Christianity 201

November 15, 2022

The King the People Wanted versus The King God Wanted

Back in April we reconnected with a guy we knew as Kuya Kevin aka Kevin Sanders who we had often linked to back in the day at Thinking Out Loud. Still faithfully writing online, his blog is simply titled Pastor Kevin Sanders, and you can read today’s post by clicking the title which follows.

The Blessings of 8th Place

1st Samuel 16 introduces us to one of the most well-known characters in the Bible: David. What you may not realize is just how unlikely a choice he was to be the King of Israel.

God told Samuel it was time to stop moping around and dwelling on the dismal leadership failures of Saul, Israel’s first king. Samuel was ordered to anoint another king, but this time it would be different. Saul was exactly the type of king the people wanted, but the new king would be the kind of man God wanted.

Samuel was told to go visit Jesse in Bethlehem. There he would meet Jesse’s sons, one of whom would be God’s choice for the next king.

The meeting eventually happened, and Samuel was immediately presented with the most obvious choice: Eliab.

Eliab had won the genetic lottery in more ways than one. He was the firstborn son, which meant he would be the leader of the family once Jesse passed away. This also meant he would receive twice the inheritance of any other sibling. Even now, being first has its advantages: firstborn children tend to surpass their younger siblings in both leadership ability and intelligence.

Eliab had something else going for him: he was tall and handsome–an impressive physical specimen of a man.

All things considered, this alpha male was the obvious choice to be Israel’s next king. Even Samuel was impressed: he was ready to cast the one and only deciding vote for Eliab.

But God had a different plan–a plan so surprising that it had to be spelled out in no uncertain terms. God told Samuel that He was looking for something that Samuel couldn’t see:

 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

-1st Samuel 16:7

Eliab was clearly not God’s choice, so Jesse did the most sensible thing he could think of. He presented Samuel with the second-born, then the third-born, an so on until he had presented seven of his sons as potential candidates. God rejected them all.

“Are all your sons here?” Samuel asked. There was one more, but no one in the family thought he should even be invited. David, the youngest, had been assigned to watch the sheep while everyone else attended to these more important matters.

Samuel sent for him, and God made His choice clear: David would be Israel’s next king. He was anointed on the spot–right in front of his higher-status brothers.

Why David? Because God wanted a man after His own heart (1st Samuel 13:14).

David is an example of something we see repeatedly in the Scriptures: God delights in using the unlikeliest of people to do extraordinary things. Social status, appearance, wealth, or any other external measure of “success” are meaningless in His eyes. God looks at one thing above everything when deciding who He will use: the heart.

Thanks, Kevin.

Back in 2014, I had an unusual moment involving today’s key verse; looking for something to jump out at me in a fresh way.

I wrote:

I Samuel 16 offers us a verse we know but tend not to practice:

7bI do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.

The Louis Segund translation renders it this way:

…l’homme regarde à ce qui frappe les yeux, mais l’Éternel regarde au coeur.

In English, it would read that man looks at what “strikes the eyes;” in other words first impressions and superficial indicators.

That’s even more true today as social media compels many to make a good impression, and many of us gravitate to people who simply look good.

God uses different metrics than we do. He looks at the heart.

September 18, 2021

Ever Been Called, “Spiritual?”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we are highlighting and featuring the writing of Michael Pircio who is appearing here for the first time. Michael’s life took a strange turn about two years ago, and while he doesn’t give us all the details, you can read a quick summary here. His blog is named Something Extraordinary. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Christian Apologetics.

The article we chose was the first of two (so far) in a series called “Society’s Assumptions.” Send some traffic his way by clicking the header which follows and reading today’s devotional there.

Society’s Assumptions: Christianity = Spiritualism?

NIV.Eph.2.8a For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith

I was sitting with a friend the other day, whom many may define as a good person.  He told me “You know Mike, I’m not sure I could have gone through what you’ve gone through without your Spirituality, It’s a good thing you have it.” This is interesting, simply because I don’t consider myself a spiritual person. I don’t consider Christianity, God, Christ, good or evil spiritual things. I consider them just as tangible as you or I. The reason I believe in God is the same reason I believe in trees, or water, or the sky, no I can’t touch him, but I can see His work. I can’t hear Him, yet I can read His words. I can’t see him, but He knows where I go.

Likewise, Christ was a real man. He is still God. Many of historians from antiquity have written about Christ and the Christians or “followers of Christ”, so I know He isn’t just a myth. The same can be said for good and evil. Human beings, since the beginning of time, have considered whether there is good and evil, and what that looks like. They question such things as “Are humans substantially more evil than good?”, “Can people choose good without a benefit?”, or my favorite “Why is there evil if there is a benevolent, all-powerful, deity?”. gives us more modern interpretations of words and how they are used colloquially or in other words, as common words in  conversation. The site defines “Spiritual” in definition 6 as “of or relating to the spirit as the seat of the moral or religious nature.” And I would have to agree in this use of the word, as many people, especially my age may define themselves as “Spiritual, but not religious”. As a Christian, I should be neither spiritual nor religious in my beliefs. If I define Christianity as a tangible faith, then how could either of those (religious or spiritual) bring me closer to my Creator?

Neither of them can. Religion, is a system made of rituals and practices associated with worship. Christians should not practice religion. God doesn’t require us to sing or do anything except love him. As I went over in my love series, that means being the best ambassador of Heaven on Earth. We are to study about Him and read His word. We are to pray and talk to Him, just like any relationship, and we can embark on artistic ventures about Him if we want to, in order to worship him, such as music or artwork; however, if we aren’t talented like that, we should worship Him with diligence in doing “all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:13)

God doesn’t even require us to have corporate worship, we however are commanded to gather with like-minded believers as that encourages us in our faith, but that doesn’t mean we have to go to church. God requires a personal relationship with us first, and then by that relationship we will want to spend time worshipping and fellowshipping with other like minded individuals.

