Christianity 201

May 8, 2017

Preaching for Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the blog Clergy Stuff I read this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

May 1, 2017

Devotional Potpourri

Three parts today. One a comparison of two similar Biblical texts. The second from the liturgy my wife wrote for our Sunday worship yesterday with particular emphasis to how we were created in God’s image. The third some advice to pastors and church leaders, or anyone else who finds themselves so very busy.


Sitting in church yesterday, I was struck by the ways in which Paul’s opening words to the Ephesians in chapter one were similar to his opening words to the Colossians. Here’s Ephesians in the NLT:

15 Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere,16 I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, 17 asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. 18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.  19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him…

And Colossians in the CEB:

9 Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. 10 We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; 11 by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience…

For deeper study, print off this section and underline the specifics of his requests for both churches and their spiritual maturity. It’s also interesting to note that his sentences — where we’ve cut off the last verses in the middle — run on as he switches from the quoted sections to the basis on which they can place their confidence in Christ.

  • He made it so you could take part in the inheritance
  • He rescued us from the control of darkness
  • He transferred us into the kingdom of the Son
  • We can trust in the incredible greatness of God’s power
  • We can trust in the power that raised Christ from the dead

If you want to read the full chapters click here for Col. 1 and Eph. 1 in the translations quoted.


Creation Meditation

by Ruth Wilkinson

Heavenly Father, Creator, Sustainer, World Filler –
You created us with eyes because
You see beauty and joy, pain and brokenness
And so must we.

You created us with ears because
You hear words of faithfulness, promises of love and cries of need
And so must we.

You created us with mouths because
You sing joy, shout truth and whisper comfort
And so must we.

You created us with hands because
You create and build, reach out and touch and embrace
And so must we.

You created us with feet because
You are the God who goes where You are needed,
who walks alongside those who need you
And so must we.

Heavenly Father, Creator, Sustainer, World Filler –
You are the God who named us because
You have a name.
You gave us our true name.
You know who we are.

We are yours.


A Word for Weary Pastors

by Mark O. Wilson
(click here to read at source)

Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

As pastors, our calling is to be be with Jesus, as his beloved children, rather than slaving away as his hired servants. Our work for Christ must flow from his overwhelming love for us. Otherwise, we’re living in frantic illusion.

Souls require breathing space to be healthy.

Consider these words from veteran pastor, William C. Martin:

If you fill your calendar with important appointments
you will have no time for God.
If you fill your spare time with essential reading
you will starve your soul.
If you fill your mind with worry
about budgets and offerings,
the pains in your chest and the ache in your shoulders
will betray you.
If you try to conform to the expectations
of those around you
you will forever be their slave.

Work a modest day
then step back and rest.
This will keep you close to God.

May 7, 2016

Spiritual Warfare: The Battle in Scriptures

Eph 6:12 For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.

According to my recent search, we have covered the topic of spiritual warfare many times here, but tucked away in a very old post — you had to click a button to read the full piece — I discovered a collection of scriptures on the topic, and thought they were deserving of being presented here. These are from a sermon I did many years ago in Toronto, and I think I was in my NLT phase at that time! Many of the copied texts are consecutive verses in the same passage.

1) We are in a war.

2Ti 3:12 Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

2)     We are fighting on enemy territory.

1Pe 2:11 Dear brothers and sisters, you are foreigners and aliens here. So I warn you to keep away from evil desires because they fight against your very souls.

Jhn 15:19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

3)     We are not to use the enemy’s weapons

2Cr 10:3 We are human, but we don’t wage war with human plans and methods.

(We don’t fight the way the world fights.)

2Cr 10:4 We use God’s mighty weapons, not mere worldly weapons, to knock down the Devil’s strongholds.

2Cr 10:5 With these weapons we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God. With these weapons we conquer their rebellious ideas, and we teach them to obey Christ.

4)     We may lose some skirmishes but eventually we win the war

a) We can do this!  Previously attained perfection is not required.

Rom 7:21 It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.

Not the verse you were expecting? And this was Paul!   But using the language of the Olympic games, he “pressed on toward the prize” and wrote:

2Cr 12:6 I have plenty to boast about and would be no fool in doing it, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it. I don’t want anyone to think more highly of me than what they can actually see in my life and my message,

2Cr 12:7 even though I have received wonderful revelations from God. But to keep me from getting puffed up, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from getting proud.

2Cr 12:8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.

