God’s name means, as the NLT suggests, honoring God. It entails living for God’s glory each and every moment.

Psalm 86:11 assumes that we need God to teach us and to bring our inner selves into wholeness. Then we will be able to live according to God’s truth each day, glorifying him in all we do.

Teach Me: A Worship Liturgy

by Ruth Wilkinson

Jesus said,
“A time is coming and is already here,
when the true worshipers will worship the Father
in spirit and in Truth.
The Father wants such worshipers.”

Paul reminded us,
“Brothers and sisters,
I urge you by the mercy of God
to present your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God.
This is your spiritual worship.”

Father, I want to worship you in spirit and in truth.

Teach me to live my life in acts of worship —

Teach me, like David, to sing freely, to dance without shame,
to call out boldly, “Sing to the Lord all the Earth!”

Teach me, like Solomon, to give generously out of my abundance and my security
to point people toward your Name.

Teach me, like Paul and Silas, to faithfully speak about you,
even when running away is the obvious thing to do.

Teach me, like Elijah to take a stand in the face of my enemies, calm and courageous,
saying, “Today let it be known that You are God and I am Your servant.”

Like Isaiah, teach me to lament my inadequacy, my sinfulness, my fear,
and to be ready to be forgiven.

Like our sister the prostitute, teach me to humbly pour out gratitude,
because my many sins have been forgiven and I have reason to love much.

Teach me, like Ruth, to move forward, walking away from what’s comfortable,
saying, “Wherever you go, I will go. Your God will be my God.”

Like our sister the widow, teach me to give what I can’t afford to give,
when it’s just the right thing to do.

Like Mary, teach me to obey when I don’t understand,
to trust you for the consequences, to say “May your will be done.”

Teach me, Father, to surrender my physical life as my spiritual act of worship,
holy and pleasing to You.

 

July 20, 2022

Seeing Ourselves Through the Lens of Jesus

Today we’re introducing you to the blog at Annville, Pennsylvania’s Bridge Faith Community, the author of this devotional is Pastor Chad Slabach. Click the title below to read this where it appeared there; then explore other items on the site.

Not Better…

“I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.” Rom. 12:3 MSG

This is from the Eugene Peterson’s Message translation, and before we go one step further, let’s just take a quick second to think about what a gigantic undertaking it would be to write your own translation of the Bible!!! He’s writing his own translation of the Bible, and for me, some days the sink is so full of dishes, it’s hard to know where to start.

Anyway. Romans 12 begins with offering ourselves, our bodies, as a living sacrifice, not conforming to the world but being transformed by the renewing of our minds, then moving into “understanding ourselves.”

I have been sitting for the last few months thinking on the universal struggle between pleasing people and pleasing God, or just how big the audience is: either One or a million. The crazy thing with this ‘pleasing’ confusion is that it always circles back to that old familiar space, where I am “not good enough.” If the thing I want most is to please my neighbor and my boys and the Angel and you and the guy next to me at the gym and the driver in the car next to me and on and on, at some point, I won’t and then I’m forced to face the shocking fact that I am not, in fact, perfect at all. And if I’m not perfect, if I let them (anyone) down, if I am not good enough, then what am I? What is my value? What am I worth?

That’s when the rotten tapes begin to roll, deafening in my head, like they have a billion times before, with the answers. “You are worthless. You are nothing, pathetic. You will never be enough. (Repeat with different words, examples, tones, different levels of urgency.)” These answers very nearly irreparably broke middle school me. I still hear them from time to time, the difference is that I now see them as the lies they are. But if they aren’t true, then what is?

The NIV states verse 3 as: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” It was that “but rather think of yourself as…” that hooked me and kept me from thinking of anything else.

