Christianity 201

December 17, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , ,

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

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.

 

April 5, 2014

When God Is First

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

Regular readers here know I am always using multiple translations, and I like to introduce new wordings from newer ones. But sometimes I wonder if we lose something by changing some classics, even when our word choices are well-informed based on the original Greek or Hebrew.

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)

Fortunately this isn’t true of all the recent versions:

  • Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously (NLT)
  • Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too. (The Voice; I included the full verse so you could catch the addition at the end!)

At his blog, Speaking the Truth in Love, Ken Idleman (yep…he is related*) offers the following:

Ever since I was a sophomore in college I have been giving regular financial offerings to God.  I praise Him for the older Christian Brother who took me aside and taught me this vital discipleship principle… over 4 decades ago now.  I am confident that much of the heart for The Lord and His Church that I have developed through the years has been the result of investing my ‘treasure’ in God’s kingdom as a priority [Matthew 6:21].  I was convicted then that either my kingdom or His would be my primary focus.  I decided it should be His [Matthew 6:33].  When I started taking my giving seriously, I had an income of $35/week.  I started faithfully giving $5 each Lord’s Day as an expression of worship.  Something good began to happen in my head and heart that I trace back to that Spirit-led decision/commitment.

It grieves me that most Christians do not give to God first.  It is more predictable today that a person subtracts their bills from their income to see how much is left over; then determines what can be given to the Lord’s work out of the overflow, without going into debt.  So rather than a ‘first fruits’ offering, it becomes a ‘leftover’ offering.  But, taking our offering off the top, so to speak, is evidence that we acknowledge God’s authority over us.  It is an act of gratitude to God for his goodness and it’s trusting Him to provide the best for us.  Bill Hybels wrote that most of us look at giving like paying another bill; but instead we should look at it as seed we sow.

I want to point out three things:

  1. This isn’t about “tithing” per se, since he was giving one-seventh, or 14%
  2. The principle applies to far more than financial giving, even though he doesn’t say that up front
  3. He has practiced what he’s preaching; he’s not talking beyond his personal sphere of experience.

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

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.”

II Samuel 24:24 (parallel passage)

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

 


* Kyle’s dad, Pastor of Crossroads Christian Church, Newburgh, IN

March 17, 2014

True Religion is Practiced on Mondays, Not Sundays

I’ve written before that,

Blake CoffeeThere are only a handful of bloggers who fit the paradigm for what we do here at C201 as well as Blake Coffee at Church Whisperer. (This is his fourth fifth time here!)  While some of his pieces are aimed more at vocational pastors, all are very scripture-based and applicable to a broad readership. Blake allows his material to be freely used, but does insist that there be a link to his own blog. We do that anyway, but hope you’ll click through, then look around, and consider bookmarking his site if you find, like we do, that his writing resonates with you.

So true. Today’s post, so appropriate for a Monday, is titled, The Problem with Sundays.  (Don’t forget to click!)

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. Jeremiah 7:4-7

The people of Judah in Jeremiah’s time and so many of us in the church today have all suffered from the same delusion…that genuine change begins in gathered worship. But, just like a genuine dating relationship doesn’t really begin until the SECOND date, genuine change in a Christ-follower’s heart doesn’t begin on Sunday. The real change begins on Monday.  The people of Judah discovered that too late.

Young King Josiah had good intentions and a good heart. He had “rediscovered” God’s instructions about worship and about Holy holidays and festivals. He had even made great strides in destroying the idols and instruments of worshipping those idols. He had restored the people’s respect and reverence for the temple. All of that was good. But it was not enough.

blank calendarAnd gathered worship is definitely good for the church today as well. Please don’t hear anything in this post saying otherwise.  I believe we as Christ-followers should be participating in Spirit-filled worship as often as possible.  It is where we celebrate together God’s activity in our lives. It is also where we get our engines “recharged” for the week. And it is where we PREPARE our hearts for the changes and course corrections they need. But, like the people of Judah, as soon as we begin measuring the real “change” in our lives primarily by what happens on Sunday, we have set up an embarrassingly wrong metric.