2Cr 12:9 Each time he said, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me.

2Cr 12:10 Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

So he’s saying, ‘don’t look for inner strength, but know there is strength in weakness.’ We can do this, but on his strength, not our strength.

b) We are the “occupying army” that God has to work with on this enemy territory.  Yes, it makes no human sense!

Similarly, victory will come through his logic and reasoning, not our logic and reasoning.

1Cr 1:25 This “foolish” plan of God is far wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is far stronger than the greatest of human strength.

1Cr 1:26 Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes, or powerful, or wealthy when God called you.

1Cr 1:27 Instead, God deliberately chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose those who are powerless to shame those who are powerful.

1Cr 1:28 God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important,

1Cr 1:29 so that no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

c) But we are “people in process,” people being changed into something new.

2Cr 5:14 Whatever we do, it is because Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for everyone, we also believe that we have all died to the old life we used to live.

2Cr 5:15 He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live to please themselves. Instead, they will live to please Christ, who died and was raised for them.

2Cr 5:16 So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now!

2Cr 5:17 What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!

So we enter into the battle not weighed down by who we were yesterday, but knowing who God is making us into today.

d) The result is that we are to take on the holiness of a holy God.

His picture of what we are collectively becoming is beautiful and radiant.

Eph 5:26b-27 (Message) – Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness.

e) But it begins with us as individuals: 

What the church is becoming collectively begins with you and me, and our choosing to strive for holiness and righteousness.

Rom 12:2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.

 

July 11, 2015

Reverse Engineering The Promises

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.
 2 Corinthians 1:20 NLT

Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete. (same verse + 21 and 22, The Message)

A few days ago, we re-ran a piece on Thinking Out Loud that has also appeared twice here at C201, though not for three years. Apparently this time around, it really resonated with some people.

The idea was to look at areas in my life where it might seem like “it’s not working” and ask ourselves if maybe we’re doing something wrong.

We need to watch the logic of this however. A Biblical statement of promise such as, “If you do _____, then I [God] will do ______ …” is of the form “If ‘A” then ‘B’.” But we can’t logically automatically assume from that, “If ‘not-B’ then ‘not-A.” Moreover, some of the promises in scripture are guiding principles of how things work. For example, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it;” is a statement of general principle, but not an iron-clad assurance that every child raised in the love of Christ will not wander from the faith. Clearly, some do. (I realize some will say, ‘I have to believe that eventually they find their way back, or the Bible isn’t true.’ I guess we can debate that some time!)

All that to say, here’s what I wrote as it appeared (without this long introduction) a few days ago…
 
 

If I’m not getting the desires of my heart,

Maybe I’m not delighting myself in the Lord


If I’m not finding my paths being made straight,

Maybe I’m not trusting in the Lord with all my heart.


If I’m not finding God is adding good things to my life,

Maybe I’m not seeking first His Kingdom.


If it doesn’t seem like God is working in all things for His glory,

Maybe I’m not loving God or trying to live according to His purpose.


If it doesn’t feel like God is hearing from heaven, healing the land and forgiving sin,

Maybe it’s because as His people, we’re not humbling ourselves, seeking his face and turning from our wicked ways.


If it doesn’t seem like God is lifting me up,

Maybe I’m not humbling myself in His sight.

 

June 29, 2015

Redefining What it Means to be ‘Spiritually Deep’

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 crave spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

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

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

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

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

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

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

January 16, 2015

Salvation By Works: Yes and No

The Message – Col 2:6-7 My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.

The Voice – Col 2:6 Now that you have welcomed the Anointed One, Jesus the Lord, into your lives, continue to journey with Him and allow Him to shape your lives. Let your roots grow down deeply in Him, and let Him build you up on a firm foundation. Be strong in the faith, just as you were taught, and always spill over with thankfulness.

Amplified – Col 2:6 As you have therefore received Christ, [even] Jesus the Lord, [so] walk (regulate your lives and conduct yourselves) in union with and conformity to Him. Have the roots [of your being] firmly and deeply planted [in Him, fixed and founded in Him], being continually built up in Him, becoming increasingly more confirmed and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and abounding and overflowing in it with thanksgiving.

If you read nothing else here, don’t miss the first line of the reading which follows. Some people have a works-based faith. It’s not grace-based because it consists entirely of doing things. But some people, once they believe they have assurance of salvation by grace, end up doing nothing. Still a third group of people often realize that they have been guilty of living their lives in one extreme or other other, and end up swinging to the opposite position, but that leaves them still in the extreme. There is a continuum here, and the key is to find the balance in the middle.

