Christianity 201

November 27, 2022

Costly Sacrifice

Ever stood at a doorway with someone who insists you enter first, while you are insisting that they go first? Today’s story is more like two people insisting on paying the tab at a restaurant.

II Samuel 24 (NLT) : 18 That day Gad came to David and said to him, “Go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”

19 So David went up to do what the Lord had commanded him. 20 When Araunah saw the king and his men coming toward him, he came and bowed before the king with his face to the ground. 21 “Why have you come, my lord the king?” Araunah asked.

David replied, “I have come to buy your threshing floor and to build an altar to the Lord there, so that he will stop the plague.”

22 “Take it, my lord the king, and use it as you wish,” Araunah said to David. “Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and you can use the threshing boards and ox yokes for wood to build a fire on the altar. 23 I will give it all to you, Your Majesty, and may the Lord your God accept your sacrifice.”

24 But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing.” So David paid him fifty pieces of silver for the threshing floor and the oxen.

25 David built an altar there to the Lord and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. And the Lord answered his prayer for the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.

David wants to buy the land where he will erect an altar to atone for his disobedience in doing something God had told him not to do. (The reason God didn’t want him to take a census at that time is the subject for another study, suffice it to say he was disobedient.)  But Araunah is making an overly generous generous gesture to simply give the king the land. But then it really won’t be as much of a sacrifice on David’s part will it? Talk about substitutionary atonement. (No, not really; though we could go in that direction, too; but like other analogies, it doesn’t fit perfectly.) So David pays for the land.

So David voices the well known statement, “for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.” (v. 24b, NASB)

In 2018, we quoted Jentezen Franklin on this passage:

The old Anglo-Saxon word for worship is worth-ship, which is the act of ascribing worth or value to a person or object. What’s the point? It’s this: When it comes to serving God, if it doesn’t cost—it doesn’t count! God knows we can’t all give the same amount. But what He’s asking for isn’t equal giving, but equal sacrifice! The Bible says, Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything (Pr 3:9 NLT). So whether you’re worshiping, serving, or giving, make sure you’re giving God your best.

I like that; “If it doesn’t cost, it doesn’t count.”

Our word worship means worthship. We worship those things/people we ascribe worth to and in doing so we are saying these things/people are important to us. So as we sacrifice to worship, we’re saying that God’s worth it.

In that same article, we quoted the blog of Covenant Life Church of God:

We recognize His worth-ship, His value and we openly worship Him. If He never did another thing for us, He is still worthy of our worship. His whole being is so wonderful and beautiful we can’t help but respond to Him. That is worship, the acknowledgement of who He is, without any reference to ourselves. He is still magnificent without anything personal involved, simply by existing.

The website Truth or Tradition reminded us that

[P]erhaps we do not worship God as we should is that it often takes so much time, and we are already busy. Let’s face it—prayer, reading the Bible, and sharing our faith all take time. Also, sometimes there does not seem to be much return for the effort spent on things we do for God. There are times we pray for our country, yet things seem to go from bad to worse; we read the Bible, but not are not inspired by it; or we go to church, but do not seem to benefit that much from the experience. Ironically, our word “worship” derives from “worth-ship” (Oxford Etymological Dictionary), and sometimes we wonder if “worship” is “worth it.” But it always is.

Part of the process is putting God first.

Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

There is much to be gained from using different translations. For example, take

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness… (NIV)

The phrase in question has to do with putting God first, or giving Him first place in our lives.  Modern options include:

  • Set your heart on the kingdom and his goodness(Phillips)
  • Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. (Message)

It’s important that we don’t think of this purely in financial, or worse transactional terms. In an 2014, we quoted Ken Idleman. Here’s his challenge, to us and to himself!

So what are some of the ways we can put God first in our lives that aren’t related to financial giving to our church and ministry organizations?

  1. I am really trying to discipline my mind to start the day with some kind of prayer; asking God to use my day for His glory. If my thoughts are getting sidetracked, I just quickly get out of bed and do a re-start so I can try the thought focus again.
  2. I am endeavoring to make the devotional website I read each day the first internet page that is opened in my computer.
  3. I am trying to begin my day at work by asking God to use my workplace to reach my community. This isn’t easy. The first thing I have to do when I walk in is shut off the alarm system, and sometimes the message light is flashing on the phone system.
  4. I am trying to be more intentional about the emails I write and things I post on Twitter. That’s hard because I am already a bit of a Bible-nerd, so with a faith quotient that’s already high, I have to separate things that are about Church life or ‘religion’ in general from things that are about Jesus. I have a long way to go on this one.
  5. I am trying to put God’s kingdom agenda in the words I write and the words I speak so that the wisdom I offer is not earthly wisdom, but are filled with truth, hope, and encouragement.

I Chronicles 21:24 (parallel passage)

But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”

January 23, 2022

Baby Steps: Carrying Out Christ’s Most Basic Command

Some will think today’s “baby steps” devotional isn’t very 201-ish. It’s more like 101, or pre-101. But over and over again this weekend it has been impressed on me that the pastors and leaders I’m watching or listening to online are concerned that the church in North America, Western Europe and Australia/New Zealand is missing out on Christ’s elementary teaching that we reflect love in all we do and say. Or to put it another way, our orthopraxy matters as much if not more than our orthodoxy. Especially in these times of dissension and division.

Matthew 7:22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7 reminds us here that much of what passes for spiritual activity doesn’t ultimately guarantee us standing before God. I was thinking of this today in reference to a very familiar passage in I Corinthians 13. This is often referred to as “The Love Chapter” though it falls into the middle of a larger passage on spiritual gifts. The actual “Love is patient, love is kind…” section has more affinity with Paul’s teaching on the fruit of the spirit than it does with things he says elsewhere about Christian marriage. Someday in the future, I hope to walk up to Paul and say, “Hey, you know that stuff about how ‘love is patient, love is kind…;’ did you know that used that as part of our wedding ceremonies?” And he’s gonna be like, “Weddings? Wow! I didn’t see that coming.” But I digress.

The set-up to the classic love reading is three verses that are not as well known:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

The principle here applies to many other dynamics of the Christian life. Using the second part of verse 2 as an example:

  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but lack humility, I am nothing.
  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but am prone to anger, I am nothing.
  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but ignore the marginalized, I am nothing.
  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but cause controversy and division, I am nothing.
  • if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have stopped hungering and thirsting after God, I am nothing.