It is easy, isn’t it, to attend church every week, to serve on committees, councils and leadership teams, to read our Bible every day and thereby tell ourselves that we are in a right relationship with God…that we are right on track in our Christian walk.  But do you see that none of those things necessarily demonstrate any change of the heart at all? Our actions and attitudes toward others on Monday through Saturday are the things which show real heart change. Without that proof, our gathered worship is, well, shallow…even empty. It will not please God. Not without an active faith to go with it.

Our liturgies, hymns, praises and prayers on Sunday are supposed to be reflections of hearts and lives turned toward God all week long. Otherwise, they become meaningless…even hypocritical.  And that is the problem with measuring our faith by our Sunday activities.  Moreover, as leaders, doesn’t this mean we must admit that Sunday-oriented goals, while certainly informative on some level, are not our most important goals?  In preparing our Sunday lessons, maybe the question is NOT “what do I want them to KNOW at the end of my lesson on Sunday?” Maybe the right question is, “What do I want them to DO on Monday?”

February 28, 2014

Having the Understanding to Know God

NIV Jer. 9:23 This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.

I chose today’s scripture passage first, and then scanned the internet to see who had done a good job of presenting this passage. That led me to a sermon notes blog by New Zealand’s Sam Hight. What follows is the first 60% of the article, you’ll want to click through to read the entire piece.

Boast in the Lord


I want to break this passage down into manageable bits to start, just to make sure that we understand the general idea of what is being said.

So first, we have three things which we are not to boast in: wisdom, might, and riches. Second, we are told the thing which we should boast in: our understanding and knowledge of the LORD. Third, that particular understanding and knowledge of the LORD is given some more detail to help us get the message properly.

That seems pretty straight forward… But is it? Well, maybe it is, but we should take a careful look, just in case we miss something.

One of the biggest problems among Christians today, is that the words of the Bible are not considered carefully enough. People who say that they care a great deal about God don’t take the time to really read what he has said to us in the Bible.

It’s too easy to walk away with just a general impression of what is written. An impression which is more in line with your preconceived ideas which you have brought to the text. If we really want to learn from God we must be willing to have our ideas shaped by scripture, and not just look to support what we already believe with a vague interpretation of a verse which seems to support our view.
As the saying goes, “the devil is in the detail.”

So, some questions to get us thinking deeper about this passage:

  1. How is this boasting supposed to work in practice? What does it look like? Do we walk around yelling “I know God, I know God”? Do we wear a T-shirt or a wristband which proclaims our allegiance? Is that boasting correctly?
  2. How often should we be boasting? Can we boast all the time or are there certain occasions which suit boasting best?
  3. What are these things that God practices: “steadfast love”, “justice”, and “righteousness”?
  4. How does God practice these things? Does it mean that he needs to keep trying until he gets it correct? That sort of practice? Well obviously not, because God is perfect and unchanging… so what then?

That’s a lot of questions, and we could ask more if we wanted. So maybe it isn’t as simple as we might have first thought… It just highlights that we have to take the time to read and think carefully.

Let’s take a look at BOASTING

In my preparation, the more I considered this passage, the more I realised that I didn’t know what it actually meant to boast in knowing and understanding God.
Prior to reading this scripture, my understanding of boasting was that boasting is always a bad thing. But what we find here is that boasting is not always a bad thing because we can boast in God and it’s considered a good thing! It seems that boasting itself is neither good nor bad, but what you boast in is what makes it good or bad.

So what exactly is boasting?
Psalm 34:1-3 gives us a quick picture of boasting the right way. Let’s read it:

1 I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2  My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
3  Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!

I really enjoy that last line: “let us exalt his name together!”

So boasting about something is when you communicate that that something is important, and in doing so you are usually outspoken about that thing. You stand up at every opportunity and make a big deal of it. For example, you might buy something new, a new car perhaps, and you are very proud of your new car and you take every opportunity to speak of how great a car it is. It’s so fast, it has a really loud stereo, what a fantastic safety rating, you got it at the lowest price, and so on. People might start to get sick of hearing about it from you because you go on and on and on and on and on; and you keep saying it in such a way that you show to them that you think your car is better than theirs!
Boasting about a new car like this would be a bad sort of boasting.

Now, I want to make a distinction here, because it’s not always bad to talk about your new car. It is bad if you talk about it like it is more important than it really is, and it is bad to talk about it to the point that people are annoyed with you. You have to watch people’s reactions to what you say, and if it clearly annoys them in the way I’ve described then you need to stop. It’s just polite in most situations anyway. You also have to check yourself – to see whether you are making an idol out of your car, your new phone, or whatever it may be.