E. Stanley Jones was one of the best-known Methodist missionaries (to India) and religious writers in the first half of the twentieth century. This is from Good News, a United Methodist website.

Devotional by E. Stanley Jones, Focus 3

By E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973)

You cannot attain salvation by disciplines*—it is the gift of God. But you cannot retain salvation without disciplines. If you try to attain salvation by disciplines, you will be trying to discipline an unsurrendered self. You will be sitting on a lid. The result will be tenseness instead of trust. “You will wrestle instead of nestle.” While salvation cannot be attained by discipline around an unsurrendered self, nevertheless when the self is surrendered to Christ and a new center formed, then you can discipline your life around that new center—Christ. Discipline is the fruit of conversion—not the root.

This passage gives the double-sidedness of conversion: “As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (Col. 2:6-7, RSV). Note, “received”—receptivity; “so live”—activity. It appears again, “rooted”—receptivity; “built up in him”—activity.

The “rooted” means we take from God as the roots take the soil; the “built up” means we build up as one builds a house, a character and life by disciplined effort. So we take and try; we obtain and attain. We trust as if the whole thing depended on God and work as if the whole thing depended on us. The alternate beats of the Christian heart are receptivity and response—receptivity from God and response in work from us.


* What are the spiritual disciplines? Here is a list to get you started. That list has 12 disciplines in total, this one contains more, but breaks it down into seven key areas. (Click the tabs at the side of the landing page.)

February 18, 2014

Spiritual Growth

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:43 pm
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Stages of Spiritual Growth

See below for information about today’s graphic.

This article is from a blog making a first time appearance here, Laced With Grace. There are several authors, this one is from Debbie and was titled Are You Growing Up?


Are you growing up?  Recently I gathered a few of my after school students and showed them photos from the previous year.  They laughed and pointed as they noticed how little they once looked.  They had grown in so many ways and it was obvious.

But how about spiritual growth?  It’s not measured the same way.  You can’t look at a photo to see the changes.

A Christian’s salvation is a work of God alone.  We are saved by grace alone.  There’s nothing we can do to earn it.  It is a gift of God.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works so that no one can boast.

Christian growth is a call to labor.  In Philippians 2:12 Paul is addressing the church at Philippi.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

As I grow in my relationship with the Lord, spiritual maturity develops.  It is a life time pursuit and one I can participate in.  I study the Scriptures, pray, attend church and fellowship with other believers.  Often I gain insight from more mature believers by their example and experience.

As I grow in sanctification, my heart’s desires change.  People who knew me before begin to notice.  I attended a reunion for my nursing school a number of years ago.  I used to be a bit wild in my younger years.  Although I hadn’t yet mentioned anything about my faith, one of my old friends asked me when I became a Christian.  I told her and asked her how she knew.  She told me I was different and since she was also a Christian …she knew.

Your Christian maturity will reach a level that is in direct proportion to your willingness to labour in this great vocation.

R. C. Sproul, in What Does It Mean to Be Born Again

I love that I can be diligent and participate with the Holy Spirit as I grow in my faith.

Philippians 2:13 says:

It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

He gives me all I need to grow and mature.  The question is are you and I willing to participate?

  • Do you see growth in your spiritual life?
  • Do others notice a difference in your life since becoming a Christian?
  • Are you actively pursuing activities that stimulate and nurture your Christian maturity?

As I prepared to post today’s devotional/study, it occurred to me that part of the growth process God may be calling you (and me) to may be to step up in terms of your role in your local church. If there are any areas where you feel your church is lacking, maybe you are the answer its prayers. Reconsider this brief list of the fivefold ministry gifts and see if you might be one of the people so described.


Today’s graphic: Go deeper with this article on the Stages of Spiritual Growth from the blog The Total Man.

February 16, 2014

The Heart Will Fool You

The Heart is Deceitful

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind,to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” (Jer 17:9-10).

Our first take on today’s key verse comes from the blog True Church of God and is entitled Trouble Shooting of the Heart.

Take a deep look inside your own heart and mind to see what unrighteousness you have swept under the rug and stuffed in a closet to hide from your own view.   Human nature wants to feel good about self and simply hides much of its evils from self.  Its all still there in the mind, but stuffed out of view from self , so that self can avoid condemning self behavior.   For this reason human nature likes to keep the focus on someone else’s faults; it helps make self feel more just, and righteous; especially if they don’t seem to have the same fault or weakness.

