Christianity 201

January 15, 2012

Too Much Salt, Too Much Light

This morning at church, the pastor read the familiar “salt and light” passage from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.  If you’ve been in church for a long time, it’s hard to imagine hearing anything new and different on this, and yet, the text is so rich that I am always amazed at the “take away” you can get from this passage.

First of all was the emphasis on being salt and light in the world.  There’s no thought of ‘salt for salt’s sake,’ or ‘light for light’s sake;’ but rather, the analogy exists to guide the Christian in living in a broader society.  

That said, salt is reactive, while light is more proactive.  The former deals with how we respond to the world around us, the latter deals with what added value we are infusing into that world.  

But then the pastor talked about the fact you can have too much salt.  In terms of the seasoning nature of salt, it’s easy to overdo it; and in terms of light, it’s not helpful if you’re shining it in someone’s eyes.  

And then he gave a rather interesting example that I’d never considered before.  He talked about people who feel the need to respond with a Bible verse who also give the reference, and how foreign that concept is to people who are outside the faith and/or outside the church. I’ve heard people say that we should know references so that we can open up a Bible and point them to what the Bible says and where it says it; but I have to agree with the pastor that conversationally, there’s no need to do that; we just need to pass on the heart of what God’s word says; the truth element of it without the precision of a GPS reference.

Really, it comes back to being able tell people — without reading it off a script — about the ways of the Lord. 

Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; Whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right, And the righteous will walk in them, But transgressors will stumble in them.  (Hosea 14:9 NASB)

Our job is to know God’s ways in order to instruct others, but we are the best translation of scripture and our words should flow out of a general sense of God’s will and God’s ways.  When I start spouting chapters and verses (or Greek and Hebrew) to a non-Christian it all sounds like when my son who takes engineering starts talking scientific terminology.

And frankly, people who read a blog called Christianity 201, and obviously want to go deeper and be deeper are at the greatest risk of overdoing this.  We know a lot of stuff, and it’s easy to allow pride to creep into the equation as well.

…Today some people despair over ‘seeker sensitive’ sermon approaches that they say has had the effect of ‘dumbing down’ the gospel.  But there is something to be said for “putting the cookies on the lower shelf.”

  1. First, when we’re able to express the gospel in its rawest simplicity, we’re closer to the essence of the gospel, the profound nature of the gospel.
  2. Second, as stated, when dealing with unchurched or unevangelized people, we run the risk of scaring them off with responses or explanations that are too complex, even while we admire and relish the great complexity and mystery of the gospel ourselves.
  3. Third, in an increasingly Biblically illiterate culture, we’re going to increasingly be dealing with people within the church for whom what we consider basic theological and doctrinal discussion is more than they can handle

We want to be salt and light, but we have to be careful not to over-salt, or turn the lights up blindingly high.

September 16, 2011

Standing Up For Your Faith

I Kings 18:21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

Sometimes the process by which an item appears here is amazing, especially when you’re the one composing the daily study/devotional!  Derrick Boyd left a comment at T.O.L. this morning and included a link to his blog, Encouraging Thoughts For Life, where this item appeared a few weeks ago under the title Stand for What Is Right.

In this day and time it seems harder and harder to find people that are truly devoted to God. Now many people will jump on the bandwagon of saying that they believe in God, but there is nothing in their life to give supporting evidence.

Luke 6:46 “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” James 2:26 “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

Some of the people you ask will say that it does not matter if you believe or not. It just matters that you are a good person. Some that we come in to contact with have a hatred for anything to do with God. It seems like they are always willing to pick a fight. Then, you have the many different religions in the world that all teach different things. So, which is right? Are we willing to stand up for what we believe against all odds? How strong is our faith in the fact that God is there and that He will do all that He has promised us? We need to be willing to stand alone on what we believe. No matter what people may say to us, do to us, or think of us.

A perfect example of this is Elijah of the old testament. In 1 Kings chapter 18 we see that Elijah was willing to stand alone on the promises of God against 450 other men who believed in Baal. He offered a test to prove who the real God was. Many of us have heard the story, and I encourage you all to go and read it again. Because the message is so clear. Elijah did not go to prove who he was, but who God was. He was willing to stand alone on what he believed. And God answered his prayer. Are we standing in the face of adversity?