How am I to think of myself? That is exactly the question. The verse begins, “not too highly,” and that’s not a problem usually. Maybe some of us fight that battle, but mostly, I think we remain mired in the sludge of contempt. (I do recognize that this is another facet of idolatry – to think that we are the exception to God’s love/redemption/acceptance is awfully arrogant. Different sides of the same ugly coin.) But to be honest, I don’t understand the rest of the verse. I immediately thought it meant that maybe we should think of ourselves the way God does – but is that actually what this verse says?

That’s how I found myself in the Message, and as it turns out, I was sort of right. Generally, I think that is exactly how we should see that beautiful child of God in the mirror.

But this verse says, “by what God is and what He does for us.” As if we are covered with His skin, and it is no longer possible to see ourselves without the lens of Jesus Christ. And if we follow this line of thinking, we arrive at a surprising destination where all of the questions we’ve been asking have done nothing but prove how misguided we’ve been.

Is our goal to please God or to please our co-workers?

Either way, we then “misinterpret ourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God,” seeing ourselves as “what we are and what we do for Him.”

The passage continues with a cool body analogy, where we bring our gifts to the table for Our God and each other – and why? Because we have been set free from all of our have-to’s, all of our questions, where all that’s left is Him and His infinite grace. We are His and they are His gifts with which to bless us all.

Asking questions about worth and value, wasting time on perfection, seems to just keep us trapped in the old skins that simply don’t fit anymore. We are not better, we’re brand new.

July 18, 2022

The Imperfect People God Chooses

Today we return to Meanderings of a Minister by Pastor Jack Jacob. This is a difficult passage in scripture, especially given the title which Jack gave the devotional, but hear him out; many of us have been chosen despite our weaknesses. Clicking that title which appears next will not only take you to where this first appeared, but allow you an opportunity to listen to today’s devotional on audio.

God Never Gives Up on His People

I was reading in Exodus about Nadab and Abihu. Now, I realize that most people will have to look up those names, but they are particularly prominent figures in the Old Testament. Let me tell you about them and why they are so important.

First, they were important because they were the sons of Aaron whom God personally chose to become priests to serve before Him in the Tabernacle. Imagine being the first priest called by God to serve. But go further than that and imagine being called by God’s own voice! (Exodus 28:1)

Next, they were important because they were part of the seventy that had worshipped God on the mountain and had come down and had prophesied before the people and helped Moses’ shoulder the load of speaking to the people on God’s behalf. (Exodus 24:1)

Lastly, they were important because they decided, despite the instructions God had given, to offer strange fire on the altar and God killed them on the spot. (Number 3:4)

Okay, so you are thinking…” Thanks! Now I am depressed. If God could do that to them, then what about me?”  I want us to learn from Nadab and Abihu, but I want us to learn from their lives, not their deaths. God personally called them. Since I believe in the omniscience of God (omni=all, science=knowledge…God knows everything), then I must believe that He knew they would fail, but HE CALLED THEM ANYWAY! What does that mean? What does that mean to me?

What this means to me is that, despite my worst failures, God will continue to give me chances. Despite my worst stumbling, He never gives up on reaching out to me. No matter how little I have, God, the author of faith, is always there and always offering His Hands. If I will spend more time looking up for His help and reaching out for His forgiveness, I can spend less time carrying a heavy guilt load and a bunch of shame I was not meant to carry.

Here is the best part. If you are a new creature in Christ, you can do the same. If you have surrendered your life to Christ, He will never turn away. (Romans 5:9-10) He will never put you to shame, and He will in no wise cast you out. (John 6:37) I do not know about you, but that is great news to me. I feel more like Paul all the time in Romans 7,

“For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”  (NASB)

Isn’t it good to know God will not give up on you? Why not take the time today and thank Him for just that reason? Having thanked Him, let us hang on and get it right so that we do not end up like Nadab and Abihu.

 

July 14, 2022

Hidden in the Religious Rubble

Five times, in the years 2015 to 2017, we featured the writing of John Myer at the blog Barenuckle Bible. I have no idea why that didn’t continue, but today we’re returning. Clicking the title which follows will take you there where you, along with us, can catch up on what we’ve missed.