Real repentance involves God helping us to see these evils that we have stuffed in closets and swept under rugs in our minds; and facing the honest truth about our selves; and confessing these things to God in sincere heart felt prayer, and asking him to forgive us and give us strength to not do these evils ever again.  Then we must follow righteousness, and don’t let self repeat these evils.  God shows us some of our sins that we need to repent of when he first calls us; but for the rest of our Christian lives, if we will repent and continue in our conversion and desire it; God will continue little by little to reveal our faults so that we may continue to repent of our evil nature, and grow in the Godly nature.

The more we turn away from sin and obey the righteousness of God; then the more of the Holy Spirit God will give us.  By this means we must Grow in God’s grace until we are Holy as God is Holy.   This growth process does cause some growing pains; but they are not worthy to be compared with what God has in store for his true saints.  The hope that we have in the Kingdom of God is what gives us zeal to continue to put self nature to death, and grow in Christ.  That is why one must truly believe the gospel (good news) as well as repent of sins in order to be baptized into the body of Christ.

The average person commits many sins against God without even being aware of it.  Any disobedience to God is sin; including violating his Holy Law the Ten Commandments.

Most of our sin is directly against our fellow humans also.  When you have wronged someone in deed or word; ask your own heart: why did I do this wrong against this person?  Don’t let your heart get away with just shrugging your shoulders and saying I don’t know; or they had it coming.  Demand an answer from your heart.  Search your own soul to know how to fix what is wrong with your self so that you can always treat other people with the same love and respect that you desire for self.  You can’t fix your neighbors attitude, but if your are willing, you can fix your self, with the help of God.   You can’t fix the problem until you can see it, and acknowledge that it really is a problem that needs fixed.  Ask God in sincere heart felt prayer to show you what you need to fix in your own heart, and nature.   I’ll guarantee you, that if you are truly sincere, God will hear and answer that prayer.

Our second take on this comes from the blog at The Christian Network and is titled Heart Changer.

When we hear that we are broken, that something is terribly wrong with us, it is not the comforting news we wish to hear. We want to be told we are good, kind and loving. Why would we want to hear we are deceitful, greedy, immoral, selfish and evil (Mt 7:11, Gal 5:19-21)? Facing oneself is not easy. The reflection we see in the mirror can be confronting. God does not pull any punches in describing humanity’s condition. In Romans 3:23 we read ALL Have fallen short of the glory of God. God’s universal judgement of the entire human race. The diagnosis, however, does not improve as the Bible’s message unfolds.

The preceding verses to Jeremiah 17:9 announce an ominous warning –  “This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. ” (Jer 17:5). Trusting in our own strength or trusting in others strength is a form of idolatry. In other words, trusting in the creation rather than the Creator. Verse 17:9 tells us why this is such an issue. The problem lies within the human heart itself.

Feinberg (1986) states “The source of all human difficulty is the human heart (Prov 4:23). In OT usage the heart signifies the total inner being and includes reason. From the heart come action and will.” Our hearts, our inner being, are far from perfect. Once in a sermon I singled out a man in Church and asked him if I were to place all of his thoughts for the year on a projector screen, that the whole congregation could see, would he be comfortable? He adamantly shook his head. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ lets us know that even our thoughts are vitally important to God – and indeed will be judged. Anger the same as murder, a lustful look the same as adultery (Mt 5). Christ was getting to the core of the matter – the deceitful heart we all carry.

This verse tells us God searches our hearts and looks at our deeds (Eph 2:10, Jm 2:26, 1 Jn 3:18, Rev 2:2, 2:19, 3:1, 3:8, 3:15). Our deeds carried out in the body will clearly be judged (Rom 2:6-7). To those that persist in doing good there will be reward and to those that persist in doing evil – punishment. How then can we change from having this deceitful and corrupt heart to having one that seeks to do good unto others? Put simply – we can’t, by ourselves it is beyond cure. Only God can do it.