I can be so very spiritual in so many ways but also so very lacking spiritually. It’s interesting to look at the various ways these outward manifestations of great faith are articulated in different translations: (NIV unless indicated)

  • speak in the tongues of men or of angels
  • speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy (Message)
  • speak in different languages (NCV)
  • have the gift of prophecy
  • I have prophetic powers (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose) (Amp)
  • can fathom all mysteries
  • understood all of God’s secret plans (NLT)
  • understand all the secret things of God (NCV)
  • have the gift to speak what God has revealed (NOG*)
  • can fathom all knowledge
  • speak God’s Word … making everything plain as day (Message)
  • can move mountains
  • my faith is strong enough to scoop a mountain from its bedrock (The Voice)
  • give all I possess to the poor
  • give over my body to hardship
  • go to the stake to be burned as a martyr (Message)

[A more complete list of the supernatural gifts can be found in I Cor. 12: 8-10.]

The Voice Bible bookends this first section of chapter 13 with this commentary:

Gifts of the Spirit, which are intended to strengthen the church body, often divide the body because members of the church elevate those who possess the more visible gifts over those whose gifts function in the background. In fact, this is the very problem facing the Corinthians. So while talking about the importance and function of these gifts in chapters 12 and 14, Paul shifts his focus to the central role love plays in a believer’s life in chapter 13. Love is essential for the body to be unified and for members to work together. Members of the body that are very different, with little in common, are able to appreciate and even enjoy others because of the love that comes when a life is submitted to God.

Paul boils it all down for the believers in Corinth. Religious people often spend their time practicing rituals, projecting dogma, and going through routines that might look like Christianity on the outside but that lack the essential ingredient that brings all of it together—love! It is a loving God who birthed creation and now pursues a broken people in the most spectacular way. That same love must guide believers, so faith doesn’t appear to be meaningless noise.

Often, non-believers look at us and merely see religious people busy doing religious things; church people running to and fro with church activities. Or, more specific to today’s passage, they hear of spectacular miracles or visions or healings, but don’t see anything tangible manifested in how we live our daily lives in the neighborhood, the workplace, at the school committee meeting, or at family occasions.

Decades ago, in a book titled The Mark of the Christian, Francis Schaeffer exhorted, “Love — and the unity it attests to — is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.”

I’ll admit the third-to-last one in the list, giving all my money to the poor, sounds impressive, but even that can be done in the wrong way or with the wrong motives. (Flip back a few weeks to this devotional.)

In certain Christian quarters, supernatural gifts are treated as the gold standard of faith, but without humility or love, we come up empty; and all our co-workers, neighbors, or extended family see is a preoccupation with religious things that really don’t appeal to their felt needs.


*Names of God Bible, a 2011 edition from Baker Book House just added at Bible Gateway.

March 20, 2021

What Do You Swear By?

It’s amazing to me that much of what previous considered profanity was religious in nature. Even today, “hell” and “Jesus” are used in this way and “OMG” in its fuller expression is common even among some Christians. The french use “tabernacle” (it means the same as in English) as a swear word.

But swearing can also mean to “swear an oath” and in Jesus’ time this was much more nuanced, but as Jesus noted, also a bit backwards, in that they would swear by the gift left on the altar, but not the altar itself; or swear by the gold in the temple, but not the temple itself. So Jesus rightfully asks the question, “Which is greater?” In so doing, as commentaries point out, he is showing their emphasis on superficials (a word I just made up) and external things, where as he has come to focus on the heart.

I was drawn to this teaching in Matthew 23 through a new devotional study source we’re introducing to you today, Magnificent Life Ministries, a non-profit ministry in California, USA. These are shorter readings so we’re going to present both, and they were presented in the opposite order they appear in Matthew 23. Clicking the titles below will take you to the source directly, and as these were published yesterday and today, I’m going to close comments here so you can comment there if you wish.

Which is More Important?

“Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?” Mathew 23:19

Jesus threw a question at the scribes and Pharisees for their misconception about the altar and the gift on the altar. Have you thought about such a question for a moment? Or have you ever related this to your life? If yes, then I would like to invite you to read today’s devotion with full attention. It is a great opportunity to learn who we are and how to present ourselves to God.

The same way the altar is important, so also the gift, but not as much. About ourselves, it means we are the carrier of the altar, and the gift is God’s riches in our possession. When the gifts are presented to God, they might be rejected or accepted not because the gift is bad or good, but the presenter of the gift that serves as the altar’s carrier is more important than the gift itself.

Genesis 4:7 says,

 “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you refuse to do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires you, but you must master it.”

We can see from the scriptures how God accepted Abel and his offering but rejected Cain and his offering. Genesis 4: (Read the middle verse of today’s devotion Gen. 4:7 as God’s response to Cain). The bible also clarifies this in Romans 12:1, the more we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, the more our relationship with him becomes deeper than before.

Beloved, thousands and millions present their case before God every second, but it has always been rejected. The creator has not found them worthy of acceptance, not to talk of accepting their gifts, because their life does not reflect the true altar, Christ Jesus. Therefore, we must present our body as a living sacrifice for the sake of God. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says,

“do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own”

Prayer
1. Psalm 19:14-Father, I present my body as a living sacrifice unto you, making it acceptable in thy sight O lord
2. I receive the grace to set priorities towards the weightiest matters of this kingdom in Jesus’ name. Amen


Which is More Important? 2

“You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes it sacred?” Matthew 23:17

To the blind chump, the gift is more important than the altar that gives him the right to worship. That’s why most people will spend all their years trying to get more gifts for themselves, while to the wise, the altar is more important. Hence, they will renovate their altar and set priorities on the highest things of life.

Altars in this context are like the magnetic force; when it is made ready and furnished, it will attract gifts such as cars, wealth, properties, etc. When God appeared to Solomon in a dream, asking Solomon for whatever he wanted from God. He asked for wisdom, and God was pleased with his answer. Solomon set his life on the altar of God’s wisdom, and God gave him everything that he needed.

Mathew 6:33 says,

 “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Are you setting up life according to God’s word? Or are you running after the gift of the world instead of the giver of the world Himself? Don’t forget that God gives the power to get wealth, gives strength to live, and gives life to living in abundance (Deuteronomy 8:18, Psalm 44:3). Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise when it comes to accepting God’s love (Jesus) for you.