The Mower Cometh

Find and address the things that lie within, before something else does. 

Like a lot of pre-teen boys back in the seventies, my brother and I got into lawn mowing to earn our summer candy and comics.  It wasn’t long before our gigs felt onerous under a blazing Louisiana sun.  We began trying to get done too fast, only giving the yard a cursory scan before starting the mower.  That led to running over items hidden in the tall grass while the blades were turning—a stump, a hose head, a brick, a clump of paper that exploded out from under the mower all over the rest of the yard.  Each of these yielded spectacularly unpleasant results.

And it all began with a rushed assumption that nothing needed to be picked up.

This is the mistake we Christians make on an almost daily basis.  Nothing resistant, it seems, lies concealed within the thick religious ground cover that fills our hearts.  And so skimping on internal development, we devalue the needs of our hidden regions while paying premium attention to behavioral, external issues others can see.  The apostle Paul warned that this type of avoidance ends up in Christian shipwreck (c.f. 1 Tim. 1:19) and useless ministry (“vain discussion”—v. 6).

Concern for our inward condition needs to remain central to our walk.

“Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1 Tim. 1:6-7).

According to Paul, some people swerve from the things of verse 5, which mentions a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith (see my last post).  In doing so, these folks not only neglect their inner life, but deliberately avoid it.

Dealing with internal issues tends to be more abstract than simpler, workbook style self-improvement.  We prefer the pragmatic strategies to Christian living rather than the rich, truth-based, faith-based relational approach.   Jesus warned of this habit, indicting the religious folks of the day:  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Mt. 23:26).

The teaching of behavioral legalism is, to some of us, tempting.  It offers short term results, bypassing the slow and steady work of grace.  That is why some people choose to try harder rather than to cry out, “wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24).

Even natural efforts that seem successful are never marked by the divine hand.  Truly, a person can attain praiseworthy standing in the religious community by the sweat of his brow.  But meanwhile, his heart can remain mixed with many motives, his conscience only as good as his sinful self-justification, and his faith little more than an object for public show.  Yet he has kept the “rules,” sometimes above and beyond his peers.

Although there are important practical uses for the principle of law giving and law keeping (we will see them in next week’s post), in the end, law does not grant the boon its practitioners think it will.   It might restrain people from doing certain things through shame and threat of punishment, but it does little to change the human heart.  The things that lie hidden, lie hidden still.

Avoidance of inner life issues frequently proves destructive.  Then why do we do it?  For one thing, it is easier to allow mixture in the heart than to face it.  It is easier to bribe our conscience than to exercise ourselves unto having a good one.  It is easier to follow rules than to interact with God in authentic ways.

Regardless though, in principle a situation allowed by God always ends up exposing these concealed things.  As King James might say, “Behold, the mower cometh.”

And it can get ugly.  Once while mowing a back pasture, we hit a nest of baby rabbits.  The bloody mess that resulted traumatized my young mind.

Okay, maybe some of these experiences will happen no matter what.  How often are we aware of everything lurking in the tall grass of our heart?  I’ve certainly been caught by surprise many times, shocked at what a momentary crisis seemed to flush out of me.  These things were humiliating because I had worked so hard to do and be the opposite.  In undetected ways, my moral energy had become my god.

Now if those things can happen by “accident,” how about the objects we intentionally swerve around?  And what blessings might occur if we decided to face them in a non-compromising way, probing hidden regions more carefully?  What if we made our heart, conscience, and faith more germane to our consideration of the Christian life?

Now there’s a thought.

But these things take time to cultivate.  Maybe years.  Maybe all your life.  However, the changes that are made will prove genuine.  Grace, the redemptive work of God, builds spiritual experiences and truth into a human being, turning a person into what God requires.

June 27, 2022

Being Perfect? You Can Do It!