Okay, so we know what boasting is, and we’ve seen some good boasting and some bad; but what about these three things that we are told not to boast in? Wisdom seems like a good thing. The Bible constantly tells us that it is a good thing, especially in the book of Proverbs. But we are not to see it as something to constantly speak about or to deliberately remind people about in ourselves. We’re not to tell people that we are wise. The same goes for might and riches. They are not bad things, a lot of good can be done for God and for his people using wisdom, might, and wealth, but we shouldn’t make them our focus when talking about ourselves and we shouldn’t be deliberately drawing attention to ourselves through them. Why? Because doing so glorifies our self. It shows a lack of humility. If we boast about our wisdom, our might, and our riches (or our new car), we are effectively boasting about our self, and raising our own importance above God and that is very wrong.

The better way, if you absolutely must talk about these things, and sometimes we must, especially when educating the next generation to come, is to speak of them as blessings from God. Or wait until someone notices them and then use the opportunity to glorify the Giver of wisdom, the Giver of might, the Giver of wealth.

I really want you to get this: It is not wrong to be wise, to be mighty, to be wealthy… but it is wrong to be using those aspects of yourself to make yourself to be seen as more important than you really are… to be making an idol out of your giftings. It can be a fine line between being honest about your God-given abilities and making too much of yourself in a not so humble way; but you should never define yourself primarily by your wisdom, your wealth, or your great achievements.

It might help to remember that, in any case at all, the person who understands, and knows God, is always in a far better position than the person who is wise, mighty, and rich.

When we talk about ourselves, the things that we boast about the most are what we become known for. What do you think you are known for?

Clearly, every person on the planet who is honouring God wants to be known for their faith in him, but let’s tease this out a little more by presenting the different options of what a person can actually boast in and be known for.

A person can be known in the way that secular society and non-Christians want to be known

Society would have you believe that it is foolish to believe in Jesus Christ, and that it is better to be known for being rich and smart. In fact, even a lot of religious people think it’s foolish to believe in Jesus Christ, and they put their “wisdom” above him and over his word. They say that man evolved from a common ancestor to apes and that the Bible is just being metaphorical or poetic when it talks about six days of Creation and Jesus performing miracles. Their wisdom is more reliable than the Bible to them, and this becomes their boast.

But know that their judgement will come. Jeremiah and the other prophets speak of the judgement which will come on those who boast about their false wisdom and who claim to be religious and follow God.

That’s awfully negative, but it is truth, and we shouldn’t shy away from the truth in shame. But that negative is not for the people of God. We have a positive boast and a positive eternity to look forward to.

How else can a person be known? What about as someone who call them self a Christian but makes the wrong things their focus?

Do you want to be known as someone who boasts about the false prosperity gospel of health, wealth and happiness, someone who ignores the obvious truth that we must suffer? 2 Timothy 2 says to share in the suffering as a good soldier of Christ. And Jesus said in Matthew 19 that only with difficulty will a rich person enter the Kingdom of Heaven. “God, make us poor if that will help us enter in!” You won’t hear them saying that!

Do you want to be known for boasting in the latest false revival of false spirituality? You know the ones, where miracles are reported left, right, and center, but nobody can really pin down an actual case. These things are really just people making things happen in their imaginations – many times they genuinely believe, but they’ve had the wool pulled over their eyes. Years ago, and to my shame, I used to be a part of a church where people went up the front for prayer and to feel what they thought was the Spirit and to fall over. God has given us a powerful psyche and we can use it for good or for bad – don’t use it to fool yourself into believing something that is stupid when you look back on it. I thank God that he showed me the error of my ways, and the greatness of his glory – you can’t resist God’s Spirit but you can resist a guy yelling in a mic and pushing you.

It’s sad, but you probably couldn’t count the number of leaders in the last few years who have been at the center of so-called “revivals” and who have lasted a short while before being caught having affairs, stealing money, or falsifying miracles. But let’s move on from that to a far better boast…

A person could instead be known for their love and commitment to God through their boasting of him and his great works:

Let me outline how I think we are meant to boast about the LORD:

[continue reading here]

January 27, 2014

Religious Activity versus Abiding in Christ

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:44 pm
Tags: , , ,

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. 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. 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.”