Christ is our altar whom God has given us as a mediator between Him and us. Therefore, present your gift to God with Christ-like behavior in every aspect of life and relationship with him. Merit Christ’s love for your life. And your gift, prayer, worship, godly desires will be acceptable to God John 14:6 says,

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Prayer:
1. I plead the merit of Christ’s love in my life and family.
2. Oh Lord, forgive me in any area I’ve taken Christ for Granted or neglected him in my life.
3. Holy Spirit, come and purify my spiritual altar and make it clean for God’s presence in Jesus’ name. Amen


 

February 22, 2021

Reaping Where You Did Not Sow

Titus 1:7

Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.
(NIV)

dollar signNot wanting to overstate this, but in the past year we’ve watched as people who were stewards of ministry organizations, including those responsible for the finances of those same organizations, have proved themselves to be less than good stewards of what well-meaning donors had entrusted to them. Some have shown themselves, in their other endeavors to be “pursuing dishonest gain.”

This should not be. The ESV version of today’s verse says, “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain.

In a world of capitalism, there is a sense in which person “A” is exploiting person “B” by way of their possession of a scarce resource or a unique talent. My plumber or electrician (both Christians who have been very fair with us over the years) have skills and abilities that I do not have and the KJV scripture reminds us that “the workman is worthy of his hire.” (NIV/NLT: deserves his/their wages/pay.)

When found out, we sometimes expect God will just step in and seize control of the situation, but sometimes he allows things to go unchecked. One of the more interesting articles here at C201 is a 2014 one called “Why Did Jesus Allow Judas to Manage the Petty Cash?” Matt Perman wrote,

Why did Jesus let Judas carry the money bag during his ministry, knowing in his omniscience that he was stealing from it (John 12:6)? One blogger humorously points out “one is tempted to offer the Lord some consulting on good stewardship.”

But then goes further,

…If it’s surprising that Jesus would have let Judas carry the money bag, it should be even more shocking that he let Judas be an apostle at all. For the task of going out and preaching the gospel, which Judas participated in, is even more significant than carrying the moneybag.

(Now you want to read the whole article, right?)

While we’re reminiscing about previous articles, a 2013 article from (re)Versing Verses which we called “Two Different Measures” looked at this verse:

You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. Deuteronomy 25:15 NIV

and noted:

The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him [Proverbs 11:1]. This is a matter of integrity, and often it’s so easy to gain a little here and there that we tend to do it naturally and think of it as harmless. It isn’t harmless though. It harms your integrity. The Lord frowns on it. It incurs the Lord’s wrath – For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly [Deu 25:16]. Let us learn to be honest and have integrity in small things and big things alike.

How do I know if my “gain” is “unjust”? A page at Knowing Jesus provides some scriptures to help us make the call. (They have 12 key verses, I added #3 and #7)

  1. It has come about through violence. “So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; It takes away the life of its possessors.” Prov. 1.19
  2. It is achieved through misrepresentation and lies. “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue Is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.” Prov 21.6
  3. It is accomplished through trickery and deception. “The LORD detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights.” Prov 11.1
  4. It exploits the poor. “He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself Or who gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” Prov 22.16
  5. It exploits done by others. “As a partridge that hatches eggs which it has not laid, So is he who makes a fortune, but unjustly; In the midst of his days it will forsake him, And in the end he will be a fool.” Jeremiah 17.11
  6. It involves not properly paying staff or contractors. “Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness and his upper rooms without justice, Who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wages” Jeremiah 22.13 also “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord” James 5.4
  7. There are underlying, unjust motives. “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Prov. 16.2

I think the word “pursues” is not to be overlooked in this phrase as well. See resources on this at OpenBible.info.

  1. It exhausts you. “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. Prov. 23.4
  2. There is never contentment. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
  3. It can cost you your soul. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8.36 also Luke 18.25 “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
  4. It may cause you to neglect the poor. “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” Prov. 28.27
  5. It will divide your loyalties. “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Prov 16.13
  6. Achieving it may be elusive or temporary. “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Luke 12 18-20
  7. It can leave you miserable. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Rev. 3:17

Growing up in the church founded by Dr. Oswald J. Smith, people were encouraged to invest their money, time and talents in world missions with this motto,

You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.

In other words, you can invest it in the Kingdom of God (“where moth and rust do not corrupt“) and where it lasts.

Someone else also shared with me that

The main thing that Bible teaching has against money is that it perishes with use.

A 2015 C201 post, “Proverbs on Poverty…and Riches” contained a number of scriptures on this (unfortunately without references) and ended with this one:

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

So while we may have determined we have not pursued dishonest gain, we need to be careful we haven’t become caught up in pursuing gain itself.

May 21, 2020

Conflict and Casting Our Pearls to Pigs

by Clarke Dixon

Needless to say, conflict is a huge problem for relationships and COVID-19 may be making things worse for many. Spouses and family members are not used to spending so much time together! Add in fear on top of stress over jobs, finances, and loved ones, and conflict can lie just below the surface. Conflict can take a lot out of us. Does Jesus say anything that can help us deal with potential conflict? Perhaps this:

Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

Matthew 7:6 (NRSV)

What does this have to do with conflict? This saying of Jesus is often interpreted as meaning either, “don’t be flip with the sacred” to quote Eugene Peterson’s the Message, or, more commonly, the idea of don’t waste your time presenting the good news of Jesus to people who will not listen.

Having just said “do not judge,” it would be rather strange for Jesus to immediately require a judgement, a rather severe judgement, that some people may not be worth the effort. Might there be another way to understand these words of Jesus?

We can get tripped up by the word ‘holy’ and assume that Jesus must be talking about the Gospel, or something like that. What if Jesus uses ‘holy’ here, not as the main focus, but in the same way he uses ‘pearls.’ That is, there is something really, really precious and of great value, something which ought not to be wasted. What is that precious thing Jesus is talking about? What is the focus?

Jesus has been speaking about judgement and inter-personal relationships, which we can read in verses 1-5, so let us continue that line of thought. Just as something that is holy should not be thrown to dogs, and just as pearls should not be thrown to pigs, our best should not be thrown into the judgement of others. Our best includes our time, our effort, our hearts, our minds, and our souls.

As we learned last week, judgement is a two way street. If I come against you in judgement, you wIll judge me in return. The next thing you know two people have taken a stand against each other and conflict is brewing. It is like a stand off between two nations headed for war. All their best resources are called upon to make that stand. People will get hurt if no one stands down.