So what’s the issue with someone calling us Spiritual? It seems harmless doesn’t it? It’s all about pluralism. Pluralism allows someone to serve two masters. It separates innate curiosity of the divine from the animalistic instincts that keep us from perfection. It allows us to follow man-made principles in satisfactory fashion allowing for our superficial concern over eternity to be quenched, but also allows for humanity to continue indulging in vices, questionable morals, and blatant rebellion without much consequence if any. People who are spiritual may believe in “God” as a higher power, but also subject themselves to eastern ideas such as karma and nirvana. They may even call themselves Christian, but when tasked with explaining their faith they can’t expound on it much more than being raised in a church.

People who are Spiritual consider themselves good people, and they have a morality that they believe to be right; Christians on the other hand cannot consider themselves to be good people, because we know we aren’t deserving of the title as sinners.

The whole point of this blog is to pierce right through what the church has neglected in so many years. Churches have gotten hung up on being “Spiritual” focusing on music, worship teams, and nice messages about how being good will please God, and following God’s rules make you a good Christian. As Christians we really need to take a stand against what society thinks of us and correct them. We are not spiritual, we simply serve a very real being who cannot be seen because of His holiness, who cannot be touched but can change lives in a very real way, and cannot be heard but has written down His word in a guidebook for our lives.

We are Christians, because we follow the Son of the being, known as God, who was sent to tell us exactly how His Father thinks, as He and the Father are one. We don’t follow Him because of His good ideas, or His compassion, or His Death. We follow Him because He is God.

Out of all this, the takeaway is Christianity isn’t spiritual, it’s not religious, it’s faith; a faith that is very real based on personal experience with a divine being who reached out to choose us to love Him and follow His plan on this Earth. While other religions espouse that they received their words from angels or men, we and our Jewish brethren are the only ones who can say we’ve received word directly from God himself.

November 16, 2020

Interpreting the Perceived Silences of God

A year ago we introduced you to Maryland pastor Mark Stephenson who writes at Fire and Light. Today we have the following article for you — click the link to read at source — but also at the bottom of the page a link to an article which in many ways is a continuation of this one and points to areas where perhaps God wants to open the windows of heaven and reveal himself, but we’ve created blockages. But first…

Contemplative Silence or Spiritual Deafness

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 

John 10:1-5

I spent years thinking I was engaging in the contemplative silence of God, as if to spend time with God was mainly about embracing His silence and learning to be silent myself. But I was mistaking my spiritual deafness for God’s silence. Many Christians, especially progressive Christians trying to embrace contemplative Christianity, are making this same mistake. God likes to talk. Jesus’s own nickname is Word of God. God is not perpetually silent. How many times does Genesis 1 say, “And God said…”? God is speaking all the time. Most of the time, we just haven’t learned how to hear Him (or haven’t taken the time to).

Silence with God is like arguments between spouses. When I hear married couples say, “We never fight!” I get worried. Never fighting is awesome if you are an older couple who has spent decades learning how to communicate. However, for younger couples “never fighting” is too often an indication that one or both spouses are avoiding things for the sake of a false peace.

I have the same feeling when I hear Christians say things like, “God’s primary language is silence.” If you have spent decades hearing His voice, learning to listen and obey, and have learned to enjoy His Presence so much that both you and God can just sit in silence with each other, wonderful! That’s beautiful. But that’s not most American Christians.

Most Christians are never addressing their spiritual deafness because they are mistaking it for God’s silence. God wants to speak, and if our spiritual ears are open, we will hear Him. His sheep know His voice and listen to His voice.

An 80-year-old couple sitting in silence at a restaurant speaks to how they know each other so well. A newlywed couple sitting in silence at a restaurant often signals a breakdown in healthy communication. Not all silence is golden.

I have found God to be most silent when He has already spoken. He is silent because He’s already told me what I need to know and now it is time for me to trust and rest and follow His lead. Too many Christians believe that God is mostly silent and only speaks occasionally. I used to believe the same thing. But I was spiritually deaf, not understanding all the ways that God speaks through the Holy Spirit. My spiritual ears were clogged with doubt, unbelief, and skepticism.

Too many Christians have managed to take a spiritual problem (the inability to hear God) and have spun it into a spiritual attribute (“I embrace the silence of God”). It reminds me of the husband who, when asked about his marriage, says it’s going great only to look over at his wife and see her eyes rolling. She knows their problems are deep and many. He’s the kind of guy who will boast about never fighting with his wife only to experience a divorce a few short years later.

If God is silent, do not assume you are a master of contemplation enjoying the quiet presence of God. Assume, instead, that you are spiritually deaf and have a long way to go in learning to hear God’s voice. Cry out for an opening of your ears. Surrender the false belief that God doesn’t speak to you. Only after we learn to hear the Holy Spirit regularly can we then learn to enjoy God’s silence in a way that is healthy.

Christianity 301: Go deeper with this article on how the laws of God’s kingdom can be superseded by other laws. Click here to read.

June 16, 2015

Age is More Than a Number

Today we pay a return visit to Thailer and Amber who now blog at Certainly Resurgam. This post is dedicated to our younger readers, who will have encountered the scripture reference perhaps, but will gain some new insights today. Click the title below to read at source.

