Christianity 201

April 7, 2018

Choosing to Set our Focus on Things Above

This is our fifth visit with Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. He doesn’t write frequently, but often deals with the issue of spiritual growth.

A Gift for Our Spiritual Formation

Almost everyone enjoys gift giving. We enjoy giving gifts, but we really enjoy receiving gifts.

When we give a gift we give it with the intention that the gift is used. If we give a gift of chocolate we want the person to eat the chocolate. If we give a gift of clothes we want those clothes to be worn. If we give a gift of toys we want those toys to be played with in imaginative ways.

God has given us a great gift to be used for our spiritual formation in Jesus Christ. That gift is the Bible. Christians believe that God has preserved the Holy Scriptures over the years to help guide us in following Jesus.

Since the Bible is a gift that God has given to us, it is a gift that He expects us to use. God will speak to us by the Holy Spirit through the words recorded in Scripture.

If we are interested in spiritual formation and following Jesus, then it is essential we spend time with the Bible.

The book of Colossians is a book of the Bible that God has used over the years to speak to my heart.  One of my favorite passages is Colossians 3:1-4:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (ESV)

Our salvation and transformation begins and ends with God. It began with God’s promise to bless all the nations of the world through Abraham and his descendant; it continued through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus (the promised descendant of Abraham); and ends when Jesus returns and makes all things new.

Without God’s initiative, without God’s promise, and without Christ’s faithfulness we would have no life, no purpose, and no hope. Our redemption and restoration are bound up in the actions of our loving heavenly Father.

With that being said, we still have a great responsibility when it comes to our spiritual formation.  We do not become like Jesus by accident.

Paul wrote in Colossians that there is a choice we must make. The choice we are to make is to set our minds on the things that are above.

To set our minds requires an act of the will.  We have the choice about what to focus our minds on, and if we  don’t choose to set our minds on the things of God, then our minds will be set on other things: sports, money, pleasure, politics.

What must we do if we are going to set our minds on the things that are above?

I believe there are at least three steps we need to take in order to set our minds on heavenly things.

  1. We must change what we feed our mind. This is a two part process. The first part of the process is to acknowledge the ways we are being distracted. I recently had to to do this when I realized that the political podcasts I was listening to were influencing the direction of the my thoughts, which were flowing out into my sermons. We need to be aware of what is influencing our thoughts, and whether that influence is positive or negative. The second part of the process is to fill our minds the truth. This means we intentionally use the gift of Scriptures to set the course of our thoughts. If we are not replacing our old negative thoughts with new positive thoughts then our minds will go back to the old ways of thinking.
  2. We must be guided by the Spirit. The best way for us to be guided by the Spirit is to practice spiritual disciplines. We need to make room for the Spirit to speak into our lives. This includes Bible study and reading (both private and group), prayer, fasting, generosity, service, hospitality, and even simplicity (living a simple life). It is crucial that we intentionally make room for the Spirit to guide our lives.
  3. We must speak about what God is doing. It is crucial that we don’t keep all that God is doing in our lives to ourselves. We need to share our experiences with God with other people. By sharing our stories we become better aware of the truth God is teaching us and the direction He wants us to go. By sharing we allow other people to discover what God is doing and open their hearts to God working in their lives.

God took the initiative to save us from sin and death.

To be good stewards of God’s initiative and His generosity we need to be intentional in our spiritual formation. This requires us to be intentional in setting our minds on the things of heaven, so our hearts and minds are focused one following Jesus. We do that by using the gift of Scripture to set the direction of our minds.

 

February 26, 2013

Where Accusation and Conviction Meet

NLT Ps. 51:3 For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.

KJV Ps. 51:3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

ESV Revelation 12:10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.

NIV I Thess. 1:4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.