Likewise, those who take a stand in judgement against another will throw all their resources at the brewing conflict, including time, energy, and huge amounts of space in their hearts and minds. People will get hurt. This is like throwing something holy to dogs, or pearls to pigs. It is worse that useless. They may be torn apart by it all.

Our time and energy is important. Our hearts and minds are important. Why waste them on judgement and conflict? What can we do instead? We look back to what Jesus has just said:

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-6 (NRSV)

First, we take care of the log in our own eyes before judging our neighbours for the specks in theirs. Before we go trying to fix others, we focus on your own hearts and minds. We get our own lives in order. We look for God to do a work in us, to develop and grow our character through the Holy Spirit.

Second, we realize that we are on a journey just like everyone else. So rather than taking a stand of judgement against someone, we look take a step forward in relationship. We can grow together, helping each other with our logs and specks.

There are moments where for our own safety, we may need to take a step back from a relationship. Boundaries can be important. While we will always want to take a step forward with people, sometimes we will need to take a step back. What we do not want to do is take a stand against. The conflict that follows a stand of judgement is going to take too much out of us. It is like throwing what is holy to dogs, or like casting pearls before swine. It is a terrible waste and may end up destroying us.

While we will always want to take a step forward with people, sometimes we will need to take a step back. What we do not want to do is take a stand against.

God shows us how it is done. God wants to move forward in relationship with us:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. . . . God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

Romans 5:6, 8-11 (NLT)

That does not sound like someone taking a stand against us! God could be against us, we have given Him plenty of reasons to do so, however, God is for us and not against us. Throughout the Bible God shows that He wants to walk with us. Through Jesus and the forgiveness of sin, God makes walking with us a reality. Through the Holy Spirit we experience God walking with us.

Do you want to take those steps forward with God? Perhaps you have decided instead to take a stand in judgement against God. God does not want to stand in judgement against you. He wants to walk in relationship with you. We can walk with Him, and learn from Him how to walk with others, in faith, hope, and love. This is much better than giving our best to judgement and conflict, than throwing what is holy to dogs, and pearls to pigs.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

July 29, 2019

What Does it Mean to be Pure?

We often highlight devotionals from Charles Price, Minister at Large for The Peoples Church in Toronto. You’re encouraged to click this link if you wish to follow these teachings. There are two inter-connected devotionals today.

One Thing I Do

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” 
—Matthew 5:8

To be pure in heart almost sounds angelic. Many may think it implies perfection or refers to someone who is tremendously giving, always does the right thing and is noble in their cause. This is where we fall off the rails, because we know our hearts are not pure. Thankfully, perfection is not what Jesus is talking about in the sixth beatitude.

To understand what Jesus means by pure in heart we need to define what is meant by “pure.” Although Jesus probably spoke Aramaic during His time in this world, the New Testament was recorded in the Greek language, which was a language of international commerce and trade. Hence, Bible translations mostly take from early Greek manuscripts. There is no exact equivalent between Greek and Aramaic, or even in English, for these vocabularies. A word in Greek has a specific meaning to the Greek mind, but may have a different meaning to the English mind. The Greek word for “pure” that Jesus uses here is katharos, which does not mean pure in the sense of perfection, but pure in the sense of being undiluted, not mixed with anything. For example, wine that is not diluted with water would be a katharos wine.

The heart is the seat of our personalities. It is where the mind, emotions and will come together to form the real person. Our thoughts, emotions, aspirations and desires are filtered through our minds and settled into our hearts. This is why Paul tells us, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Romans 10:10).

To be pure in heart is to narrow our interests down to the interests of Jesus Christ, which opens them up to all that is the purpose and agenda of heaven. Paul tells us, “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul is not saying 25 things that he dabbled in, but one thing he will do. Paul’s exhortation did not mean he was boring without a wider interest in business, family or hobbies. Rather, Paul is implying, “In the midst of my business, family and recreational life, there is an undergirding, ‘this one thing I do’ that is the backbone and the spinal cord of everything in my life.” Of course, there are other aspects of our lives that we are involved and dedicated to doing but it all flows out of this “one thing I do.”

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, grant me a pure heart that focuses on You and Your agenda in every area of my life as the “one thing I do.” Thank You, Lord.

Pureness of Heart

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  —Psalm 51:10

When we have made up our minds that our position is going to be one of “pureness in heart,” we begin a pursuit of pureness. It is not a passive acceptance of “que será será”—“whatever will be, will be”—by letting others think what they will because God will love us regardless. A pursuit for a pureness of heart is to enter every aspect of our lives, which is probably best described as being single-minded to the will and purpose of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Book of Acts records Paul as a tentmaker, where he supported part of his ministry by making tents. He also had a great interest in people from different cultures and backgrounds. Because of his interests, he gained a clear perception on what a predominately pagan world believed in, and related to them from their viewpoint by finding the bridge that would unite them to the gospel.

We all have different lives, but similar to Paul, the undergirding premise is that we bring the life of Christ into all we do. We live in an overwhelmingly secular world where truth has become subjective and bringing Christ in sets us apart from the norm. Jesus was radically set apart from the norm, not only in Jewish religious beliefs, but also to the entire Gentile world. He is the truth, not subjectively, but objectively. Pureness of heart is a pursuit, whereby we allow the truth within us, which is Christ Himself, to become the source from which our attitudes and behaviours derive.

James tells us, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19). The devil believes things with his mind but the significance is not there for his heart because to believe with the heart is to surrender and recognize that God is God. Everyday we fight a battle with our hearts. This is why David writes, “Teach me Your way, Lord, that I may rely on Your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name.”

(Psalm 86:11). We cannot allow ourselves to be pulled in two directions, because in a divided heart, the secular issues will always swallow the sacred issues.

An undivided heart is a pure heart, and to pursue a pureness of heart means surrendering all that we are to seek Jesus. Sometimes we talk about Jesus coming into your heart but that is not found in the Bible. Yet, when we talk about Jesus coming into our hearts, we are asking for Jesus to become the center of our being, right into the heart of everything that we are. Are we ready to pursue a pureness of heart?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I surrender my heart in pursuit of a pureness of heart. Help me to be single-minded and focused on Your will and purpose. Thank You, Lord.


Because we often get first time readers, every so often I like to review our purpose statement:

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

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


December 17, 2017

Sunday Worship

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When we started this series, I emphasized that it was to be about more than just music, because both personal and corporate worship is more than just what we sing. As I thought about this week’s column, I realized that one person who epitomizes this wider view of worship is Rory Norland, whose website is Heart of the Artist.