In certain Christian quarters, we tend to treat supernatural gifts 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.

October 21, 2013

Lessons from Lot’s Story

Two years ago we introduced you to the writing of Duke Taber, who blogs at Taber’s Truths, where you’ll find a mix of devotional articles, Bible studies, and marriage resources. This recent article appeared there a few days ago under the title Remember Lot’s Wife.

Luke 17:32
“Remember Lot’s wife.

Most of us are familiar with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and how Abraham’s cousin Lot barely escaped with his life. However what we do not talk about very often is Lot’s wife. She was the one who turned back to look one last time at what she was leaving behind and in doing so, ended up becoming a pillar of salt.

Jesus told us to remember Lot’s wife in context of looking for His return. It was a warning to us not to be attached to our cultural lifestyle here on earth. It is a reminder to be focused on His kingdom and the lifestyle of His kingdom. Eating, drinking, experiencing life with family and friends are not bad things. However when they become the focus of our life then they become anchors that attach us to this world in ways we do not expect. These anchors are something we all need to avoid.

Things That Tie Us To This World

These anchors can be good things that have happened in our life or bad things that have happened in our life. Let’s take a look at the good things for a second. For instance, family is a good thing. However when your family has more influence upon you than Jesus does then that relationship is an anchor that ties us to this world in an unhealthy way.

Another example of a good thing becoming a bad thing is in the area of finances. Making money is a good thing and we all need to do it in order to live. The problem arises when making money becomes the end in itself rather than just a tool used while we are here on this earth. I know many people who sacrifice their spiritual life with Jesus because they are so busy making money. They have to have all the latest and greatest toys life has to offer. Materialism becomes an anchor in their life that keeps them from following Jesus the way He would have them follow.

Even love can become an anchor when it is used in the wrong way. Our love for our closest family members is something that needs to be nurtured and developed. However that same love can become an anchor when it is mixed with grief and loss. I know many people who are trapped in the cycle of grief because they think if they really move on they are somehow violating the love that they have for the person who has gone on to be with the Lord. Their life becomes tied to that tragic event. They emotionally mark the calendar of how long it has been since the tragedy happened. This ties them to something that keeps them from following Jesus.

Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean in the scriptures.

Matthew 8:22
But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Matthew 19:21
Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Luke 14:26
“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison – your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.

In these scriptures Jesus makes it very clear that following Him and the kingdom lifestyle is more important than even the most dear of things on earth. Now I don’t believe He wants us to actually hate our family. He is talking about placing them at a lower level than discipleship and following him.

Remember Lot’s Wife

So I just want to encourage you to remember Lot’s wife. Remember that if we are to be disciples of Jesus then we have to let go of the anchors that hold us back from truly following Jesus with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

As I studied this devotional I was reminded of this song by the early Contemporary Christian Music band Fireworks. On low-speed internet? This is a static image video which plays audio only.

June 9, 2013

Poverty Will Always Be With Us

Today’s thoughts are from the blog, The Crunchy Christian,  written by Thailer and Amber. This one is by Thailer and appeared under the title The Poor Will Never Cease from the Land.

While driving home from a Bible study for young Christians last night, Amber and I both felt encouraged (as we always do at studies). These studies are a recurring thing and any chance we’re able to attend, we reap the benefits. Granted, it’s hard with our toddler (and another one on the way) but it’s so worth it.  Young Christians need to be active in small groups and frequent Bible studies with many people of differing opinions – it’s healthy and it’s one of the many ways to grow. And yet, as we were driving home, we felt just as concerned as we did encouraged.  The study was aimed at answering the questions of those who are non-believers. As we went through each question, helping each other learn how to ease the qualms of opponents to the Christian faith (not to mention settling the questions and answers in our own hearts), we arrived at question number three: “How does a church justify spending millions on buildings, while people starve?”

As I sat and listened to how the majority of those around me would answer the non-believer’s question, I increasingly began to feel, how do you say…’grieved’? I was taken aback. So was Amber. Now don’t get me wrong – I love these people. They’re my brethren. But I had major concerns with the answers I was hearing. Here are some.