“Let No One Despise You For Your Youth…”

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” – 1 Timothy 4:12

I’m not a leader like Timothy, but I am a young Christian and I have a lot of “young” Christian friends, especially since I hear “your youth” probably meant somewhere in his thirties. What better way to break out the blog again than with a discussion on youth? Also, I wanted to challenge myself to make this short and sweet. Let’s see how it goes.

Frequently this verse has been partially quoted to me, like  “Let no one despise you for your youth!” which gives the impression that I should be taking up arms and Bible verses whenever people unjustly discriminate because of my age.

But of course, the focus of Paul’s instruction to Timothy is Timothy himself, not those who are older than him. He finishes the sentence by encouraging Timothy to be an example in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, and it is couched between verses like Rather, train yourself for godliness… and Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Timothy had heavy spiritual responsibilities for his age  and I can imagine that several obstacles could have come on account of his age. Paul is telling Timothy how to work against that prejudice through his own godly character.
A few points:


Though we haven’t run into any ‘despising’, Thailer as a young preacher has certainly had his share of teasing about his age. On the one hand, it’s understandable: the sooner we can accept that we don’t know half as much as we think we know, the faster we’ll be on the right track to really learning. Wisdom is kind of one of those things that, if we don’t think we have it, we’re probably close and if we think we do have it, we don’t.

It’s understandable when those older than us tend to not take us seriously because it’s true that only time and experience can draw out and perfect our knowledge and understanding. To those who are diligent, age brings maturity and clarity and there is much we can learn from them. It would be foolish not to acknowledge that difference.

From where I stand, our society has lost that inherent respect for old age, and gone with that respect are humility and a thirst for wisdom. If we’re going to stand out, even to believers, we need to go against the world’s current in that regard.

In chapter 5, Paul tells timothy: Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father…”. Even if we aren’t doing any rebuking, there’s a way to approach spiritual disagreements, and it’s the way we would approach our fathers, presumably who we would respect and love enough to exercise self-control.


But this passage isn’t about sitting down and holding our tongues all of the time.

Of course, up in verse 7 Paul does warn Timothy to have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths, which reminds me of Titus 3:9,But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.

Essentially: there’s plenty to argue about. And that’s something anyone can fall prey to, young or old, so we need to be very careful and concern ourselves with unity, humility, and love more than divisive technicalities or speculations. There certainly is a time to be silent, and (s)he is wise who can discern that time.

However, Paul is writing to Timothy in the first place because Timothy is going to be “commanding”, “teaching”, “exhorting” this church. Being young didn’t disqualify Timothy from being used in a teaching position, but it did mean that he would have to put in more effort just so his message could be received.

Age itself doesn’t disqualify us from understanding the Bible, holding legitimate spiritual conversations or even teaching, but what can disqualify anybody is conduct. Naturally, that goes for young and old, but let’s be real: why else might older people be inclined to despise youth?

We’ve already admitted that we younger Christians have a lot to learn. Young adults are notoriously selfish, we’re still learning by trial-and-error how to harness passion, how to control behavior, what to say and what not to say, what’s appropriate, how to think before doing, what the Bible teaches,. And that’s assuming we’re even trying to learn. The stereotype is there for a reason and it’s okay to admit that. Acceptance is the first step to recovery, or in this case, maturity.

Of course, age alone doesn’t make a person wise, nor uncontrollably foolish.
I’m sure we can all think of (at least) four types of people we know personally:

the self-interested, unrestrained youth,
the shining-example youth,
the old, godly and wise,
and the old, haughty and bitter.

There should be a respect for those who have lived longer, but age alone doesn’t determine truth or spiritual maturity; it takes purpose and a steady, diligent effort to abide in Christ for wisdom to be granted and for the Spirit to bear fruit in our lives.


I already made a case for how imperfect and immature we whipper-snappers are, so putting up a front and pretending we’re sinless will just backfire and instead reveal how sinful and hypocritical we are.

Paul wants the church to be able to see Timothy’s progress (v15), which means he isn’t concerned with him superseding everyone and not having any weaknesses, but that Timothy does actually progress, and noticeably. The idea is that people should be able to see where we are and that we are going in the direction of maturity.

Let’s get practical: how can we stand out against the stereotype as young Christians? Paul says, Be an example to the believers:

  • Control our speech
    -Look at the cross and what Christ endured so that we could be reconciled to God. He held his tongue though he was despised, condemned, accused falsely. Not only do we have his example of both speaking the truth yet rejecting all pride, we have Christ in us. We have that same Spirit.
  • Control our conduct
    -Remember, we’ve been called out of the bondage of sin (and stereotype) and into renewal. Being flippant about sin shows that we don’t realize the power that sin has and the hope that God calls us to. “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.4:7,8
  • Love
    -We have been loved by God when He desired to bring us to Him, though we, through our sin and spiritual deadness, despised Him. We can love others because He loved us. Seek love for God and others above self and we will be an example.
  • Be an example in the faith
    -Young people are known for ambition. I’ve heard that mid-life crises  happen when all the ambitions of our youth are either 1) realized, yet we find we’re still unfulfilled or 2) we find that our ambitions were unrealistic, so we despair. As Christians we’ve been set free from the bondage of chasing worldly fulfillment and we can be an example by setting our ambitions and trust in Christ, in the hope to come, hungering instead after His truth, being a servant to Him and others.
  • Be pure
    -Lust is also rampant among youth (raging hormones and all that) and many try yet fail to control their behavior. But it seems many, many more in our society aren’t trying at all and instead see the concept of purity as being old-fashioned and prudish. But Paul says in the next chapter that we are to treat one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Are we trying to serve God and walk in the Spirit? Then we will help our brothers and sisters do the same.
  • Keep a close watch on ourselves
    -Let them see Christ in us by constantly examining and correcting ourselves, especially if we find ourselves in a leadership or teaching role that calls for correcting others. We can let our humility shine when we remember that none of us are blameless apart from Jesus.