In On Earth as it is in Heaven (Zondervan) he writes the following; this is an excerpt from an excerpt, click the link below to read everything.

Do What Matters Most: Make Worship a Priority

Top Priority

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). David’s devotion to worship oozes from this verse. More than anything, David wanted to bask in the beauty of God’s presence. He was enamored with God’s glory. The “one thing” David longing is for is intimacy with God and a chance to worship his heavenly Father. As you probably picked up … that first principle we discover about David’s worship involves priorities. David made worship his top priority.

Because worship was such a high priority for David, he bristled whenever God wasn’t given the honor he deserved. What stirred David to take on Goliath was not the threat he posed to Israel but the giant’s blatant disrespect for Jehovah, Israel’s God. David asked angrily, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26). God’s glory and reputation were at stake, and David felt compelled to take action. Upon confronting the Terminator from Gath, David shouted, “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand … that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (1 Samuel 17:46). You can always discern your priorities, for better or worse, by what angers you or stirs you, what frustrates you and what excites you. Honoring God was the utmost priority for David.

As king, David’s reign over Israel was marked significantly by the prominent attention he gave to worship. He brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem and endeavored to build a temple because he wanted to restore worship as the centerpiece of Jewish life. David was also the first to incorporate music as a regular fixture in Israel’s worship. He appointed singers and instrumentalists (1 Chronicles 15:16 – 24; 16:4 – 7; 25:1 – 8; 2 Chronicles 8:14), formed bands and choirs (2 Chronicles 29:25 – 26), pioneered antiphonal singing where one group sings and another echoes in response (Nehemiah 12:24), and even introduced new instruments into the worship service (1 Chronicles 23:5). On occasion, David even led his people in worship (1 Chronicles 16:8 – 36; 29:10 – 22). Israel never had a king as devoted to worshiping God as David was.

Why Make Worship a Priority?

David made worship a priority because he understood that we are created, commanded, called, compelled, and destined to worship. Because God was his ultimate priority, worship was his primary activity.

Created to Worship

In Isaiah, God refers to his people as those who are “called by my name, whom I created for my glory” and those “I formed for myself that they might declare my praise” (Isaiah 43:7, 21). First Peter 2:9 confirms that you and I were created to worship God: “But you are a chosen [ people], a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (emphasis added). If you love to worship, if it feels right to you, it’s because you’re doing what you were created to do.


Other excerpts from the book:

“Why does the Bible keep nagging us to give thanks? It’s because we quickly forget all that God has done for us; we take him for granted. According to Romans 1:21, when we fail to honor God and give him thanks, our hearts become darkened. Indeed, if left unchecked, ingratitude leads to negativity, bitterness, cynicism, and despair.”

“We too need to scour the Bible to learn how God wants to be worshiped. For it doesn’t matter how you and I want to praise God. It’s not ultimately important whether worship makes us feel good or if the music is to our liking. True worship must always be offered on God’s terms, not ours. So we need to learn how God wants to be worshiped.”

[Source]

May 24, 2017

Listening

Today’s devotional is an excerpt from a newly published book by Paul J. Pastor, The Listening Day. It’s a 90 day devotional which follows the format used in other books (Francis Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters, Sheri Rose Shepherd’s His Princess, and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling) with what God is saying to us written out as though God is speaking in the first person; with the difference that this book includes interjections on behalf of the reader. I’ll have a fuller review of it in a few days on my other blog. Clicking the title below will take you to Zeal Books.

Luke 8:15 NIV But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

The Needed Thing

Luke 10:41-42 NIV ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’

The life of God, of truth and understanding, lands in your heart with the fragility of a seed.  It is possible it will wither, be crushed, be pecked and torn, be strangled by lies.

The same word is sowed to all.  Christ the Sower shows no favoritism, respects no person above another.  The truth is the truth, as a kernel of wheat is wheat indeed, and an acorn is only and always the seed of the ancient oak.

The human heart is a fickle field, rocky and weed-laden. Your own heart makes it hard for truth to take root. Too often you work, when you ought to surrender, then give up when you ought to be working.

Your way is not easy, Lord.

It is better than easy. It is life.

What do I need to do?

Today, quiet your heart. Look inside. Consider the growth of the word in you. Where is your soil stony? Where do the birds ravage my tender promises to you? Where do the thorns and poisonous vines sprout?

Listening is the needed thing. Sit still at the feet of Christ. Silence fears. Cease frenzied activity. Stop your mouth. Breathe in the presence of the Quiet Planter. Listen to the voice of the one in whom is all truth and every understanding. You may keep whatever treasures you gather at the feet of your simple King.

Lord, you know that many things trouble me, from outside my heart and from within it. Help me quiet myself today, to truly listen and receive your word, allowing your truth to bear fruit in my life. Amen.

February 6, 2017

Avoiding Dishonest Gain

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Titus 1:7

Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.
 (NIV)

For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,
 (ESV)

dollar signI had bookmarked this verse in my computer to return to later, but a month later I can’t remember what particular feature of this had caught my attention. This time around I locked onto the phrase, “pursuing dishonest gain.”

In a world of capitalism, there is a sense in which person “A” is exploiting person “B” by way of their possession of a scarce resource or a unique talent. My plumber or electrician (both Christians who have been very fair with us over the years) have skills and abilities that I do not have and the KJV scripture reminds us that “the workman is worthy of his hire.” (NIV/NLT: deserves his/their wages/pay.)

How do I know if my “gain” is “unjust”? A page at Knowing Jesus provides some scriptures to help us make the call.  (They have 12 key verses, I added #3 and #7)

  1. It has come about through violence. “So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; It takes away the life of its possessors.” Prov. 1.19
  2. It is achieved through misrepresentation and lies.   “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue Is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.” Prov 21.6
  3. It is accomplished through trickery and deception. “The LORD detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights.”  Prov 11.1
  4. It exploits the poor. “He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself Or who gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” Prov 22.16
  5. It exploits done by others. “As a partridge that hatches eggs which it has not laid, So is he who makes a fortune, but unjustly; In the midst of his days it will forsake him, And in the end he will be a fool.” Jeremiah 17.11
  6. It involves not properly paying staff or contractors. “Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness and his upper rooms without justice, Who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wages”  Jeremiah 22.13 also “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord” James 5.4
  7. There are underlying, unjust motives. “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Prov. 16.2

I think the word “pursues” is not to be overlooked in this phrase as well. See resources on this at OpenBible.info.