Are we prepared to defend the Gospel, even if no one else is there to support us? Or do we tuck it in and wait for someone to go with us?

2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”

If we are truly His, we will witness. We will defend the Gospel. We will stand up for what is right, whether we are with others who share our belief, or we are alone.

~Derrick Boyd

September 7, 2011

What Do People Know You For?

Dan Navarra guest-posted this at Shawn Stutz’ blog where it appeared under the title…

Get Filled Before You Fall

Not so long ago, I was a college student.  I remember those years vividly; they were marked with extreme amounts of fun, plenty of turmoil in my romantic relationships, lots of pizza, and three years of working with high school students as an intern.  It seems like every college student goes through this phase of discovery at some point once they leave the birds nest of ‘home’ – and I was no different.  Questions about identity, self-confidence, and doubt often filled my mind in between arrogant and prideful thoughts about my own scroll-sized list of accomplishments.  In fact, if I were to take my accomplishments and list them out on a scroll, I’m pretty sure I thought that scroll would never end; but instead it would just flow into the adjacent room and catch the attention of everybody else over there.  After all, I was pretty awesome.  Who didn’t want to be me?

Well, the short answer is: me.  I didn’t want to be me because I wasn’t sure who that was.  Who was I?  What was my actual identity in?  I was searching.

My senior year of high school I read an incredible book entitled Abba’s Child, The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging by Brennan Manning.  One paragraph in particular became a guiding beacon of light in my search for who I was.  As I was asked to guest blog on the website for a college and young adult pastor, I felt like perhaps some of the readers of this post might find themselves in a similar debacle as myself and in need of a guiding principle to be their beacon of light.

“And so, like runaway slaves, we either flee our own reality or manufacture a false self which is mostly admirable, mildly prepossessing, and superficially happy.  We hide what we know or feel ourselves to be (which we assume to be unacceptable and unlovable) behind some kind of appearance which we hope will be more pleasing.  We hide behind pretty faces which we put on for the benefit of our public.  And in time we may even come to forget that we are hiding, and think that our assumed pretty face is what we really look like.” – Manning, 22

I was running.  That was for sure.  I was manufacturing a self that everybody responded to; and not manufacturing a self that revolved around the work that Jesus Christ did on the cross.  And i knew it.  So I slowly did the best job I could to correct myself towards what I thought was the right thing to do.  I prayed, spent tons of time in the word, started volunteering my time more, saw needs and met them for the Kingdom, and slowly was feeling like I had finally begun to hit my stride as a man.  I felt affirmed by my community of friends and co-workers because on the surface I was giving my everything to the Kingdom.  Hey, that’s what Christians are supposed to do, right?

Well, yes.  But…

I actually discovered an important truth during this time of my life: we can make our identity revolve around good things, like serving the church or learning everything one can about the Word.  And even though our identity is wrapped up in “good” things, it can still not be a healthy place to be.  My self-worth became wrapped up in being able to answer accountability questions properly.  If I had a rough week with my small group, I took it personally.  If I wasn’t practicing that great new worship song, I felt out of place.  My identity got wrapped up in doing what the church wants us to do as Christ-followers.  The problem was, my self-worth and identity was not in Christ: it was in the work I was doing for Christ.  I needed an intervention.

Going into my senior year of college was when God started to break me.  My internship ended at my home church.  Instead of promoting me for a third year of interning, the leadership informed me that I was not going to be brought back.  I thought it may have been a money issue, so I offered to work for the same wage for another year.  They declined.  I offered to take less money only to hear the same result.  I offered to merely volunteer in the ministry as a small group leader, but was turned down.  Finally I got the memo: my time there was over.  The following two months were a complete waste of my life.  I wasn’t doing ministry, so I stopped following God.  Once I had nobody holding me accountable for doing all the “good” things, I stopped doing them.

