Christianity 201

April 11, 2020

Approaching Easter Sunday: What the Lord Has Done for Us

by Richard Schmelzle*

As we approach Easter Sunday, we must each examine our life in light of what our Saviour has done for us.  Does my relationship with Him and with others reflect the mindset of our Lord as He approached the cross? 

Paul writing to the believers in Philippi said:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”  (Phil. 2:5-8  NKJV)

Christ’s entire life was marked by obedience and surrender to the will of the Father.  As followers of Christ, are we not called to do the same?  We talk about the surrendered life, we read books and have Bible studies on the subject.  I cannot sing the chorus “I Surrender All” without tears streaming down my face.  The question remains, have I surrendered all?

Oswald J. Smith gives us some clues as to why this is so difficult.  He often said, “When we are saved, we are delivered from the penalty of sin;  As we are sanctified, we are delivered from the power of sin, however, only when we are glorified are we delivered from the presence of sin. 

His friend, Dr. J. Edwin Orr, the Irish Revivalist, was a frequent guest at The Peoples Church, Toronto. In the opening page of his book, Full Surrender, he suggests one of the reasons why we find this so difficult.

“Why is it that hundreds of well-meaning Christians attend conventions and conferences for the deepening of the spiritual life, enjoy the ministry there given, return to life’s vocations with a feeling of improvement, yet speedily lapse into their former ways of backsliding and defeat?  There are many reasons, but one of the least noted is the matter of incomplete consecration, the sin of broken vows.  Too many Christians make a bargain with God and fail to pay their part of the price.  This is sin.” 

The Apostle Paul gave us these words of encouragement and direction:

“Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Romans 6:16-18 NKJV).

C.S. Lewis addresses the subject in his classic work, “Mere Christianity”. 

“Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time, and so much of your money and so much of your work. I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself, My own will shall become yours.

The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self – all your wishes, and precautions – to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good’. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way – centered on money or pleasure or ambition – and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And this is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. 

As our will becomes God’s will, we become like God. That’s the whole point of Christianity. Yet the whole notion of surrendering our autonomy and will to anyone or anything is abhorrent by today’s standards. Any religion that suggests we do so is coloured in the most extreme shades of radicalism by contemporary thinkers. Yet this is precisely what Jesus Christ taught we must do.”

“And He said to them all, if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” (Luke 9:23, 24 NKJV)

Surrendering our will to God is the polar opposite of entrusting ourselves to ‘the crowd’.  On the one hand we are loved “with an everlasting love” and on the other we are just another nameless face. The great challenge for us is finding the confidence within to entrust our will to Him.

To be sure, my Brother, my Sister, the Christian life is totally antithetical to the world view of our culture and counter intuitive to our embedded `natural man`.  Scripture tells us further:

“The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14 NKJV)

The writer to the Hebrews gives the final word on how to overcome our dilemma:

“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus, exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin”. (Hebrews 3:1, 13 NKJV) 

Let us proclaim together, Christ is Risen….He is Risen Indeed!


* Dr. Richard Schmelzle heads the Toronto Chapter of the C. S. Lewis Institute which meets regularly in Richmond Hill. For general information about the organization, go to cslewisinstitute.org .  Used by permission.

November 28, 2011

Prayer Postures

This is a section from Mark Batterson’s new book The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears, releasing this week in hardcover from Zondervan.  Mark serves as the lead pastor of National Community Church, one church with seven locations in Washington, DC.

Physical posture is an important part of prayer.  It’s like a prayer within a prayer.  Posture is to prayer as tone is to communication.  If words are what you say, then posture is how you say it.  There is a reason that Scripture prescribes a wide variety of postures such as kneeling, falling prostrate on one’s face, the laying on of hands and anointing someone’s head with oil.  Physical postures help posture our hearts and minds.

When I extend out my hands in worship, it symbolizes my surrender to God.  Sometimes I’ll raise a clenched fist to celebrate what Christ has accomplished for me on the cross and declare the victory He has won.  We do it after a great play, so why not during a great song?

During the most recent Lenten season, Parker and I got up a half hour earlier than normal to allow a little extra time to read Scripture.  We also decided we would get on our knees when we prayed.  The physical posture of kneeling, coupled with a humble heart, is the most powerful position on earth.  I’m not sure that the kneeling position betters my batting average in prayer, but it gets me in the right stance.  All I know is this: humility honors God and God honors humility.  Why not kneel?  It certainly can’t hurt.

One of my favourite prayer postures I learned from the Quakers.  I lead our congregation in this prayer frequently.  We begin with hands facing down, symbolizing the things we need to let go of.  it involves a precess of confessing our sings, rebuking our fears, and relinquishing control.  Then we turn our hands over so they are facing up in a posture of receptivity.  We actively receive what God wants to give – joy unspeakable, peace that transcends understanding, and unmerited grace.  We received the fruit and gifts of His Spirit with open hands and open hearts.

There is nothing magical about the laying on of hands or bowing the knee or anointing the head with oil, but there is something biblical about it.  There is also something mystical about it.  When we practice these prescribed postures, we are doing what has been done for thousands of years, and part of thinking long is appreciating the timeless traditions that connect us to our spiritual ancestors.

The church I pastor is absolutely orthodox in belief but somewhat unorthodox in practice.  Meeting in movie theaters makes it difficult to have a lot of High Church traditions.  The movie screens are our postmodern stained glass; the smell of popcorn is our incense.  But just because we don’t practice a lot of extrabiblical religious rituals doesn’t mean we devalue biblical tradition.  Just because we believe the church should be the most creative place on the planet doesn’t mean we devalue tradition.  We aren’t religious about religion, the human constructs created over the generations to surround our faith with rituals.  We do, however, hold religiously to the timeless traditions of Scripture.