  1. It exhausts you. “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. Prov. 23.4
  2. There is never contentment. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
  3. It can cost you your soul. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8.36  also Luke 18.25 “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
  4. It may cause you to neglect the poor. “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” Prov. 28.27
  5. It will divide your loyalties. “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Prov 16.13
  6. Achieving it may be elusive or temporary. “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Luke 12 18-20
  7. It can leave you miserable. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Rev. 3:17

You’ve heard the phrase, “You can’t take it with you.” Growing up in the church founded by Dr. Oswald J. Smith, people were encouraged to invest their money, time and talents in world missions with this motto,

You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.

In other words, you can invest it in the Kingdom of God (“where moth and rust do not corrupt”) and where it lasts.

Someone else also shared with me that

The main thing that Bible teaching has against money is that it perishes with use.

So while we may determined we have not pursued dishonest gain, we need to be careful we haven’t become caught up in pursuing gain itself.

October 6, 2016

Do You Love Money?

Today’s devotional is a return visit to the website The Domain for Truth by Jim Lee. This is a two-part article, of which we’ve printed the first half here. Click the title below to read this at source or visit the site through the link to part two at the end of today’s reading.

dollar signHow do you tell if you are a lover of money?

Christian ought not to be lovers of money (1 Timothy 6:10).  But this challenge is harder than most think.

Then there is this prediction by Paul: “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy,” (2 Timothy 3:1-2).  Given the times that we are living in how much do we need to be discerning to see if we are lovers of money!

Of course people can often deceive themselves.  So how do you know if you are a lover of money?  The following are four diagnostic questions.  I tried to make it flow with the acronym “SNAP:”

  1. You scoff at those who point out you shouldn’t love money more than God: “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him.” (Luke 16:14)
    1. This verse follows right after Jesus saying: “You cannot serve God and wealth.
    2. Thus the Pharisees’ reaction is one of being a cynic and a scoffer of the truth.
    3. Like the case with other sins, when someone point out a pet sin we like, we get defensive…or even go on the offense!  So when you start attacking, ask yourself before God if the issue at hand is your love of money.
  2. You need to commit more sins as a means to satisfy your love for money: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil….” (1 Timothy 6:10a)
    1. Notice the verse did not say money is the root of evil; rather it says it is “the love of money” that “is a root of all sorts of evil
    2. How do you tell you are a lover of money? The love of money is a sin that doesn’t come alone; ask yourself if there are other sins that are a symptom of the love of money.
    3. Put another way: When you sin, what is the motivation for you to sin? Does money play a part in your motivation to commit those sins?
  3. You apostate as a consequence of your love for money: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:10b)
    1. Notice that some go so far in their sins of loving money that they “have wandered away from the faith!
    2. They worship money so much that money and material possessions has become their functional gods that gives them satisfaction and their identity rather than God or Christ!
    3. See this as a serious sign you are in dangerous waters: The things of God suddenly becomes not interesting to you.
  4. You pierce yourself with grief as a consequence of your love for money: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil…and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:10c)
    1. It is not a happy apostasy; rather we see it comes with the consequences of “many griefs
    2. Yet it was self-inflicted since they “pierced themselves
    3. It’s true when Proverbs 13:15b tells us “But the way of the treacherous is hard.

…So how do you combat the love of money? Think of the word “MARK,” and click to read: How Do You Combat the Love of Money – Part 1.

June 2, 2016

Neglecting the State of God’s House

Abandoned Church in Detroit

While it’s true that “God does not dwell in a man-made temple;” there is no reason for the local church to be an eyesore in the community, or worse, a half-built building. That’s the spirit of the verse we’re looking at today.

One of our favorite C201 recurring stops was the blog re-Ver(sing) Verses. With this visit, I noted there have not been new posts, but there is a goldmine of past articles here if you wish to explore. Start by clicking the title below.

Haggai 1:4

“Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses,while this house remains a ruin?”
Haggai 1:4 | NIV | Other Versions | Context

Brief

The book of Haggai is short and simple, depicting the time of Haggai the prophet and his main work in delivering the message of the Lord to Zerubabel, regarding the rebuilding of the temple, 16 years after Zerubabel had laid the foundations. The message of the Lord is clear – while the house of the Lord remained incomplete, the people were not concerned and were busy perfecting their own abodes. In this study, we will examine the context of the state of the houses then, and attempt to metaphorically apply it to our lives today.

Analysis

living in your paneled houses – the original meaning of the term used here is the word used to refer to palaces – very extravagant, very luxurious. It implies that they weren’t just living in secure houses that they built for themselves in order to just have a roof over their heads. No – they even had the luxury of time, money and resources to panel their houses up with good wood or something. It was more than just secure – it was a comfortable place to stay in, luxurious for the people of that time, and luxurious for the people who were still not granted complete freedom. Jeremiah gives us an idea of what a panel house would consist of – He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red [Jer 22:14]. This can perhaps also be taken as a metaphor for our secular, everyday lives – it gets comfortable.

while this house remains a ruin – The temple was destroyed by the Babylonians indeed, an entire superpower regime ago (at the point of Haggai, it was already King Darius’ era, deep into the Persian era). However, 16 years prior to the context, under the sanction of Cyrus the Great, Zerubabel had laid the first foundations of the temple as part of the rebuilding [Ezra 3:8-11]. 16 years had past with the foundations still there – a house that neither looks like one, nor functions as one, with nothing but its foundations. The temple was an important symbol throughout the history of Jerusalem – indeed, even till today. While the people couldn’t do much when Artaxerxes the King put a halt to the rebuilding works, he was no longer in power. Yet the people did not try to do anything regarding the temple. They have forgotten about it – Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house [Haggai 1:9]. Contrast this with the likes of King David, who fretted over the state of the house of the Lord – “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent. [2 Sam 7:2] – Indeed, if not for David, there might have been no temple at all.