So, will abiding in Christ as a young adult, with humility make for smooth sailing and approval? Not always. Not only because our effort won’t be 100% all of the time and because we will sin and fall, but also because no one else is going to be perfect either. Throughout life, at any age, people will likely, out of their own weaknesses, slander others even when they aren’t doing anything wrong. Just ask Thailer how many times I’ve taken things out on him even though it wasn’t his fault. Others will do that to us, and we’ll do it to others.

But most likely when other Christians see our commitment to God and His word and they see Christ working through us as we go against the tide of our peers, they will receive us lovingly as children, willing to be long-suffering towards our weaknesses and give our spiritual questions and assertions an honest consideration.

But ultimately, is that the reason we should desire to do everything Paul laid out for Timothy?
Personally, I don’t think it just ends at “Let no one despise you for your youth…”

but “Let not God despise you for your youth.”


Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” – 2 Timothy 2:21-23


May 6, 2013

David Honest Before God

Psalm 143 New International Version (NIV)
Lord, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.
The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
like those long dead.
So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.
I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.[a]

Answer me quickly, Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
for I hide myself in you.
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.

11 For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life;
in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
12 In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.


    1. Psalm 143:6 The Hebrew has Selah (a word of uncertain meaning) here.

Our thoughts today come from the blog of Ruth Graham, daughter of Ruth and Billy Graham. This appeared a week ago under the title Honest Prayer.

Friday I went to Dallas to speak to the Christian Women in Media conference. Neat ladies. I had a message all ready but then last Wednesday it was as if I heard the Lord tell me it was not His message!He asked me to change it. I hate when He does that!

He seeemed to want me to speak from Psalm 143. That Psalm is a desperate cry for deliverance and guidance – and who doesn’t need that? Those of us in ministry (mothers, dads, workers, teachers… every believer) feel often under attack and need to know how to respond, where to turn, who to trust…all the things King David was feeling. I love his honesty.

David faced perilous times…as do we. He didn’t turn to friends, shopping, drink, pornography… He didn’t try to find a temporary escape. David needed deliverance – so do we. Not usually from guns and swords…but from fear, pride, anger, jealousy, self-righteousness. The Bible teacher, Jill Briscoe, calls them “snakes in my garden”. King Solomon called them “little foxes that spoil the vines”. What are your “snakes”, “little foxes? We all have those things that wear us down. Weaken us. Defeat and discourage us.

I love the way David approaches the Lord – not with a particular posture or fancy, spiritual words he just says, “Hear me! Pay attention, Lord! Lend me you ear. And answer me!” He reminds himself of God’s character…”Be true to yourself, God, in your faithfulness and righteousness”. We dare to reach out for God because of His character. We have nothing in ourselves.

But then David sort of backs away from God’s righteousness because David knows he deserves judgment…so he appeals to God’s mercy!

He tells God what is going on…he has an enemy that has gotten inside him persecuting his soul. It had gotten under his skin and was eating him alive. David is really low. He feels like he is living in a tomb – gloom and unhappiness surround him. He’s overwhelmed, barely hanging on. He’s not in a good place. Where are you?

If you look at the Psalm you can see the 3 steps down: he is focused on 1.) the enemy, 2.) the darkness, 3.) his emotions. That focus will defeat you every time!

When you get overwhelmed you can’t get out by yourself. David had been there before. What had he learned? “Be still and know that I am God.” Turn our focus on to God and His unchanging character. And then David remembers what God has done for him in the past. The times He delivered David. The comfort and encouragement from God. It it is important to remember what God has done for us in the past. And if you are like me, I tend to forget so I keep a journal. And I review it periodically.

David physically appeals to God with outstretched arms. A posture of desperation and surrender. Are you weary and desperate?

David tells God to answer him quickly. I love that! He needs God NOW! He doesn’t want God to hide from him.

Have you ever felt like God was absent? Heaven’s doors were locked from the inside? You feel like you are suffocating. You are not alone. Many saints have experienced that from time to time. It is such a valuable – but hard – learning time.

David speaks to God as a friend. He is our friend, too. We can be honest with Him. He can sort through the anger and 4-letter words. He is so much bigger than all of that!

David wants to hear God’s loving-kindness in the morning. Does God have your ear in the morning? Or are you distracted by the television news, your day’s schedule? Do you read your email before you hear from God?

David declares His trust in God…How ’bout doing that first thing in the morning while you are still in bed? Just say, “Lord I trust you today.” David trusts God’s unchanging character. We can too. But we have to know what His character is. I challenge you to make a list of God’s characteristics…holy, just, faithful, redeemer, help, near…

Then David asks God to teach him ow to walk and where to go. David wants to move forward but needs God’s help. How many of us as parents love to have our children look to us for help and advice! God loves us to acknowledge our dependence on Him. And why should God do that? David say he offers “all his heart” to God. That delights God. And David asks for deliverance because his refuge is God Himself. David has learned that the only basis for life is God.

He asks to do God’s will, to lead a balanced life and to be revived. Not for his sake but for God’s name’s sake. Is that our motivation?

David appeals now to God’s righteousness. He now sees it as his only way. His hope. His refuge. The way through the situation.

David asks that his enemies be silenced and destroyed. David is specific.

What enemies in your life need to be destroyed? Silenced? Negative self-talk? Self-importance? Pride? Comparison? Insecurity?