He tells us the cure Himself in Ezekiel 36:26 – “I will give you a newheart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh”. That new heart is received when we repent and turn to our Savior Jesus Christ and make Him our Lord . Through His Spirit the heart is circumcised. It softens, its hardened exterior cracks (usually in tears) and we in-turn change. Sanctification begins, our healing and metamorphosis initiates. It is then we can literally see the fruit of our good deeds (Eph 2:10). If they are not present, as James  explains – are we really saved at all? If the continuous act of charity (love in action) is not present, what is going wrong? Or are we simply whitewashed walls, still corrupt on the inside and resisting the Holy Spirit in self righteous pride (Acts 7:51).  Billy Graham’s message of the new heart is worthy of note when regarding heart change. Watch it here.

 

 

Click image to source at the blog Chasing After Dear

September 19, 2013

Bible Study Shouldn’t (and Can’t) Replace Church

Sometimes a comment left here leads me to yet another source of material. Although today’s item doesn’t begin with a key text — there are several for you to look up toward the end of the article — it is important to have this here because it would be tragic to think that there are people reading this as a substitute for being part of a local Christian assembly.  It appeared on the blog A Parched Soul, under the title Your Bible Study is Not the Church (click through to read at source) and the author is Grayson Pope.


If you were to survey the landscape of Christian blogs and culture today, you might come away with two notions concerning the church:

  1. It is broken
  2. It is redefinable

The first of these is reasonable. Many churches seem very broken. Sex scandals, misuse of tithes, and condemnation are all too familiar tales these days, unfortunately.

worshiping togetherThere are always areas in which the church can be improved. This will be true as long as sinners are in charge of running them.

The second point, that the church is redefinable, is where we have gone seriously astray. A common headline or title of a post on a popular Christian site might well read like one of the following:

  • “Why I Left the Church”
  • “How I found God Outside the Church”
  • “Why I’m a Christian but I Don’t go to Church”

(Let me be very clear before moving on: I believe the church is in need of repair. I believe there are very real problems with her, or more appropriately, how we have chosen to engage her. But I also believe she is the hope of this world, indeed the only one it has.)

These pseudo-titles above give us insight into the heart of what Christians think about the church at this point in history. In short, they find it open to interpretation, as if it is Play-Doh which can be kneaded, molded, or reshaped in the hands of a man.

Some believe worship with the family in the living room replaces corporate worship with a congregation. Others believe social ministry or their Bible study group in a coffee shop is their church.

It is tempting, to be sure. The social ministry field is seen as alive and vibrant, compared to the stale pews and stiff suits so many think of when church comes to mind. Huddling around a Starbucks table seems culturally rebellious and gives a sense of thrill.

Those things are not bad, but they are not the church. They may be called church by those involved, but they undermine thousands of years of ecclesiology, whether they do so knowingly or not.

They are mistaken. And it is hurting their faith.

James Emery White, who has spent much of his life studying the church and leading one, says for many this,

…has led to a trivialization of the church; for a growing minority it has led to a hunger for a deeper sense of church…

This gives rise to,

…those who intimate that the idea of the church in the New Testament is either embryonic or ethereal that we have the freedom to define the church as we wish. This is simply not the case.

If then, the church is not open to interpretation as we thought, what is it that marks it? Again, we turn to the work of White on the subject. He details what he calls the “5 C’s” in his book, Christ Among the Dragons, that give clarity to the biblical and historical view of the church.

To be the church, the following must be present:

  1. Community: “To be a church, we must be a community of faith. This community should not be segmented in any way, whether by race, ethnicity, gender or age…(see Gal 3:28; 1 Tim 4:12)
  2. Confession: “If a Christian church is anything, it is foundationally confessional, for the earliest mark of the Christian movement was the clear confession that Jesus is the Christ (Mark 8:29) and the Lord (Romans 10:9).”
  3. Corporate: “The Bible speaks of defined organizational roles such as pastors/elders/bishops/deacons, as well as corporate roles related to spiritual gifts such as teachers, administers and leaders (Romans 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4; 1 Pet 4).”
  4. Celebration: “The church is to gather for public worship as a unified community of faith, which includes the stewarding of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, for these were not in the public domain.”
  5. Cause: “…this involves active evangelism with subsequent discipleship, coupled with strategic service to the needy. We are to be the body of Christ to the world, and the twin dynamics of evangelism and social concern reflect Christ’s ongoing mission.”

These 5 C’s are what mark the church and what make it the church. They cannot be achieved to the same level as Jesus would have them outside of the local church.

Do you think you church is open to interpretation? Have you seen someone try to replace their church experience with another of some kind?