One year ago we introduced you to the writing of Dr. Ron Braley, who is the pastor of NorthView Christian Church in Tyler, Texas, and writes at Equipping Believers and is Pastor and Director of the organization Finding Discipleship. To read today’s devotional where it first appeared, click the headline which follows.

There’s also a bonus item today about cross references in Bibles.

Perfectly Complete!

We are to be perfect as God is perfect! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard things like, “Ron! There’s no way I can be perfect—right?” almost as a badge of honor . . . or excuse. But what does the word mean? What should it mean, especially in our context as broken humans trying to figure out what God desires so we can follow suit?

Like many other words or concepts in the Bible, such as predestination, foreknowledge, love, or sin, perfection is often misunderstood or misapplied. Our minimal English modern dictionary tends to represent perfection as flawlessness (thank you, Merriam-Webster!). However, the original language and context teach us that biblical perfection is completeness. Remember the Jerry McGuire movie? In it, Tom Cruise utters the infamous phrase, “You complete me!” The concept is the perfection God desires and is what the ancient language teaches us.

We see this use in the Old Testament texts such as 1Chronicals 29:19: “and give to my son Solomon a “perfect” heart to keep Your commandments . . .” Alright: let’s start you on your journey to be Koine (biblical) Greek scholars. The original New Testament word is teleios, which means to be complete, full, whole. In 1Corinthians 13:10, we see that perfection completes the incomplete: “but when the perfect comes, the incomplete will be done away.” The unfinished things of today, even in our worship or knowledge, will be completed when God moves creation to the perfection (completion in Him) it once enjoyed.

An example of the unifying property of perfection can be seen in Colossians 3:14: “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Anyway, my point is that perfection is meant to be completion in a relationship with God through Christ, not flawlessness. Trying to be flawless is futile, especially today with so much immorality ruling the day (and night). Here are a few biblical references by Jesus, Paul, and Jesus’ half-brother James that support the point that God seeks partners who ‘complete Him’ and whom He completes in a relationship:

Jesus (Matthew 5:48): “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Paul (Colossians 4:12): “Epaphras . . . sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.”

James (1:4): “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

So, be perfect because God desires it! “But, Ron! How on earth can we be perfect—I mean, complete—with God??” Excellent question! The following article will explore character traits that can keep our fellowship with God perfect in “Perfect Characteristics.”


Bonus Item from Paul:

I wrote this in connection with some other work I do, but I thought we’d run this for people who want to know more about cross references in Bibles.

A word about Reference Bibles

You’ve looked at an older double-column Bible and seen that third column running down the centre and asked yourself, ‘Why are all these verses listed here?’

They may have been chosen because the lead you to a parallel account of the narrative you are reading. They might provide background information on a key individual or place mentioned in the verse. They might relate to a practice or the doctrinal foundation for a statement or Biblical principle in the verse. Of there may be a key word in the verse and the reference is taking you to another place where that word is used (which may take you to yet another.)

Traditionally, these notations were included in a third (centre) column. But as demand increased for large print and giant print Bibles, it was found to save more space if an end-of-verse system was used, with the cross references usually set in smaller type. Some Bibles incorporate a bottom-of-page system but this can sometimes get confusing because of footnotes.

Footnotes are usually included to show that there was another English language direction the translators could have taken (or that different manuscripts for that verse offer what is called a textual variant.) These footnotes are part of that translation’s core text, and must appear in all editions of that translations, regardless of publisher, and regardless if it’s a plain-text, reference Bible, devotional Bible or study Bible.Some translations use them more than others. But they can easily be confused if cross references are also placed at the bottom of the page.

Not every cross reference look-up is productive. We’ve had times where we turned to the second verse, double-checked the reference, and asked ourselves, ‘What are we doing here?’ That’s okay. The reference was included for a reason, and sometimes it only dawns on us later what it was!