 

September 29, 2011

Worship Consists of a Life Well-Lived

Jim at Not For Itching Ears recently posted this as a question… Worship: Is it a Life Well-Lived or a Chorus Well-Sung?  I think you already know the answer, but…

We love to discuss those things we are passionate about, don’t we?  Be it our favorite football team (THE Washington Redskins), politics, sports, movies, cultural issues.  Heck we even argue about beer!   Remember the Miller Lite commercials?  For years, Miller Lite drinkers, including the likes of Rodney Dangerfield and John Madden, bickered back and forth on our TV sets.  The argument?  What made Miller Lite such a great beer.   Some said the drink tasted great. Others said it was less filling.  Though they were very entertaining commercials, it makes one wonder:  Don’t we have anything better to discuss than beer?

Of course we do!  Over here at Not For Itching Ears, we’ve been spending a lot of time talking about a topic that is higher up the food chain:  Worshipping God.  If you read these posts (millions of people do each hour)(just kidding), then you know I have been searching and studying and thinking out loud a lot lately.  I don’t know why.  Everywhere I go, every conversation I have, many of the sights I see cause me to reflect on what it means for a Christian to worship our great Redeemer.   The two facts that seem to be fueling this journey are these: 1)  Worship, generally, is not a song we sing, though we can worship God while singing.  2) The church seems to be defining worship as a song we sing.  I think that approach is crippling the church and robbing God of true worship.

Is worship a song that is well-sung or is it a life that is well-lived?

The Bible teaches us that true worship involves the laying down of our lives, and everything that entails.  In turn, we offer our lives back to God, to be lived for Him, His glory, and His alone.   Scripture is full of admonitions like the one Paul gave the church at Ephesus:

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life WORTHY of the calling you have received.”  Eph 4:1 NIV

This word “worthy” literally means “to bring up the other beam of the scales” so that things are equal.   If you put a pound of tomatoes on one side of the scale and a one pound weight on the other side of the scale, the scale will be even.  If everything is working the way it was designed to work, the scale would be perfectly level.  That is the idea here.  The Ephesian believers were being exhorted to conduct their lives in a  way that matched or equaled what they professed.  They were being exhorted to live out their faith.  We might say they were being told to practice what they preached.  With our mouths we say we believe in the Gospel,  will follow Christ anywhere, and want to love Him out loud, but do our lives balance that out?  Or, is one side of the scale higher than the other?  That’s what Paul is talking about here

The more I consider worship, the more I realize that this is EXACTLY what worship looks like.  It is a life laid down.  You and I proclaim God’s worth in every choice we make.   Let’s face it, living for Christ 24/7 is no easy task.  Life is full of temptations, large and small.   Every moment of every day we are bombarded with situations that cause us to choose who we are living for:  Ourselves or our God.  When we choose to follow God and obey His word, we are declaring that what He values is what matters.  We are professing with our deeds that His way is worthy of following.   Isn’t that the essence of worship?  The overwhelming weight of scriptural testimony leads to only one conclusion:  Worship is not what my mouth says, it is what my hands do.  At least that what God likes in a worshipper.

When I put my own life on that scale to see where my life stands, I don’t like what I see.   Like the Ephesians, I need to be reminded that my life should be spent following the master.  To worship Him, we should strive to live lives that are worthy of the King and his message.

Isn’t THAT much more involved than simply singing a few songs?

Many will counter and say that worship can be both a life well-lived and a song well-sung.  Just like Miller Lite could be both great tasting and less filling.  And I agree!  However I believe the church would do well to emphasize the true character of worship:  a life laid down.  When the body of Christ becomes gripped by this understanding of worship, the Gospel will spread like wildfire.

For more on this topic see our series called: Forget About Singing, God Wants Us To Worship Him His Way

~Jim Greer

May 8, 2011

Make My Life a Prayer to You — Keith Green

It’s hard to believe a new generation of Christians is emerging who are unfamiliar with Keith Green, a singer who perhaps was a little ahead of his time in terms of the modern worship movement, but who sadly also left us before his time.  This song is familiar to many of us, but I post it here for those for whom this is something entirely new…

Make my life a prayer to You,
I want to do what you want me to,
No empty words and no white lies,
No token prayers, no compromise,

I want to shine the light you gave,
Through Your Son, you sent to save us,
From ourselves and our despair,
It comforts me to know you’re really there.

Oh, I want to thank you now, for being patient with me,
Oh, it’s so hard to see, when my eyes are on me,
I guess I’ll have to trust and just believe what you say,
Oh, you’re coming again, coming to take me away,

I want to die, and let you give,
Your life to me, so I might live,
And share the hope you gave to me,
The love that set me free,

I want to tell the world out there,
You’re not some fable or fairy tale,
That I made up inside my head,
You’re God, The Son, You’ve risen from the dead.

Oh, I want to thank you now,
For being patient with me,
Oh, it’s so hard to see,
When my eyes are on me,

I guess I’ll have to trust,
and just believe what you say,
Oh, you’re coming again,
Coming to take me away.

I want to die, and let you give,
Your life to me, so I might give,
And share the hope you gave to me,
I want to share the love that set me free.

 NLT Romans 12:1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.

For more info about Keith and Last Days Ministries, go to KeithGreen.com