May 7, 2013

God’s Parenting Process

Spinning the giant Christian devotional blog wheel this week, we ended up at a new one called The Thought Just Ocurred To Me written by Mary Argusa. You are always encouraged to read these devotions at source — sometimes you get pictures — and this one appeared under the title, “I WANT.  I NEVER get ANYTHING!”

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11
 
Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:4
Recently I recalled an incident from my childhood (back in the Stone Age). I don’t remember what prompted this action, but I vividly remember sitting and rocking to and fro while I sang, “I want. I never get anything.” My little ditty wasn’t well received by my mother at the time, but years later it provided ample opportunities for laughter in our family. I’ve not used those exact words but I’ve sung a version of that song, on occasion, to God. It hasn’t worked with Him either.
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At different times I’ve offered God my suggestions about how He could upgrade His parenting skills. With myself as an example, I’ve reminded Him what a diligent job I did to provide my daughter’s needs in a timely manner. I hoped He’d take a page from my playbook. For now, He’s still on His game plan. During one of our re-education sessions, the Father gently interrupted my diatribe with this thought. His goal is to raise mature sons and daughters, not spoiled brats. Spoiled brats! I hadn’t thought of that. Would it disrupt His grand cosmic scheme if for a short time I could be spoiled to my heart’s content? I liked the sound of this.
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One Saturday morning, at o’dark hundred, when I should’ve been asleep, I was wide awake. My mind buzzed with thoughts to process for this post. I remembered a guy I knew in the very early days of my relationship with God. I’ll call him Tony. Tony was an only child raised in a fairly affluent family. By his own admission, he was a spoiled brat. When we met, Tony was in his early twenties, married and about to be a first-time father. His life was in shambles. Why? He was undisciplined. Accustomed to having his way, his adjustment to responsible adulthood was rocky. He recognized his problem and reached out for help. When given sought after advice, he couldn’t act on it. He was so programmed to a life that fit his desires and parameters, any and all deviations from that norm were unacceptable. Tony’s marriage fell apart and he disappeared from the church. Occasionally I’ve thought of him and wondered if he ever got his act together.
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As much as I think being spoiled would be wonderful, it’s probably not all grand. Tony’s is an excellent example. To our advantage, God dotes on us endlessly. He generously lavishes us with discipline. His goal is to raise stable, mature individuals, not blithering idiots.
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I think I’ve got the picture, although it’s not the one I would paint. God won’t spoil me, despite my attempts to the contrary. His plan to develop me into a disciplined grown-up has no room from such nonsense. As I go through the process, I’ll have to trust that His design will produce something of eternal value, not just temporary enjoyment or ease. Am I going to change my tune? I think I need to.

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

December 28, 2012

Continue to Come as a Child

Oswald ChambersIn our generation the most enduring devotional resource has been My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers. Many years ago a bookseller named James Reiman undertook to rewrite the entire book in more modern language, so that the type of sentence construction employed all those years ago wouldn’t be a barrier to people getting to the depth and riches of the material.

A year ago we ran a few Oswald Chambers Quotations, and  you can read a short biography of him here,  and also at Wikipedia.  It’s worth noting that Chambers never “wrote” My Utmost, rather, after his death his wife, who was a stenographer, transcribed notes from his talks.

The sample devotionals below are from the website utmost.org  and are the  readings for yesterday and today. Click the calendar page on the site for the permanent links to each.

Where the Battle is Won and Lost

’If you will return, O Israel,’ says the Lord . . . —Jeremiah 4:1

Our battles are first won or lost in the secret places of our will in God’s presence, never in full view of the world. The Spirit of God seizes me and I am compelled to get alone with God and fight the battle before Him. Until I do this, I will lose every time. The battle may take one minute or one year, but that will depend on me, not God. However long it takes, I must wrestle with it alone before God, and I must resolve to go through the hell of renunciation or rejection before Him. Nothing has any power over someone who has fought the battle before God and won there.

I should never say, “I will wait until I get into difficult circumstances and then I’ll put God to the test.” Trying to do that will not work. I must first get the issue settled between God and myself in the secret places of my soul, where no one else can interfere. Then I can go ahead, knowing with certainty that the battle is won. Lose it there, and calamity, disaster, and defeat before the world are as sure as the laws of God. The reason the battle is lost is that I fight it first in the external world. Get alone with God, do battle before Him, and settle the matter once and for all.