Are you nearing burn out? Are you desperate for God to answer? Do you need direction?

Follow David’s example by pouring your heart out to God, being honest with Him, declaring your trust in Him. He will deliver you. Maybe not in your time or way. But in His perfect time and way.

November 29, 2012

The Often Painful Discipline of Church Leadership

Just three months ago we included a post by Blake Coffee at Church Whisperer ( but we’re back again because he has a wealth of material that those in church leadership, and those of us who aspire to serve God to the utmost need to consider. In this post he’s looking at ‘the rest of the story’ regarding the man in II Corinthians who is under church discipline. Is the job finished when someone is simply removed from fellowship or does our responsibility go deeper? Blake titled this post, When The Painful Part is Only The Beginning, and you’re encouraged to click through and read it there and then browse the rest of his blog.

Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.  The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church.  2 Corinthians 2:5-9 (The Message)

Years ago, I was in a race with several hundred other people.  It started on a beach in Corpus Christi, Texas.  After a half-mile swim in a very choppy ocean, we all ran to a transition area where we quickly put on cycling shoes and rode off on a 25-mile bike ride, about half of which was directly into a stiff and steady 20-mph headwind.  I considered myself a reasonably strong cyclist, so I was surprised that so many racers passed me on that windy ride. By the time I got off the bike, my legs were jelly and my body was exhausted.  I sat down in the transition area, thinking about the 10K run still ahead of me.  I was genuinely torn about what I would do…I could quit now and just lie back and relax (that’s exactly what a large part of me was wanting) or I could strap my running shoes on and stand up and “will” my legs to work again.  What I did next would reveal my real intentions…my heart.

Matters of Christian accountability, especially those related to church discipline, are never as simple as finding fault and imposing consequences.  Those painful parts are only the beginning of discipline…they are just stages in a much longer process, one designed to ultimately turn the heart of one of God’s children.  Think about when you disciplined your own children.  It never ended with just a punishment.  There was always the continuing conversation to make sure the reason for the consequences was clear and that a lesson was learned.  There was always the hug and the “we still love you” message.  There is always a transition from the painful part to the loving part…a critical continuation of the process.

That was Paul’s point to the church in Corinth when, in 2 Corinthians 2, he encouraged them to continue working with the man they had disciplined, even after the “punishment” had taken place. The whole point of church discipline is to “win the brother back”, so the process never ends with just removing fellowship from him. Like my triathlon, there is still more race to run and there is a necessary transition into that next phase.  I have walked prayerfully through this discipline process with a few churches.  I always caution them along the way to check their hearts and to make sure their motives are right.  Are they doing this out of love and concern for this brother, or are they just trying to get rid of him so they no longer have to deal with him?  The easiest and clearest evidence of their real motive comes after the discipline is imposed…what they do next will reveal their true intentions.

Churches who “discipline” a member and have little or no follow-up contact with him are not really practicing discipline at all.  Churches who are truly heartbroken over the whole process and who have the “sinner’s” interests at heart will certainly stay in contact with him and work to turn him around.  The race is not yet over.  In fact, it is just beginning.  Now it is time to transition to the next stage…now it is time to forgive and to love and to reconcile.

Oh, back to my race… I did finish my triathlon.  I did not set any records.  But I finished, because it was what I had set my heart on doing from the beginning.  I finished what I started.  That time, anyway.  :)

© Blake Coffee

Other posts by Blake here at C201:

Church Whisperer has been added to the blogroll here.

May 13, 2012

Leading With Power vs. Leading With Love

This is an excerpt from the currently releasing business leadership book, Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders by Joel Manby (Zondervan). If you have people who work “under” you, this is a great read for heading into a new week on Monday morning.

Two millennia ago an itinerant Jewish preacher named Jesus of Nazareth called his friends together for a dinner. This wasn’t like the normal meals that group enjoyed, however — Jesus knew it was his last meal. The next day he would be executed by the Roman government. So on that final night, Jesus had to decide how to summarize his view of how best to live so that his twelve followers could carry on his message.

Think of all the options before him. He could have:

  1. given them a written scroll that summarized all his teachings
  2. given them money to expand their ministry
  3. given them divine powers to make believers out of the skeptics, or
  4. introduced them to leaders who would have political influence

I know I would have done something like that — especially if option 3 was within my grasp! However, he surprised his friends with something so unexpected that it echoed through the ages, changing even the way organizations in twenty-first-century America are led.

As his friend John later remember, Jesus “got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”(John 13: 4-5)

In the culture of ancient Palestine, such a gesture was considered the ultimate in self-effacement and humility — bordering on humiliation! Only salves washed other people’s feet. And given that most of the twelve disciples were gaining conviction about the divinity of their leader, Jesus’ actions struck them as all them more extraordinary.

Peter, the most outspoken of Jesus’ friends, was not pleased by what was happening.  He said, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus must have seen the confusion in those familiar eyes, because he replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Peter wasn’t easily dissuaded — I’ve had more than a few people like him working for me!

But something bigger was happening than a mere argument about whether Jesus was acting like a slave — he was showing his friends a completely new way of leading. So he answered, “Unless I was you, you have no part with me.” (John 13: 6-8)

The fact that Jesus chose to embody his leadership on the night before his death by washing his “employees'” feet represents a compelling example for every leader who has followed him The occasion seared the importance of serving int o the minds of his disciples and challenged all who came after him to consider that leading with love might really be the best way to change the world.