Metaphorically, this is the spiritual state of the people – physically and mentally, secularly in their everyday lives, they were doing well. But their spiritual health? In ruins!

is it a time for you – Time. That is the crux of the matter. There are some things, like crimes, like sins – that we obviously shouldn’t be doing at anytime, and at all times. Then there are other things, like this matter in verse 4, that is a matter of time. Is it wrong to be living in paneled houses? No – not really. It isn’t a crime, and cannot count as a sin. Is it their fault that the house of the Lord remains a ruin? No – not really. More of their ancestors’ faults, and while under captivity, there was nothing they could do about it. God knows that too. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens [Ecc 3:1|Article]. And God’s timing is divine. Under a different king they might have been unable to continue rebuilding the temple, but Darius was a king who supported and encouraged alien religions as long as they were peaceful ones.

Conclusion

The Lord is asking a rhetorical question, and the answer is a clear and resounding ‘No’. It is not the time to be enjoying the comfort of our panelled houses when the house of the Lords is in ruins. God does not ask questions like that without more assistance – he pushes and prods the people into action through his prophets, and he rose up Zerubabbel by calling him his signet ring [Haggai 2:23]. We may not have ruins of temples literally for us to build today. However, metaphorically, in each of our hearts, there is a house of the Lord – and many of us have ruined houses of the Lord. Let us not enjoy success and luxury in our secular everyday lives and yet at the same time have an unhealthy spiritual state. If anything, let our houses of the Lord be paneled like palaces, and rather we stay in tents and in ruins – secularly speaking.

January 23, 2016

Your Money Leads; Your Heart Follows

Today we pay a return visit to the blog Feeding the Soul which is part of an English and Spanish organization, BBG Ministry. The title below — click to read at source — may seem a bit hardline, but the analogy below is one I hadn’t considered before.

God wants your heart. Therefore, he demands your money.

Jesus gives us these simple instructions concerning money and possessions:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)

He commands us not to store up money here on Earth, but instead to invest that money into heaven—into the Kingdom of God. Why is it so important to put your money into the Kingdom? Jesus explains:

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

It is impossible to overlook the importance of that verse. Wherever your treasure is, that determines where your heart will be. Your money leads; your heart follows. Knowing this, Jesus commands us to put our money into eternal things. Why? So that our heart will be into eternal things.

Jesus on Money and WealthFor example, say you invest money into a company’s stock. Previously, you didn’t really care about that company, and you didn’t bother to read news articles about them. Now, however, you’re scouring the newspaper for any articles that even remotely relate to that company, you check their stock price daily, and you religiously read their earnings reports. What caused such a change? Your money went into the company and with it your heart.

This principle—where your money goes, your heart follows—is illustrated very well in Mark 10:17-22, which records the story of a rich young man who came to Jesus asking how to be saved. He had done everything right and followed all the laws and commandments, but, according to Jesus, there was “one thing” he lacked:

“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

The man had great wealth, but really his wealth had him—it owned and controlled him. Jesus wanted the man’s heart, and so Jesus demanded his money. Jesus knew that the man could never follow Him if his heart was more attached to his possessions than to God.

The man’s face fell, and he went away sad because his heart was too attached to his possessions. His money was invested in his own possessions, and therefore his heart was invested in his own possessions. However, Jesus wanted to break that bondage, so he commanded the man to give away all of his possessions to others. By giving his money to help the poor and the needy, Jesus knew that the man’s heart would be transformed into serving others, and in so doing he would come identify with and follow Christ.

Do you want your heart to be full of love for others? Give to them, and bless them with your money. Then your heart will follow.

If you want a heart for God, invest your money in building the Kingdom of God. Then your heart will follow. If you want a heart for the poor and the needy of the world, use your money to fight global poverty and hunger. Then your heart will follow. If you want a heart for global missions, support missionaries in Africa, Asia, and the rest of the world. Then your heart will follow. Wherever your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be.

June 6, 2015

Proper Responses to Crises Build Character

VOICE Acts 13:22 After God moved Saul aside, He made David king in his place. God had this to say about David: “I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after My own heart. He’s the kind of king who will rule in ways that please Me.”

NRSV Acts 13:36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors…

Today we return to the writing of Dr. Don Lynch. Read more about his ministry at the website freedomhouse.rocks, or click the link below to read the article at source.

Interpreting Your Tests

Interpreting Your Tests

Perhaps David’s rejection became his open door to seeking God’s acceptance.

Key thought: A kingdom leader’s greatest battles prophesy his greatest destiny.

One thing is certain: the pathway of preparation for reset leaders is not peaceful, pretty, or panacea. Kingdom leaders face crucibles of intense personal pain, rejection, misunderstanding, abuse, solitude, and hopelessness.

Kingdom leaders learn to interpret their tests instead of cursing their tests, so the tests move them into maturity. Reset leaders often experience these tests uniquely as God teaches them proper responses to crises, responses that build character.

God positions Saul to contrast with David and reveal true kingdom leadership; what God saw in Saul was a heart short of passion for purpose. Israel demanded a king “like the other nations” when Israel had a purpose, so God gave them a king that answered to their perversion of purpose as a means of exposing that fatal flaw.

When the final harvest came for Saul’s reign, those seeds would be separated from planting for the next season. The people welcomed David’s new spirit of leadership. The days of Saul were forgotten.

What tests provided opportunities for you to develop character? I speak of the imperfect, brutal, abusive, terrorizing experiences through which God made a way for your development. Did you learn to curse the test or interpret the test?

David was not a coddled royal but a fledgling reject sent to watch sheep to get him out from under foot. When Samuel shows up to anoint a king, David’s own daddy doesn’t even invite him to the dinner. David appears to have been a problem for the family, perhaps because he was illegitimate. At any rate, he spends a great deal of his time in solitude.

In all this, David develops excellent character by passing tests he interprets instead of repeating tests he curses. And, David turns to worship and prayer in these long hours of solitude. His passionate expressions of prophetic intercession mature his spirit, and he shares God’s heart for nations while sharing his earthly father’s heart for his sheep.

Risk Your Life for Someone Else’s Lamb

Key thought: Passion for principles and protocols shapes David’s heart so that he steps into a kingly anointing filled with spiritual understanding of kingdom.

David lives out the consequences of his values and beliefs. David responds to his challenges with the passion for Father’s principles.

When a lion comes into the valley, David could have said, “No one expects me to risk my life for a lamb.” David knows well that many ewes give birth to twins, that the loss of one lamb could easily be explained away, and that his father or anyone else would never know about the loss of one lamb. But David’s passion for principle says, “This my valley! No lion will conquer this kingdom!”

David responds to the roar of lion and bear with a sense of spiritual passion. When he later tells the story, he has the lingering sense of God’s enabling courage, strength, skill, and passion. He rises up as a shepherd the way a kingdom leader rises up for God’s dominion. He risks his life for someone else’s lamb.