 

 

 

April 29, 2022

A Thing About “All Things”

Having spent the better part of my lifetime in close proximity to the Christian giftware industry, I’ve seen my share of Bible texts plastered on mugs, key chains and picture frames which have been presented without proper context. The most often referenced is Jeremiah 29:11 (“For I know the plans I have for you…”) I am certain that God does want to give us a hope and a future, but when people read that God wants to “prosper” them, it can send their thoughts down a doctrinal rabbit hole.

There’s also the issue of “the plans” God has for us. People rail against “open theology,” but decades ago in the book Decision Making in the Will of God, Garry Freisen argued that being “in God’s will” doesn’t mean there is only one place you are to live, one vocation you are to pursue, and one coffee order you are to place today at Starbucks. (Or to rephrase it, God’s will is a circle not a dot.)

But today we want to look at “all things.”

The first “all things”

The first is Philippians 4:13. The familiar King James rendering of this is, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Perhaps you memorized that as a child, or it appeared on a plaque in the home in which you were raised.

Before moving forward, the post-Charismatic in me wants to remind you that there are no limits with God. Empowered by his Holy Spirit, there are stories of people who accomplished things which would normally have been physically or intellectually impossible. The “God of miracles” about which the TV preachers testify is, literally, a God of miracles.

But the immediate context in the prior verse (4:12) is, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (NIV)

Think about that. Being booked in a luxury hotel one night, and spending the next night sleeping in a tent. Eating at a five-star restaurant one day, and the next day subsisting on peanut butter sandwiches. Having had a huge bank balance one year, and the next year struggling with how to make the month-end rent payment.

The NIV forces us to consider the verse in context by responding, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (emphasis added). But most of the other translations perpetuate the KJV’s take on the verse, perhaps in the interest of not tampering with a text that is extremely familiar. We do however see,

  • I can do all things [which He has called me to do] through Him (AMP)
  • Christ gives me the strength to face anything. (CEV)
  • Christ is the one who gives me the strength I need to do whatever I must do. (ERV)
  • I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. (GNT)
  • I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me. (Phillips)
  • I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. (Message)
  • I can be content in any and every situation through the Anointed One who is my power and strength. (The Voice Bible, which combines the two thoughts into a single verse)

If you’ve ever heard of real estate agents saying, “Location, location, location;” then think of scripture this way: “Context, context, context.”

As I said above, I think you can read the verse more broadly, but you shouldn’t try to force the verse into situations where you’re being presumptuous. A good verse to read in parallel to this one — again with a unique context, as Paul considers his “thorn in the flesh” — is 2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

The other “all things”

By now you’ve figured out that the other verse we’re thinking of is Romans 8:28. Again, we’ll start with the familiar KJV, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

The NIV states, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

This verse has led to the maxim, “Everything happens for a reason,” a saying which doesn’t allow for the possibility of some things happening by virtue of random chance but consistent with keeping the idea of God’s sovereignty.

The opposite situation however can be equally distressing. If some things are a product of random of chance, this may not bring comfort to someone who has lost a loved one through an act of mass gun violence, or an earthquake, or in the case of a woman I follow on Twitter, a rogue wave at the beach.

However within the random events of life, God can still be working; or to say it differently, given what has already happened, God can work to form good out of those circumstances.

Again, the question will follow, ‘If God can orchestrate the events of life so that the good shines through tragic events, why could he not have orchestrated things so that the situation never happened in the first place?’ It is a fair question, but it says more about the problem of evil and suffering in the world than it does about the ability of God to shape present realities for good.

A parallel perspective is found in Philippians 1:6, And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (NLT)

If you want to go even deeper on this, the prophet Jeremiah, in chapter 18, tells a story — a beautiful analogy to how God is working — in the section headed in the NIV as At the Potter’s House.

If ‘I can do all things’ is about getting the context from the previous verse, ‘All things work together’ is more about the tense of the verb. Some commentators have suggested that a better translation might be “In all things God is already at work…” or “is working” which creates the visual image of God coming alongside us.