If you lead anything or anyone, you are in a position of power, and if you lead with love, you will surprise others — just like Jesus surprised Peter. I am not suggesting that any of us is like Jesus, but I am suggesting that all of us have the opportunity to abuse our power or to use it well. To hoard it or give it away…

Joel Manby; Love Works, pp. 151-153

Footnote:  This book is a great gift for a business associate who may not share your faith perspective, but will resonate with its premise, having heard the “love chapter” from I Corinthians read at any Christian weddings they’ve attended.

April 11, 2012

The Problem With Looking at Outward Appearances

This appeared at It Is Well, the blog of Eric Douglas, under the title Would You Let This Man Teach Sunday School?

What would you think of one who possesses the following characteristics?  This person:

  • Makes a great effort to be near Jesus
  • Bows before Jesus in an act of worship
  • Has a solid theology, recognizing that Jesus is the “Son of the Most High God”
  • Recognizes the sovereign power of Jesus Christ
  • Does not act apart from the permission of Jesus

We would be thrilled to have one like this as our pastor!  If such a man attended our worship services, we would quickly make him a Sunday School teacher or even a deacon.  After all, the piety described above exceeds much of what we see in our churches.  Many who have been Christians for years still do not yet possess these wonderful characteristics.  What are we to think of a person such as this?

While these are wonderful attributes to have, the worship-attender I just described is not a Christian at all.  Instead, the one just described is demon possessed and under terrible oppression.

There once was a man who lived in the country of the Gerasenes on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee.  The man lived among tombs and the local villagers were quick to keep distance from him.  He was out of control; no one could do a thing him.  Locals attempted to bind him with chain and shackle, but it did not help.  The man was so strong that he broke the shackles into pieces.  No one was able to subdue him.  Night and day, he would scream among the tombs and in the mountains.  He inflicted pain upon himself as he would gather stones and gash himself with them.  The locals were terrified as they heard the screams bellow from among the tombs.

The man was not mentally ill; he was demon possessed.  The demon had complete control over the man, affecting his actions and speaking through him.  The demon said his name was “Legion”.  The name Legion represented the multitude of demons working together to destroy this man’s life; enough to possess 2,000 pigs.

The man was not a true follower of God.  He did not know Jesus Christ and had not trusted his life with Him.  He did not have the Holy Spirit, but instead had a demonic spirit.  Mark chapter 5 details the actions of the man which exceed the piety of many church-goers.  Though his actions were controlled by Legion, notice the actions of the man when he encountered Jesus.

The man sees Jesus from a distance and runs up to him (v. 6a).  He makes a great effort to be near Jesus.  While others did not seek after Jesus in this way, this man dropped whatever it was he was doing and ran to Jesus.  Neither did he wait until Jesus came to him; he eagerly ran to Jesus.  The man did not just run to Jesus to shake His hand.  He ran to meet Jesus so he could bow down in worship (v. 6b).

Here’s the picture: When Jesus was not around, the man was out of control to the point where all who knew him feared him.  Yet when Jesus comes on the scene, the man is under control and even also humbles himself in a prostrate position before Him.  He is publicly bowed in worship before Jesus Christ.

In our context, the man has attended a worship service with one of our churches and is on his knees at “the altar”.

The outward act of humble worship is just the beginning.  The man begins to speak to Jesus and calls Him, “Jesus, Son of the Most High God” (v. 7).  What great theology!  He knows who Jesus is better than many Christians.  He knows His name (Jesus) and His position (Son of the Most High God).  Surely such a great theologian must also be a great man of God!

It does not stop here.  The man (with the demon speaking through him) implores Jesus to not torment him (v. 7).  Obviously the demon’s theology is so developed that he understands judgment, end times, and eternal torment.  He also recognizes that Jesus has the power and authority to bring about judgment and torment.  Thus, the man not only speaks well about who Jesus is, but also unquestionably recognizes what He can do.

But it does not stop even here.  The demons implore Jesus to not torment but to rather send the them “into the swine so that we may enter them” (v. 12).  Jesus “gave them permission” and the demons obediently followed (v. 13).  The obedience demonstrated here is remarkable!  How many Christians ask Jesus for permission before acting, and then do exactly as Jesus permits them to do?

The point here is not the discussion of the actions of the man vs. the actions of the demons.  Neither is the point determining the extent of the possession or seeking to determine when the man acted on his own vs. being overwhelmed by the demons’ actions.  The point is this:

Here is a man who runs to Jesus, bows down in worship before Him, has a great theology and a remarkable obedience.  Yet, he is unsaved.  He is possessed by a demonic spirit rather than the Spirit of God.

How can this be?  How can a person with all of these wonderful qualities be unsaved?  This is because it matters less about which actions your possess and matters more about who possesses you.  All of the outward religion action in the world won’t get you an inch closer to God unless you are possessed, empowered, sealed and delivered by the Holy Spirit of God.  This is only possible by the atoning work of Jesus Christ through His death, burial and resurrection, and only comes about in those who have turned from their sin to trust in Christ.

Outward worship means nothing if it is Christless.  Many will preach and minister in the name of Jesus even though they do not know Him (Matthew 7:21-23).  Many will spend their lives in ministry but will spend eternity in hell.

Theological knowledge means nothing it if is Christless.  James writes, “You believe that God is one.  You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19).  There is hardly one who knows the content of the Bible better than Satan himself.

Outward obedience means nothing if it is Christless.  When it came to testing Job, Satan obediently listened to God and did not exceed the boundaries He had set (Job 1:12).  If anyone understands his lack of ability apart from the power of God, it is Satan himself.

A person can walk an aisle, weep at an “altar”, gain perfect Sunday School attendance, bow in worship, teach a Sunday School class, minister in the name of Jesus, go on mission trips and praise Christ from his lips everyday for the rest of his life only to die and go to hell.