“If you throw money at a problem, it won’t fix it.”
This is true in a sense. But it’s much easier to throw this out as an answer when you’re on the side of the church that ‘throws money’ at their gigantic, ornate sanctuaries. It’s harder for these words to pass your lips when your child is dying of starvation or disease. If only someone would ‘throw money,’ just a couple dollars, to you. One brother made a good observation when he pointed out that, in the New Testament, we see many examples of the church selling their possessions to aid the poor (Acts 4:32-37) but we never read of the church building any kind of ‘worship center’ for themselves. And I don’t think that individuals, who do want to help by ‘throwing money’ to the poor out of the kindness of their hearts, would think to do only that – certainly, a lot of prayer and intercession will be made for the needy as well. And it’s just as important. But prayer without the accompaniment of faith-driven acts of love, by the empowerment and grace of God, will not go very far. “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body – what good is that?” (James 2:15-16).

“Well Jesus said ‘the poor you have with you always.’”
Yes, he did. But let’s allow Jesus to finish his sentence: “…and whenever you want, you can do good for them” (Mark 14:7). I understand this objection because I often made it myself – but what do we mean by quoting this in the face of the hungry and the needy? That Jesus is saying it’s a ‘lost cause’? Does this logic come from a man who preached, loved, touched, healed, fed, and cared for the poor – who was poor himself? What’s interesting is that Jesus’ words are oddly parallel to a passage found in Deuteronomy 15:11 where the Lord says, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land.” However, did that mean God thought it was a lost cause and the rich can just keep to themselves? The very next sentence says: “Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” In fact, Deuteronomy 15 continues to speak about the provisions that God would make for the poor; everything from freeing slaves every seventh year to even redistribution of wealth (fairly acquired) every 49th year, the year of Jubilee (Deuteronomy 15:1-8; Leviticus 25:8-55).

“If you follow this reasoning to its logical end, where does the giving stop? If you have two shirts, will you give the other away?” The argument that we will always have something extra to give should not be used to defeat the purpose of giving to begin with. These answers are defensive and the heart is all wrong. And honestly, how often has giving to the needy resulted in them taking us for all we have? It’s not realistic. And the logic of “If you give an inch, they can take a mile” doesn’t hold here, nor should it be allowed to keep us from the godly duty of sacrificial charity. Also, when that moment comes, how will we answer to that question? Will we be prepared to live according to the words of our Lord who said, “If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (Matthew 5:40)? And will we judge Jesus and his teaching by our own faulty logic? Can Jesus not ask that we give it all away like he did the rich young ruler? “You lack one thing; go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). Is this so hard to believe, coming from the God-man who left it all (and much more) for us? (2 Corinthians 8:9).

“There will always be poor people. You can’t solve world hunger.”
Does that mean we can’t try? Does that mean we’re content to go on our way as faulty stewards of God’s blessings? You know, there’s a story Jesus told in Mark 12:41-44 of a poor widow who throws two small copper coins into the offering. Though there were many who threw a lot of money out of their abundance, Jesus praised her instead, because she gave out of her poverty everything she possessed, ‘all that she had to live on.’ Now this widow gave so little that she might as well have kept it. She didn’t solve world hunger; she didn’t alleviate any problems by her gift. But that’s not what mattered. She gave from the heart a sacrificial offering to God and that’s what mattered. It made all the difference. And when our hearts prod us to give sacrificially to those in need, Jesus assures us with these words: “Truly, I say to you , as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

When I came to question number three on the worksheet (“How do Christians justify spending millions on a worship building while people starve?”), my answer was: “You don’t.” That’s the problem. We’re trying to justify it. Quite honestly, most of the problems non-believers have with Christianity is not the faith itself but our poor rendering of it in our individual lives. But I would make this point (that I learned from Tim Keller) to the non-believer: We don’t justify the church spending millions on buildings while there are starving people around the world. It’s unjust. And when Martin Luther King, Jr. dealt with the gross injustices of segregation and racism, even (and perhaps mainly) among the white, middle-class, conservative believers, he never said the problem was with Christianity itself; that we needed to depart from the teachings of the Bible in order to have justice. Instead, he said:

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

He didn’t call people away from Christianity but to a truer form of it. And maybe, just maybe, we’d have less antagonistic questions proposed if we just learn to follow the actual teachings of our Lord, not only in word but also in deed. Let’s get our priorities straight and mirror our Lord. Emulate altruism. Give generously. And teach our people it’s importance.

Next Page »