Challenges to his assignment call up passion for principle: “I will do this because this is right.” David kills lions and bears on principle. He later responds to a giant with the same passion for principle!

Take care about jumping to the conclusion that David knew he was to be a king and acted out that anticipation. Nothing of that appears in the story. Because you know the rest of the story, you might say, “Well, David knew he would be rewarded, knew his destiny, so he responded to the lion and bear because of what he would gain someday.” Nope. David anticipating his kingship would more likely think: “I can’t risk my destiny as king of Israel over a few little lambs that no one will miss.”

David risks his life. Center on that thought. David takes that risk because of a principle for which he had passion. “No lion will take a lamb while I’m shepherd.” No reward seems forth coming from Jesse or his brothers. No shout sounds from heaven. David simply says, “Lions and bears will go to some other valley if they are hungry. They aren’t getting any lambs here.”

David quarantines the valley of sheep of lions and bears. Because he had passion for principle: “It just ain’t right that lions and bears eat my daddy’s lambs.”

The question, “From where does David’s heart come?” may be the wrong question. It doesn’t necessarily come from somewhere or someone in the sense that it is received or imparted. A heart like David’s is developed. It matures by the priorities it chooses, priorities that crowd out other considerations leaving room only for passion.

February 1, 2015

Truth in Advertising

With the start of a new month, we often revisit things from the same month in the previous year. Immediately we were reminded of Christian Fellowship Devotionals.  During the month of February, we’re hoping to feature a re-post from that website each Sunday.  This one is by Adam and you should click the title below to read this at source.

your_ad_here_t_shirtTruth in Advertising

Jesus’ harshest words were spoken of the churched. Did you catch that – the churched, not the unchurched – the there-every-time-the doors-are-open crowd, not the sinful, wicked world?

Matthew 23:13-14,27-28 (NKJV)
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
27  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28  Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

If you read the rest of chapter 23, Jesus is brutal with the good church-going, faithful Jews. On at least three separate occasions, he refers to this group as a “brood of vipers”. (Matthew 3:7, Matthew 12:34, and Matthew 23:33)

I believe he was hard on them because he wanted them to recognize the differences in their own lives, between what they said they did, and what they actually did. He wanted the church to realize that they were sinners, too, and in as much need of him as anyone. He wanted them to see that just as he saw through their false fronts, so could everyone else. I have heard it said before that most people don’t come to church because they’ve already been. We talk about love and grace, but all too often, confront with condemnation and guilt.

I recently attended a marketing seminar, and the panel of experts discussed what they called the integrity gap. This is the difference between the promise and the reality. My t-shirt may say “Jesus loves you,” but gestures made when someone cuts me off in heavy traffic might show a different reality. I may say “come as you are” but then when you do come I turn my nose up and walk away because you’re not like me. I may condemn adultery, and then spend early morning hours looking at internet images that should never be seen. These all indicate gaps. They indicate a degree of phoniness, and it is these gaps that Christ was trying to continually point out to the church (well, okay, to the temple- and synagogue goers). What can we do to remove this integrity gap? How can we be Christ-like Christians, rather than Pharisee-like church-goers?

Well according to what I got out of the marketing presentation, we first have to determine a vision of what we should be, and then determine where we fall short of that ideal. We need to discover the integrity gap. These experts were talking about gaps at corporations, between their brand’s promise and the reality – but as I listened, I thought they applied to individuals just as well.

One of the panelists listed off five questions to uncover the integrity gap, and I was amazed at how many times I had heard preachers say some of the exact same types of things.

  1. What’s on your calendar – really? Where do you invest your time?
  2. Where are you spending money? Follow the dollars to find your heart.
  3. What questions do you frequently ask others? What are you measuring?
  4. What do you celebrate? What do you reward?
  5. What keeps you awake at night? What captures your mind in such a way that you lose track of time?

If we honestly answer these questions for ourselves and our churches, then we begin to see some of that phoniness and hypocrisy that undoubtedly others can already see, because it is always easier to find the faults in others, than it is in yourself. Identify the worst areas, and begin to work on them now. Don’t tackle it all at once, but instead determine one thing you need to stop doing – and one thing you should start doing – and just do that. Then make the next step, and the next – until the gap is closed. If you need a second opinion, ask your spouse to be honest about these questions with you.

John 13:34-35 (NKJV)
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John Maxwell said, “Image is what people think we are; integrity is what we really are.” It is my prayer that the image I put out would align with the person I truly am, and that person each day would resemble Christ more and more. We are to be his reflection, so our image and the reality behind it is very important.

image: Zazzle.com

June 9, 2014

Solomon’s Blessing Ultimately Didn’t Matter

Two years ago we introduced you to Eric Geiger and this week we returned to his blog to see what he’s been up to lately. This piece appeared under the title When A Blessing Becomes Meaningless.

In Ecclesiastes 1, Solomon declares everything to be meaningless. He boldly states,

Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities. All is vanity!”

Just as the Bible uses the language “King of kings and Lord of lords” to emphasize that Jesus is above every king and every lord, Solomon is emphasizing that everything is emphatically and utterly meaningless and futile. He even declares the pursuit of wisdom, the thing Solomon is most known for, to be a fleeting pursuit of the wind.

I applied my mind to know wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly; I learned that this too is a pursuit of the wind. For with much wisdom is much sorrow; as knowledge increases, grief increases. (Eccl. 1:17-18)

Solomon was blessed with wisdom. It was a good gift of God, a gracious gift of God. But Solomon started to enjoy the gift more than God. He began to pursue the gift more than God. He sought satisfaction in the blessing, not satisfaction in God. The gift God gave Solomon became a source of grief for him because he cherished it more than God Himself. Thus he came to conclude that the gift of wisdom, by itself, is meaningless.

God blesses us. He is gracious to us. But when we make gods of the good things He gives us, they lose their meaning because they alone cannot fulfill us. Only He can. When we love the blessings more than God, they enslave us and disappoint us.

Jonathan Edwards said:

God is the highest good of the reasonable creature; and the enjoyment of him is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean.

Without Him, everything—including the good things—is meaningless, futile, absolute vanity. With Him, there is joy. Augustine said, “Instead of vanity beneath the sun, there is joy under Him who made the sun.”

Only the King of kings can rescue us from the vanity of vanities.

 

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