There is but one way to God and it is through Jesus Christ alone.  There is but one way of salvation and it is through the cross.  There is but one proper response to the Gospel of the cross and it is repentance from sin and faith in Jesus.  There is but one great evidence of conversion and it is a changed life.

Though the demon possessed man outwardly worshiped, it was not until he met Christ that his life was forever changed.  After truly meeting Christ, those who had known him before were “frightened” at his new life (Mark 5:15).  He wanted to follow Jesus wherever he went (v. 18) and became one of the first great missionaries to the Gentiles (v. 20).  Though these actions did not save the man, the dramatic change in life is evidence that he had met the Savior.

Are you going through the motions?  Are you depending on your good works?  Are you trusting in your experience of weeping at the altar?  Are you resting on your Sunday School attendance?  Are you confident in your ministry?  Or, are you trusting in Jesus Christ?  No amount of religious activity will bridge the sin gap that stands between you and your Creator.  It is only Christ.  It is only the cross.

Do you trust in Him and what He has done?  Or are you trusting in what you have done?  Has your heart and life been forever changed after meeting Jesus Christ?  What possesses you?

~Eric Douglas

June 22, 2011

Henri Nouwen Quotations

It’s pronounced ‘NOW-in.’  I don’t need to tell most of you that.  But many people don’t know his story, so you might want to take a minute to read about him before continuing, though his Wikipedia article is far too brief. In short: A theology academic who gave it up to live a life of service that most people reading this would consider far too menial.  Therefore, posting his words here is almost secondary to remembering his actions.

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”

“Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.”

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.”

“We are called to give ourselves, not only in life, but in death as well. I am called to trust that life is a preparation for death as a final act of giving. Not only are we called to live for others, but also to die for others. We have to choose between clinging to life in such a way that death becomes nothing but a failure, or letting go of life in freedom so that we can be given to others as a source of hope.”

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”

“The world is waiting … for new saints, ecstatic men and women who are so deeply rooted in the love of God that they are free to imagine a new international order.”

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

“The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it”

“Our life is a short time in expectation, a time in which sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment. There is a quality of sadness that pervades all the moments of our lives. It seems that there is no such thing as a clear-cut pure joy, but that even in the most happy moments of our existence we sense a tinge of sadness. In every satisfaction, there is an awareness of limitations. In every success, there is the fear of jealousy. Behind every smile, there is a tear. In every embrace, there is loneliness. In every friendship, distance. And in all forms of light, there is the knowledge of surrounding darkness … But this intimate experience in which every bit of life is touched by a bit of death can point us beyond the limits of our existence. It can do so by making us look forward in expectation to the day when our hearts will be filled with perfect joy, a joy that no one shall take away from us.”

“One way to express the spiritual crisis of our time is to say that most of us have an address but cannot be found there.”

“Dear God,
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.
And what you want to give me is love,
unconditional, everlasting love.

“Christian life is not a life divided between times for action and times for contemplation. No. Real social action is a way of contemplation, and real contemplation is the core of social action.”

“The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation…”

“To pray, I think, does not mean to think about God in contrast to thinking about other things, or to spend time with God instead of spending time with other people. Rather, it means to think and live in the presence of God. As soon as we begin to divide our thoughts about God and thoughts about people and events, we remove God from our daily life and put him into a pious little niche where we can think pious thoughts and experience pious feelings. … Although it is important and even indispensable for the spiritual life to set apart time for God and God alone, prayer can only become unceasing prayer when all our thoughts — beautiful or ugly, high or low, proud or shameful, sorrowful or joyful — can be thought in the presence of God. … Thus, converting our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer moves us from a self-centred monologue to a God-centred dialogue.”

” Much violence is based on the illusion that life is a property to be defended and not to be shared. “

Sources: Think Exist, Good Reads, Quoteland, Wisdom Quotes, Quote Mountain, Sammy Williams Blog, iWise.

Here’s a final quote from Nouwen on prayer which I found at Thinking Out Loud from May, 2009

way-of-the-heart-nouwenFor many of us, prayer means nothing more than speaking with God. And since it usually seems to be a quite one-sided affair, prayer simply means talking to God. This idea is enough to create great frustrations. If I present a problem, I expect a solution; if I formulate a question, I expect an answer; if I ask for guidance, I expect a response. And when it seems, increasingly, that I am talking into the dark, it is not so strange that I soon begin to suspect that my dialogue with God is in fact a monologue. Then I may begin to ask myself: To whom am I really speaking, God or myself?

Sometimes the absence of an answer makes us wonder if we might have said the wrong kind of prayers, but mostly we feel taken, cheated, and quickly stop “this whole silly thing.” It is quite understandable that we should experience speaking with real people, who need a word and who offer a response, as much more meaningful than speaking with a God who seems to be an expert at hide and seek.

May 29, 2011

Church: On the Other Hand…

Sometimes when we’re reading Christian blogs, we try to read between the lines to figure out where the writer stands on various issues.  If you read this blog and its companion, Thinking out Loud, over the past few weeks, there have been a couple of references to the house church or organic church or simple church movement, as well as an article about how we can get so addicted to all things church that we can miss Jesus; so it would be easy to assume that I’m a bit soft on the whole brick and mortar church thing.

But that would be a mistake.  This week I attended two different morning services and later today I’ll watch two different online church services which are rebroadcasts of brick and mortar church gatherings.  I’m the biggest cheerleader I know of in my local area for what local churches are doing. 

This morning I was reminded of this verse in John 2, which falls at the end of the passage where Jesus clears the temple (the first time) and possible where we get the expression, “Now the tables are turned.”