NIV I Tim. 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…

Sometimes you just know when you’ve messed up.  You need neither the devil’s accusation nor the Holy Spirit’s conviction. It’s black and white. You missed the mark. You weren’t even aiming for the target. You recognize that the border between the righteousness and holiness that people in your church think you live out, and the propensity to sin of weaker brothers is a border only micro-millimeters thick.

How did I think that? What made me say that? Why did I look at her/him the way I did? Why did I charge that customer for two hours’ labor when I did the job in one? Why did I click on that website? Where did that anger come from when they mentioned that person’s name? Why did I say I’d be there when I have no intention of attending?

Yikes! I’m no different than anyone else! Here I thought — and everybody else thought — that I was super spiritual, when in fact I’m … human.

That’s the moment to confess.

This is often referred to as “keeping short accounts with God.”  The blog Amazing Grace Bible Studies explains:

…let’s consider the phrase as it is used in accounting acumen. To keep your accounts payable on a “short basis” simply means to keep them “paid up”, or rather, not to let them become extended. An example of this would be to pay off your credit card balance every month.

In the spiritual sense, when looking at the theology that prescribes this practice, it always refers to confession of sin(s) (the equivalent of a liability or debt in accounting terms), and requesting to be forgiven of sins on a daily basis.1 When you hear believers say that they are “prayed up” this invariably means that they’ve got all their sins “confessed up.”

Rick Warren adds,

“Clean hands” simply means a clear conscious. Does that mean we’re perfect? No. None of us is perfect. But we can keep short accounts with God. 1 John 1:9 (TLB) says, “But if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” So when we sin, we just say, “God, I was wrong. I confess it.” There is no power without a clear conscience.

Classic writer A. B. Simpson wrote:

  It is a good thing to keep short accounts with God. I was very much struck some years ago with an interpretation of the verse: So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God (Romans 14:12). The thought it conveys is that of accounting to God daily. For us judgment is passed as we lay down on our pillows each night. This is surely the true way to live. It is the secret of great peace. It will be a delightful comfort when life is closing or at the Master’s coming, to know that our account is settled and our judgment over. For us, then, there is only the waiting to hear the glad Well done, good and faithful servant; . . . enter thou into the joy of thy Lord (Matthew 25:21).

But sometimes we feel a sense of a nagging in our heads and hearts either because (a) we haven’t confessed yet, or (b) we have but something about our sin is such that our brain won’t let go of it — or at least that would be a superficial explanation to what is going on.

But what’s really going one?  In either case above, it has to be either:

  • the conviction of the Holy Spirit (or you might read the I Thess. passage above as ‘the conviction of the gospel’ or in I Tim., the rebuke of God’s Word); or,
  • the accusation of Satan who is described (in the Rev. passage above) as the accuser of the brethren (and, as some translations add, the sistren.) (Yes, I know that’s not a word.)

Conviction or accusation?

So when you find yourself in the situation of unconfessed sin, or of sin you feel you did indeed confess, then is what you are experiencing conviction or accusation?

Does it really matter?

No, I mean that question. We looked at a tough passage a few days ago where David took the census, and the two Old Testaments account differed in terms of whether the idea for David to do this came from Satan or from God.  Theologians still aren’t sure; the jury is still out on how to interpret this passage.

Conviction of sin

So here’s what I think. And remember this is just one guy’s opinion.

I believe that, to use a train analogy, sometimes conviction and accusation arrive on parallel tracks. Both will lead you in the same direction. One is very negative: “So I guess we’re not so spiritual after all, are we?” But the other comes from a heart of love, “Let’s get that confessed, so that we can spend the rest of the day walking in grace and forgiveness.”

One will beat you over the head. Actually, you don’t need to be a Christ-follower to have that experience. All humans have some degree of guilt-reflex.

But the other will free you, provided you act on that conviction, confess and move on.

PW

April 22, 2012

Chuck Colson Quotations

It seemed appropriate today, in light of the passing of Charles (Chuck) Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, to include some well-remembered quotations from his writing…

“The dynamism and freedom that characterizes the West is the product of Christianity’s reforming itself and moving forward culturally. … The ascendancy of the West is the story of the difference that Christianity makes, and it’s a story we can’t let our culture forget.”