Also, before you start to send me an email, yes, it must be said that if you are claiming the promise of this verse, you must remember that it is a conditional promise, the conditions being met by those who

  • love god and
  • are called according to his purpose

We tend to lean in to the first part of the verse, and gloss over the conditional part.

Finally, here’s how Eugene Peterson renders the passage in The Message:

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

April 21, 2022

Time For Change

Thinking Through John 20:11-18

by Clarke Dixon

When will things ever change? Why does everything keep changing?

Which statement resonates with you? Perhaps they both do. We humans desire change, but then we also resist change. Sometimes we push for change, yet sometimes we push back when things are changing.

We cannot talk about Easter without talking about change!

A big change happened at Easter, which inspired a lot of change, which of course also meant a lot of pushback. What was that big change?

Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.
“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus,…

John 20:11-14 (NLT emphasis added)

Jesus was dead. Now he is alive. That was a big change! And that changed everything!

The fact that Jesus is alive changes everything

That Jesus, though crucified, was now alive meant rethinking who Jesus was and is. Those religious leaders who thought he was a fraud would need to reconsider. Those who saw Jesus as great teacher or miracle worker but merely a great teacher or miracle worker, would need to reconsider. Those who wondered if Jesus might be the expected Messiah, though having their hopes dashed by his crucifixion, would need to rethink their expectations of the Messiah. This rethinking of the identity of Jesus led to Jesus being reconsidered as “The Word made flesh and dwelt among us” (see John 1:14) and “King of kings and Lord of lords” (see 1st Timothy 6:15) and “My Lord and my God!” (see John 20:28).

That Jesus, though crucified, was now alive meant rethinking how we relate to God; no longer through the old covenant, but through Jesus.

That Jesus, though crucified, was now alive meant rethinking the God’s priorities; from making Israel great again, to connecting people with God and God’s kingdom wherever they may live, whatever their nationality may be.

That Jesus, though crucified, was now alive meant rethinking who is invited to live and lean into the Kingdom of God; anyone and everyone.

That Jesus, though crucified, was now alive meant rethinking how people relate to one another when it comes to class divisions: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” Galatians 3:28 (NRSV).

That Jesus, though crucified, was now alive meant rethinking ethics; no longer living by the letter of the old covenant law, but the teaching and example of Jesus.

Since Jesus is risen, since Jesus is king, that changed everything! It meant changing anything that did not fit the Kingdom.

A Kingdom Pivot

The word pivot has been used a lot recently with reference to adapting to a pandemic. We church leaders needed to change how we led worship and how we gathered people together when worship gatherings were stopped. We all have needed to learn to live with masks and social distancing. The reality of a nasty virus meant the need for a pivot in how we live.

The reality of Jesus risen from the dead means there is need for a “Kingdom pivot.” Since Jesus is the king, what does life look like in His kingdom? What needs to change?

An example of a Kingdom pivot

Here is an example of the Kingdom pivot from our Scripture Focus:

She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
“Mary!” Jesus said.
She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).
“Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

John 20:14-18 (NLT)

Jesus is alive and a woman in the first to know! Why didn’t Jesus go straight to the disciples? According to scholars women were not even allowed to be witnesses in those days. It was a man’s world. Jesus showed himself alive first to a woman as a call for a change in attitudes toward women.

Some Bible teachers have pointed out that since an apostle is one “sent out” with a message, Mary is the first apostle! This is a huge sign that in the Kingdom there will be a different attitude toward women. This Kingdom pivot is aligned with the teaching of Jesus when Martha wanted Mary to take her proper place. Mary was doing what women were not supposed to be doing, learning. Yet Jesus affirmed her choice to learn. Change was coming.

Not everyone could handle this change in attitudes toward women, indeed we see evidence of this in the New Testament itself, and in churches around the world right down to our day. Change gets messy. For myself, I’m glad to be part of a convention and church that supports women in leadership at all levels. To me, this is an important Kingdom pivot.