NIV John2:17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

The NLT has it as “passion” while the New Century Version uses “strong love.”  The quote is from Psalm 69:9 —

NIV Ps.69:9 for zeal for your house consumes me,
   and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.

— which is interesting because it equates zeal for God’s “house” with the seriousness of those who insult God Himself.

Living in Canada, which is nearly 50% nominally Roman Catholic, we’re familiar with the French language which uses “tabernacle” as a swear word.  It’s a rather grievous term, as is any unnecessary mention of God (the French say Mon Dieu) or Jesus, but it betrays its origins in a great respect for the building in which worship is conducted.

Today, many of our church buildings are multi-purpose structures used for a variety of weekly events; having community-friendly or seeker-friendly auditoriums — the word ‘sanctuary’ is no longer in vogue — which are free of crosses or other religious icons or symbols.  People show up in jeans or shorts and t-shirts and are often seen drinking coffee during the songs and sermon, while the kids go running wild before and after the service starts.  It’s hard to imagine that being seen as worthy of generating a swear word!

Maybe those things are externals, and are less important now than they were a couple of generations back because we see those things as superficial when it comes to defining deep faith.  I’m not sure.  But I do think we need to rediscover the Psalm 69/John 2 verse, which the NASB takes a step further, quoting the Psalms passage in John in capital letters:

17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.”

~Paul Wilkinson

July 28, 2010

The Discontented Self

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:18 pm
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Today’s post is lifted from the blog Mockingbird, which, as you’ll read, excerpted it from somewhere else…

A few more priceless quotes from the book-length interview Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, pg. 256-57, this time touching on the black hole of ambition, inwardly-speaking, in regards to the law:

The great lie of the [ocean-liner] cruise is that enough pleasure and enough pampering will quiet this discontented part of you. When in fact, all it does is up the requirement… I can remember being twenty-four years old and having my, you know, smiling mug in The New York Times Book Review, and it feeling really good for exactly like ten seconds.

And then you’re hungry for more. So that, clearly, I mean if you’re not stupid, you figure out that the real problem is the discontented self. That all this stuff that you think will work for a second, but then all it does is set up a hunger for more and better.

And… that general pattern and syndrome seems to me to get repeated, at least in our culture, for our kind of plush middle-class part of the culture, over and over and over again in a million different arenas. And that we don’t seem to get it. We do not seem to get it…

It may be that those ambitions are what get you to do the work, to get the exposure, to realize that the original ambitions were misguided. Right? So that it’s a weird paradoxical link. If you didn’t have the ambitions, you’d never find out that they were sort of deluded.

Mark 8:36-37 (NLT) And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process? Is anything worth more than your soul?

June 13, 2010

My Viritual Church Service

I keep forgetting to tune in to NorthPoint Ministries Online version of the morning service from the church in Atlanta pastored by Andy Stanley.   The service streams online at 11:00 AM and 6:00 PM EST Sundays and those are the only times you can catch the full service including the worship.

Tonight I missed everything but the last four bars of the last song, but decided to kick back and enjoy the sermon, a passionate study of the “Prodigal Son” story from Luke  (I think I got the name right.)

At the end of the online broadcast, they do something really cool, which I’m still part of even as I’m typing this.    You switch over to a “chat” mode and instantly, you’re in a group of people who are debriefing their responses to the sermon you’ve all just listened to.

I don’t normally do the chat thing online at all, but we’re not in a small group right now, and the two times I’ve caught the sermon, I’ve joined the chat after, and I think that, without doubt, the effectiveness of this particular medium is really big.

This is a church that is like a magnet for people who are spiritually seeking, and on this chat medium people are totally open and honest about their hurts and needs.   Tonight’s sermon was about the classic “Prodigal Son” parable, and afterwards people shared about the difficulty they have with the story because of the troubled relationships they have had or are having with their earthly father.

So tonight, instead of a devotional post here I’m going to ask you to pray for Larry and pray for ‘Joyful.’   And pray for North Point and all that they are doing, and that more churches will consider the creative possibilities available with online media.

June 11, 2010

Practicing God’s Presence

O.K.,  I’ll admit it.   I am the last person on earth to get around to reading The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.   Actually, it’s only a few dozen pages, but I am slowly working my way through this classic.

It’s written in an older style of English for one thing.   Not exactly Shakespeare, but I have to read a single sentence several times in order to get what I think it means.

But mostly it’s a rich text. And no, I don’t mean “rich text” in the HTML sense.   I mean it’s deep. Simple, but very, very profound.

Much like Brother Lawrence himself.   This guy had no real claim to fame.   He would be voted “least like to have inspired a Christian book that has sold millions of copies.”

In the monastery where he served, he was the guy who worked in the kitchen.   That’s it.   Every once in awhile he got sent out on some purchasing mission which, to hear how it stressed him, you would think it was a trans-Atlantic crossing.

But he trusted God for everything.   In everything.   Through everything.

But it was never a big deal.   For him it was natural.

He could pray a formal prayer, but when it done, then he would simply go back into the normal, ongoing discourse he had going with God.   And the latter type of communication with God was for him, the better and more effective of the two.

He could so some act of service, but when it was done, he would go back to the mundane activity of his work, but do it as onto God.   And for him, the latter type of effort was, he felt, the higher of the two.

Kinda the opposite of how we normally see things.

I think the style of the book is actually its best asset.   You have to mine to get the nuggets of gold it contains.   And I’m only mere pages into it, just finishing the “Conversations” section.

If you’ve missed out, get a copy.    It’s certainly not an expensive book, but its worth on a “per-page” basis is way up there.