After two months of staying out too late and waking up after lunch, one night God spoke to me.  2:00 AM, I was laying on my bed in the heat of a hot summer night.  I remember this so vividly.  I was laying on my bed, staring at my high ceiling when it clicked for me: my life lacked purpose because I was not doing ministry.  God and I had a back and forth conversation that night.  I felt Him tugging on my heart: to just be in relationship with Him, and then minister out of that fullness.  Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians in chapter three came to my mind:

16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3:16-19

I rediscovered that I needed to minister out of my own fullness that comes from what God is doing in my life; not from somebody else’ expectations for my faith.  My ‘runaway slave’ mentality was running towards doing validating ministry where people affirmed my gifting: it had nothing to do with my own walk with the Lord.  Now, with my mentality quickly changed, and renewed commitment to walk with God first before I chose to walk with other people, I asked the Lord what he wanted me to do to get back to my purpose of making a difference for the Kingdom in people’s lives.

God: “Do anything. Start a Bible study in your backyard even!”

Dan: “OK, with who?”

God: “Guys”

Dan: “OK, when?”

God: “Tuesdays”

Dan: “Tuesdays?  What time?”

God: “You pick”

Dan: “Got it.  Thanks.”

That was the dialogue that followed.  I asked God what I was supposed to do, and out of that birthed one of the greatest displays of the Church I’ve ever been a part of.  That night, at 2am, I text-messaged ten of my closest students, friends, and former students asking them if they wanted to meet for Bible study.  I heard back from eight of them within minutes affirming my invitation.  We set our meeting time for Tuesday night at 8pm.

From that first gathering a few men, birthed a group of guys who gathered weekly to study the Word, pray for each other in incredibly vulnerable ways, worship together at the top of our lungs, and a warmth of fellowship I don’t think could ever be matched.  The group exploded.  Within six months, I had some twenty-five guys meeting in my backyard every week.  The weather was turning cold, so it wasn’t unusual to see guys in snow gear huddled around the fire pit.  But they kept coming.  Eventually we shifted to the garage with space heaters.  It was an incredible revolution that happened that summer in my heart and life.  I began to minister out of my own fullness: and God harvested fruit because of my obedience.

I tell this story because perhaps you find yourself “doing the Jesus thing” and not actually experiencing the fullness that comes from a relationship with the God of the universe.  If that’s where you are, quit running.  Don’t resist.  Submit your life to a partnership with the ultimate companion, and then go about your business with that fullness as the primary fuel that sustains and enables you.

~ written by Dan Navarra

April 13, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism in the Old Testament

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On Sunday the pastor spoke about the do’s and dont’s of evangelism.  (I have no idea why those words need an apostrophe, but we’ll press on, okay?)  Then he quoted this verse in Zechariah chapter 8, a verse I’ve no doubt glossed over before but never really zoomed in on:

23 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”

Okay, let’s back up for some context:

20 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, 21 and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the LORD and seek the LORD Almighty. I myself am going.’ 22 And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the LORD Almighty and to entreat him.”

23 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”

I love the picture this paints; one of an international cast coming together; people out of various language families and ethnicities converging in Jerusalem and asking questions of and being attracted to those who are visibly walking with God. Not because of methodologies or presentations or programs, but because it is evident that God is at work.  (Reminds me of the verse in Acts that says the crowd marveled that the disciples were ordinary and not advanced in education, but noted they had spent time with Jesus.)

About eight years earlier, in the same church, another pastor delivered his final sermon.   His closing line, I will never, ever forget.  This may not be verbatim, but here it is:

“Don’t be satisfied to hear people say, ‘You have a great church,’ but rather, you want them to say, ‘You have a great God.’

When is the last time someone grabbed you by the sleeve or the collar and said, “We need to talk, because it’s obvious God is with you.” ??

April 11, 2011

Laura Story: Blessings

The worship song, and the story behind it:

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long we’d have faith to believe

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not our home

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

The story behind the song:

There’s also an “official” video of this story available at this link.

Now that you know the story, click and listen to the song one more time.

February 19, 2011

Sometimes When Giving, We Receive Even More

This week we’re catching up with some devotional bloggers we met up with this past summer.  Jennifer Slattery shares a personal story with a narrative that many readers here have experienced in similar but different ways.  This appeared on her blog under the title, The Beauty of the Broken.

I was eight, maybe nine, and on my way to school when I noticed a woman taking her trash to the curb. She held the black bag in one hand and a walking stick in the other, scanning the ground with her “eyes” as she went. I ran to her side, ready to rescue this blind lady, little did I know that God had sent her that day to help me.