In dealing with other people, our stance should always be to drive them toward making a decision of their will. That is how surrendering to God begins. Not often, but every once in a while, God brings us to a major turning point— a great crossroads in our life. From that point we either go toward a more and more slow, lazy, and useless Christian life, or we become more and more on fire, giving our utmost for His highest— our best for His glory.


Continuous Conversion

. . . unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven —Matthew 18:3

These words of our Lord refer to our initial conversion, but we should continue to turn to God as children, being continuously converted every day of our lives. If we trust in our own abilities, instead of God’s, we produce consequences for which God will hold us responsible. When God through His sovereignty brings us into new situations, we should immediately make sure that our natural life submits to the spiritual, obeying the orders of the Spirit of God. Just because we have responded properly in the past is no guarantee that we will do so again. The response of the natural to the spiritual should be continuous conversion, but this is where we so often refuse to be obedient. No matter what our situation is, the Spirit of God remains unchanged and His salvation unaltered. But we must “put on the new man . . .” (Ephesians 4:24). God holds us accountable every time we refuse to convert ourselves, and He sees our refusal as willful disobedience. Our natural life must not rule— God must rule in us.

To refuse to be continuously converted puts a stumbling block in the growth of our spiritual life. There are areas of self-will in our lives where our pride pours contempt on the throne of God and says, “I won’t submit.” We deify our independence and self-will and call them by the wrong name. What God sees as stubborn weakness, we call strength. There are whole areas of our lives that have not yet been brought into submission, and this can only be done by this continuous conversion. Slowly but surely we can claim the whole territory for the Spirit of God.

December 11, 2012

Journey or Battle?

ESV – Matthew 11:12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.

CEB – Proverbs 21:31 A horse is made ready for the day of battle,
    but victory belongs to the Lord.

KJV – Ephesians 6:112 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Our focus today is this familiar passage from Ezekiel; seen here in a different translation:

Message – Ezekiel 37: 1-2 God grabbed me. God’s Spirit took me up and set me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones. He led me around and among them—a lot of bones! There were bones all over the plain—dry bones, bleached by the sun.

He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry BonesI said, “Master God, only you know that.”

He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of God!’”

5-6 God, the Master, told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!”

7-8 I prophesied just as I’d been commanded. As I prophesied, there was a sound and, oh, rustling! The bones moved and came together, bone to bone. I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them. But they had no breath in them.

He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man. Tell the breath, ‘God, the Master, says, Come from the four winds. Come, breath. Breathe on these slain bodies. Breathe life!’”

10 So I prophesied, just as he commanded me. The breath entered them and they came alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge army.

Our thoughts today are from Mike Breen where this appeared under the title: Is the Christian life best understood as a Journey or a battle?

’Ive been spending a good deal of time in the last few months working on our newest book that is coming out in the spring of 2013…Leading Kingdom Movements. Been tinkering around with it quite a bit.

Wanted to put out a quick thought I’ve been working on in the content for this book that I think you might find interesting…

Ezekiel gives us a brilliant picture of the people of God coming together as dry bones assembling in a valley, and suddenly it is a mighty collection of soldiers. Not one, but a whole army.

It is true that in the Kingdom we are called to be soldiers. But we must remember we are also a covenantal community, which means we are a family. The picture Ezekiel gives us is of a family of soldiers. There needs to be as much emphasis on the family as there is on the soldiers.

What I’ve noticed is that faith traditions tend to veer either towards the Covenant side (family) or the Kingdom side (soldiers). For those who lean on Covenant, life is about the JOURNEY that the covenant community is making together. They live rich, full lives together, but often win very little ground for the Kingdom. On the other side, for those who lean more toward Kingdom, life is about the BATTLE that is being fought for the Kingdom. Often they gain ground for the Kingdom, but they can quickly lose that ground because there are so many casualties along the way. That happens because they don’t attend to the family as well.

It has to be both covenant and kingdom. It’s a family of soldiers. It’s about a journey through life together as we fight Kingdom battles along the way.

Again, people are often uncomfortable with the one (Journey vs. Battle) that they have seen poorly lived out and throw the baby out with the bath water. But the true task is living out both in a way that does justice to the way the scripture understands the Christian life.

 


Image: Source

December 5, 2012

Wasting our Weakness

adrian plass

Adrian Plass:

Here’s a question for you.  What is it that impedes Christians?  Stock answers to this question include sin, disobedience, poor prayer life, failure to read the Bible and lack of fellowship.  It will not have escaped your notice (I hope) that these are all areas of negative behaviour.  We too easily forget that, in Matthew 23, Jesus reframed the Ten Commandments into a list of two wholly positive ones, both of which contain and displace negative behaviour rather than majoring and dwelling on it.