The Kingdom Pivot in our lives

Jesus is alive. Jesus is king. That changes everything. Are we prepared to change anything that does not fit the Kingdom?

What does a kingdom pivot look like in your life right now? It might be a change in habits or attitudes. It might be seeking help for change in a battle with an addiction. It might be a change in the way we treat others, whether family, friends, strangers, or enemies. It might be a change in our attitudes toward a certain people group. It might be a change in our attitude toward ourselves. I came face to face with my tendency for perfectionism when the pandemic hit and worship and preaching went online. My imperfections were suddenly recorded on camera! We perfectionists tend to beat ourselves up when we end up being less than perfect, which we always do. People don’t beat themselves up in God’s Kingdom. There is a Kingdom pivot needed in my life. What Kingdom pivot do you need in yours?

Are we open to these changes or do we resist them?

In Conclusion

Jesus is alive and is king. That changes everything. So be prepared to change anything that does not fit his kingdom.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario Canada. Read more at Thinking Through Scripture.

April 5, 2022

Next Steps: Me? A Leader?

Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me …Then the God of peace will be with you.

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.

Jesus said: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

(Philippians 4:9 NLT, James 1:22 NLT, Matthew 7:24 NIV)

When I think each day of posting something to Christianity 201, I focus mostly on the “201” part.  The blog’s tag line is “digging a little deeper.”  However, I try not to post things that would only be of interest to pastors and church leaders, simply because there are sooooooo very many pastor blogs and Christian leadership blogs out there.

However, the time has come to reconcile the two.

As much as many of you want to go deep each day, God is looking for people who are willing to step up.

Put otherwise, much has been given to you, but now much is going to be required of you; or, if you prefer, it’s time to find some application for all the good stuff you’re learning.  It’s time to give back something.

Where to begin?

I think first of all, you have to see yourself as a Christian leader.  If it’s your desire to continue to walk in Christian maturity, you have to redefine yourself as someone who is striving toward being the “go to” person for others not so far along in their faith. The Biblical model of “Paul/Timothy” relationships necessitates forming mentoring relationships, but first, some of you may need to cultivate the desire to be a mentor to others. This may not place you in a visible position — what we called “the front of the room” a few days ago — but may just mean having friends over for coffee more frequently, or having that one person over for coffee; but doing it as intentional ministry.

Second, you need to make an assessment of what the needs are around you.  This is going to begin with developing critical faculties; though you need to remember that this is not the same as having a critical spirit.  You want the former, you don’t want the latter. If this seems like a big deal, don’t worry, some pastors have faced this before and decided to just ask around. They went door-to-door and asked people what the greatest needs were in their community. You can also approach existing leadership and ask what the greatest needs are within the church community. Or you can do a gift assessment and see where your particular gift-set intersects the needs in your church.

Thirdly, you need to vocalize your desire to make a difference to both your faith community and your surrounding (larger) community. As you see yourself differently and begin to look at what’s happening where you live and serve, God will give you a vision, an idea, an expression of a need; and you need to share what God is showing you or giving. “This is what I believe God is showing me,” can be the first nine words of a longer sentence where you make a declaration of your willingness to lead.

The fear is always that people will say, “Who do you think you are?” but I believe that more times than not, you will find God has already prepared people to hear what you are saying.

However, having said all of the above, the leadership role which God wants to see you taking may not be visible in your local congregation at all. Rather, it might involve not leading as we usually think of it, but being able to lead and share both the scriptures and God’s love with an authority in the life of someone else. In other words, it may not involve being a leader to the many, but being a leader to one person at a time.

This is in fact the theme of Kyle Ildeman’s new book One at a Time. While we think of Jesus teaching and then feeding the 5,000+ people, his ministry often involved on person at a time.

And the leadership that God is calling you to might equally not involve crowds, but happen in quiet places.

 

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