“I’ll tell you one of the most wonderful things about being a Christian is that I don’t ever get up in the morning and wonder I’m not doing anything today or if what I do matters. I live everyday to the fullest because I can live it through Christ and I know no matter what I do today, and it may just be in my prayer time, I’m going to do something to advance the Kingdom of God. Now does that make you fulfilled? You bet it does! And it gives you joy about living.”


“May the Christian church never be regarded as a special interest group. We’re here because we love our neighbor.”


“In every action we take, we are doing one of two things: we are either helping to create a hell on earth or helping to bring down a foretaste of heaven. We are either contributing to the broken condition of the world or participating with God in transforming the world to reflect his righteousness. We are either advancing the rule of Satan or establishing the reign of God.”


“The Bible- banned, burned, beloved. More widely read, more frequently attacked than any other book in history. Generations of intellectuals have attempted to discredit it; dictators of every age have outlawed it and executed those who read it. Yet soldiers carry it into battle believing it is more powerful than their weapons. Fragments of it smuggled into solitary prison cells have transformed ruthless killers into gentle saints. Pieced together scraps of Scripture have converted whole whole villages of pagan Indians.”


“The church does not draw people in; it sends them out.”


“We should always pray with as much earnestness as those who expect everything from God; we should always act with as much energy as those who expect everything from themselves.”


“We are not looking for power, … We are not looking for prestige. We are here because we care very, very deeply about the nation. … We love God, we love our neighbors and we act out of a love of God and love of our neighbors.”


“Christians need to take the lead in educating people that children are gifts, as my autistic grandson most surely is. By going down the path we’re currently on, we might one day get rid of genetic diseases, but only at the cost of our own humanity.”


“If our culture is to be transformed, it will happen from the bottom up – from ordinary believers practicing apologetics over the backyard fence or around the barbecue grill.”


“The church has been brought into the same value system as the world: fame, success, materialism and celebrity. We watch the leading churches and the leading Christians for our cues. We want to emulate the best known preachers with the biggest sanctuaries and the grandest edifices. Preoccupation with these values has perverted the church’s message.”


Sources: Christian Quotes, Quotes Daddy, Thomas George, NutQuote, Daily Christian Quote, Quoteland, Quoteopia

April 20, 2012

Diggiing Deep Into God’s Word

Apologies to those of you who came yesterday and couldn’t find the devotional. I only found out 24 hours later that it got posted to the wrong blog — I manage eight different ones — and it’s now available.   

Today’s post is a little longer than what’s normally here, but it’s a subject that we all need to be reminded of.  When the early church was birthed in Acts 2, the thing that everyone noticed wasn’t the education or skill in oratory of the disciples, it was that they had spent time with Jesus.

This is from a blog that was new to me, Answers from the Book, and appeared earlier this month under the title Be A Berean. As always, you’re encouraged to click that link and read at source. If for some reason you stay here, please note there’s a page break in this one; be sure to click through to read the whole article. 

“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:10-11)

A couple of weeks ago, I received a comment on a post that disagreed with my interpretation of a particular Bible passage. This was not the first time someone has shared a dissenting point of view and, I am quite certain, will not be the last. To be completely honest, I welcome thoughtful, sincere comments whether they agree with what I have written or not. Opposing viewpoints can have a way of sending us back to the Word of God to re-evaluate our position and to make sure that Scripture really supports it. Anything that leads us to spend more time in the Bible isn’t a bad thing, is it?

What concerned me about this specific comment wasn’t the fact that it criticized my conclusions, it was the reason the person gave for disagreeing. Apparently, this individual had heard a Bible teacher speak about this particular passage of Scripture on Television. The conclusions reached, according to the writer of the comment, were significantly different from what I was sharing in the article. Rather than offering Biblical support for these conclusions or citing corroborating passages, the only basis for accepting the interpretation seemed to lie in the identity and credentials of the man on the T.V. Program.