She smiled at me and nodded, then humbly allowed me to carry her trash to the curb. It wasn’t until a few days later when I was sitting at the breakfast bar in her kitchen that I realized the humbled love she showed to me that morning. As I watched her answer her phone, make popcorn in the micro (for me) and flitter around her kitchen with more ease than a sighted woman, I was slightly embarrassed by my offer to “help” her only days before. She let me help her not because she needed it, but because doing so would form a connection–a point of contact.

Before long, I was at her house nearly every day. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about. I do remember the popcorn, and the tremendous joy that filled her home. I remember watching her husband and son very closely, curious by their rather silly antics and the ease with which they interacted. But what I remember most was the overwhelming sense of being loved and accepted as day after day Mr. and Mrs. Neighborhood (my name for her and her husband) showed me love.

She died a few years later, not knowing how the story would end–not knowing the chain of events her allowing me to carry her garbage started, not knowing the impact those afternoons had on me. She didn’t understand fully until she got to heaven, and although I don’t believe God caused her blindness, (it was the result of a stroke), I know He used  it to bring her and I together. And through her, I got a taste of the love of Christ.

I wonder if she were standing on the edge of eternity, able to see into the abyss, and asked to choose between her sight or my salvation, I wonder what she would have chosen. Actually, I know what she would have chosen. She showed me daily.

But even now, Mrs. Neighborhood’s story doesn’t end. Every time I write, every time I pray, every time I cuddle up with my daughter, a Bible spread between us, we are seeing the fruits of her service (and other amazing women God placed in my path as I was growing up.)

And it all started because she let a little girl help her.

I thought of her this morning during church as I read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-7

1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 7 Instead, we were like young children among you.

Her visits with me were not without results. The results just wouldn’t be seen until many years later, long after she’d passed. And she wasn’t concerned with the praise of men. To the contrary, she humbled herself and allowed a young child to help her.

Her life was the very first domino in a beautifully intertwined display, except the story really began long before then, with another domino set in motion in her life, and the domino set in motion in the life that loved on her. Each life, each domino, was but a tiny, yet powerful, part of a glorious, life-saving story that will one-day unfold before us. When we stand in God’s presence, surrounded by an innumerable family of believers, each one but another domino that set into motion another chain, everything will all make sense and all we’ll be able to say is, “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (Revelations 7:12 NIV)

~Jennifer Slattery

November 3, 2010

On Friendship, Baptism and Repenting of Righteousness

“…spurring one another on towards love and good deeds.” (Heb. 10:24) 

Bizarrely, the closer some relationships are, the more permissive they can become; and our passion to do what is right is diluted. As we feel able to relax completely with trusted friends, we can abuse the sense of ease by letting our behavior slip. Gradually language that we would never use in public slips into the conversation and off-white humour that we know is inappropriate becomes part of the common currency of our friendship, because we feel able to let our hair down. The friendship has now become one that gives permission (where we give each other a license to compromise) rather than providing exhortation (where we encourage each other towards character and excellence).

~Jeff Lucas, writing in Lucas on Life, devotional reading for Jan 20, 2005.

 

Like birth, baptism means life. It is done once, yet it is for all of our life….we need to discover ways to communicate baptismal living. If I say, “I was married,” you will likely assume that my wife has died or I am divorced. But if I say, “I am married,” you will assume I have a wife and that on a certain date I was married and still am. Although it is true and essential to say I was baptized, it is also necessary to assert, “I am baptized.”

~Thomas H. Schattauer
“…What must we do, then to be saved? To find God we must repent of the things we have done wrong, but if that is all you do you may remain just an elder brother. To truly become Christians we must also repent of the reasons we ever did anything right. Pharisees only repent of their sins, but Christians repent for the very roots of their righteousness, too. We must learn how to repent of the sin under all our other sins and under all our righteousness — the sin of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord. We must admit that we’ve put our ultimate hope and trust in things other than God, and that in both our wrongdoing and right doing we have been seeking to get around God or get control of God in order to get hold of these things.”