Bearing all this in mind, I would like to offer my own list of impeding factors.  It includes principles, faked spiritual excitement, excessive religious behaviour, and, the one I invite you to consider for a few moments, waste of weakness.  How is it possible to waste weakness?  Remember this passage from 2 Corinthians 12?

II Corinthians (NLT) 12:6 If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

There you are, then.  The stunning fact is that God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses.  Perhaps because the words are fairly familiar, we sort of think we know what this means, don’t we?  But the concept is worth dwelling on.  Weakness is not a barrier to service. On the contrary, if we are brave enough to wholeheartedly offer God those areas of our lives where we fail, he is likely to recycle them and use them for his own purposes, Paul’s conversion and subsequent career being a perfect example of this phenomenon.  Even more importantly, his strength will actually be more clearly demonstrated to the rest of the world, precisely because he works through us despite our failings.

Our weaknesses.  Great opportunities.  Let’s not waste them.  Here’s a thorny question.  Does all this actually mean anything?  After all, it is so much not the way of the world.  Want another one?  Here you are then.  Are you held back by a sense of inadequacy and weakness? What would it cost to surrender yourself to God as a public example of the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit?  Maybe God is expecting too much?  Why shouldn’t we focus mainly on our strengths?  What do you think?

 

~Adrian Plass, War of the Worlds (Authentic Media, 2011) pp. 69-70

December 2, 2012

Where We Are Shouldn’t Look Like Where We Came From

Today we pay a return visit to Elsie Montgomery at Practical Faith with a post titled, The Present is Sometimes Too Much Like the Past.

Never being a person who dwells on the past, I have difficulty remembering events that are vivid for my children and others in our family. However, one thing I do remember well — what I was like before I became a Christian.

Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh… that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:11–12)
At that time, as these verses say, I was alienated from the promises of God, separated from Him and hopeless regarding anything spiritual or eternal. The biggest reason that I can remember what this was like is that every time I stray from God and try to do anything without Christ, I experience those same emotions and that same sense of separation as I did then. The biggest difference is that it is not God who turns away now, but me. Why would a Christian do this? We have everything God can give us and are no longer alienated from God.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13)
The blood of Christ covers all sin and removes the alienation. The big words are atonement, propitiation and redemption. The shorter version is that because Christ died for me, my sins are forgiven. Because He lives for me, I can depend on God for whatever I need.
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
And instead I rely on myself? To do so means that I pridefully think I can? Or that God does not care about my issues and problems? Whatever my reasons, the Holy Spirit reminds me that I am no longer separated from the promises of God or alienated from Jesus Christ. He is for me, not against me. I have been brought near.
If God is for me, who can be against me? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for me, how shall He not with Him also freely give me all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for me. Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Yet in all these things I am more than a conqueror through Him who loved me. I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord. (Romans 8:31–39, personalized)
I’m not sure of my mental IQ but sometimes I just bottom out on my spiritual IQ. So dumb. Put in black and white, nothing seems more foolish and hopeless than to depend on me and put myself into any situation without relying on God. Yet He is my Savior. He always knows how to pull me back out of those holes that I dig for myself and remains faithful to do so, even as I behave so foolishly!

October 11, 2012

Who Qualifies?

Six months after visiting I Want To Believe,  the blog of Justin Powell, we return for this post, originally titled Who Among Us?

“Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, He who despises the gain of oppressions, Who gestures with his hands, refusing bribes, Who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed, And shuts his eyes from seeing evil: He will dwell on high; His place of defense will be the fortress of rocks; Bread will be given him, His water will be sure. Your eyes will see the King in His beauty; They will see the land that is very far off. -Isaiah 33:14-17

The Lord spoke this to me and I thought:

“Who? Who is worthy enough that walks righteously? Who despises the gain of oppression? Who shuts their eyes from evil? Who of man has a heart pure enough to see God?”

I pondered these questions and thought:

“Will I ever be there Lord?”

That’s when He told me:

“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” -John 15:3

It’s still hard for me to accept. That Jesus died for me. It makes no sense. I don’t deserve Him but He tells me again and again that I do.

“Thank you Lord!” is all I can say.

Thank you.

Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire?

I will! And if you have accepted Christ into your life and been grafted into the vine… You will too!

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