~ Timothy Keller in The Prodigal God, 2008 Dutton; pp 77-8; see also Prov. 16:2


October 27, 2010

We Breathe a Different Air

I ran into her when she left some comments at Thinking Out Loud.  She calls herself Cloudwatcher.  Her blog is called Meeting in the Clouds.   It’s a devotional blog that’s written in a style that would hook your kids or teens.   This one presents an interesting analogy dealing with one of the implications of being “strangers and aliens” in this world.   Analogies often break down at certain points, but I like the care went into writing this.

It turns out Cloudwatcher is in her 70s, was born in the UK but lives in Australia.   I’d say she’s a rather cool blogger, and I look forward to reading more…

One Essential

Q.  What is the ONE ESSENTIAL thing an astronaut needs to take with him when he ventures outside his spacecraft?

A.   An astronaut would be in deep trouble if he did not take with him the atmosphere of his natural environment.

Q.  What is the ONE ESSENTIAL thing that a born-again CHRISTIAN must take with him during his pilgrimage on earth?

A.  The atmosphere of his natural environment.

Q.  What IS the natural environment of a Christian?

A.

  • We belong to the kingdom of God.  Col 1:13
  • We are citizens of heaven  Phil 3:20, Eph 2:19
  • We belong in the heavenlies  Eph 1:3
  • We are pilgrims and strangers on earth  Heb 11:13
  • This world is NOT our home  John 17:16, 2 Cor 6:17

When we take the atmosphere of our heavenly home into the world, the devil and his forces will be defeated and the people of this world will see the living Christ in us.

When we do NOT take the atmosphere of our heavenly home and our spiritual life with us, we are doomed to defeat.

  • Nothing is more contrary to a heavenly hope than an earthly heart.
  • If we do not put the love of the world to death, the love of the world will put us to death.  ~ A W Tozer
  • The world is enemy-occupied territory  ~ C S Lewis
  • When we stand on the Word, we cannot stand with the world.  ~ Vance Havner
  • KNOW the Bible in your mind; KEEP it in your heart; LIVE it in your life; SHARE it with the world.

We are the only Bible the careless world will read;
We are the sinner’s Gospel, we are the mocker’s creed.
We are the Lord’s last message, given in deed and word:
What if the type is crooked?
What if the print is blurred?

August 8, 2010

The Power of a Testimony

I want to continue where I left off yesterday, but in entirely different terms.

Contemporary church services don’t allow for what was once called “testimony time.”  We did a thing in our church years ago called “The Witness Stand,” which brought individual stories from the Sunday night service up into the morning service, when a greater number of people attended.

These days, you tend to hear stories in church only from people who are (a) being baptized or (b) going to or returning from a missions trip.

Even our songs — much as I love the ‘vertical’ quality of modern worship — no longer tell a story, either literally or poetically.   Maybe you’re old enough to remember:  “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore; very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more.  But the Master of the sea heard my dispairing cry; from the water lifted me now saved am I.”  Or maybe those words just sound quaint and foreign, but they reflected a storyline no longer present in our worship services.

Maybe the words in “Victory in Jesus” that talk about the time “he plunged me to victory” don’t work in the 21st century, but there’s got to be a “before and after” song out there besides “Amazing Grace.”

So when I wrote yesterday about not letting anyone take away your story — or your very name — I wasn’t talking about identity theft.   I meant instead the importance of hanging on to all that God has done in your life.   That may mean keeping a journal or even starting a blog.  (Or writing a song.)

In the NLT, John 21 ends with John affirming his own story:

24 This disciple is the one who testifies to these events and has recorded them here. And we know that his account of these things is accurate.

…but I much prefer what I believe was the older version in The Living Bible which has John boldly affirm — after chapters and chapters of loose references to “the disciple that Jesus loved” — his place in the story with, “I am that disciple!”

What a climax to the story!   In other words he’s saying, “It was me!  I was the one who shared those moments; I was part of that inner circle!   It was James and Peter and I to whom he told those stories and hinted at some of the secrets of the Kingdom.   I was there!”

The biggest lie the Devil would have you believe is that some of the greatest moments of spiritual victory you experienced never really happened.   As I wrote a few days ago, when you “take this bread” don’t just remember all that Christ did on the cross all those years ago, but remember what He did in you and through you because of the cross.

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