A Matter Of Authority

There is a great deal of overemphasis placed in the credentials and identity of individuals when it comes to Bible teaching and preaching. I remember browsing through a website a few years ago that advertised openings for pastoral positions in various churches across the country. It amazed me how many listings put the educational requirements first and foremost in their posting. “Must have a Doctorate in Theology or Pastoral Studies” was at the very top of a great many of the advertisements. Now, it is understandable that a church would not want to install a novice, ignorant of the Word of God, into their leadership, but it struck me as ironic that qualifications such as “must be of sound moral character”, or “must exhibit Christian virtues in their daily life” were listed at the bottom of the posting more often than not. It was almost as if these attributes were an afterhought! The most relevant credentials, in the minds of many of these church boards, had more to do with where a pastoral candidate attended school than the spiritual guidance he would bring to their congregation.

It seems that many people would rather put their trust entirely in the educational and experiential background of another person than evaluate their message against the Word of God. If a Bible teacher is famous enough, or has the right academic degree, then they are ready to unquestioningly accept any and all teachings that the person gives. But such a practice is never taught nor commended in the Bible itself. If anyone in Scripture had the authority to rest on His credentials, it would have been the Lord Jesus. Yet even He never urged anyone to accept His teachings uncritically, but frequently backed up His Message with references to the Old Testament (e.g., Mark 12:10, 12:24, Luke 24:27, 24:44, John 5:39). Luke describes the people of Berea in the Book of Acts as “noble” because they not only accepted the teachings of the Apostle Paul with an open mind, but because they “searched the Scriptures daily” in order to verify whether or not what he was teaching was Biblically sound (Acts 17:11). (more…)

June 18, 2011

From the Mind of Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias is one of the leading voices in the field of Christian apologetics, and an author of many significant books on the subject.  RZIM, his organization is based in Atlanta, Georgia; and he has a daily radio program heard throughout Canada and the United States.  These are in somewhat random order; so take a minute to pause between them; feel free to comment if one especially strikes you.


“We experience emptiness not when we are wearied by our trials, but when we are wearied by our happiness.”


“A man rejects God neither because of intellectual demands nor because of the scarcity of evidence. A man rejects God because of a moral resistance that refuses to admit his need for God.”


“One of the most staggering truths of the Scriptures is to understand that we do not earn our way to heaven. …works have a place–but as a demonstration of having received God’s forgiveness, not as a badge of merit of having earned it.”


“I do not believe that one can earnestly seek and find the priceless treasure of God’s call without a devout prayer life. That is where God speaks. The purpose of prayer and of God’s call in your life is not to make you number one in the world’s eyes, but to make him number one in your life. We must be willing to be outshone while shining for God. We hear very little about being smaller in our own self-estimate.”


“Philosophically, you can believe anything, so long as you do not claim it to be true.
Morally you can practice anything, so long as you do not claim that it is a ‘better’ way.
Religiously, you can hold to anything, so long as you do not bring Jesus Christ in to it.”


“There is no greater discovery than seeing God as the author of your destiny.”


“These days its not just that the line between right and wrong has been made unclear, today Christians are being asked by our culture today to erase the lines and move the fences, and if that were not bad enough, we are being asked to join in the celebration cry by those who have thrown off the restraints religion had imposed upon them. It is not just that they ask we accept, but they now demand of us to celebrate it too.”


“I think the reason we sometimes have the false sense that God is so far away is because that is where we have put him. We have kept him at a distance, and then when we are in need and call on him in prayer, we wonder where he is. He is exactly where we left him.”


“You cannot really have the world and hold on to it. It is all too temporary and the more you try to hold on to it, the more it actually holds you. By contrast, the more you hold on to the true and the good, the more you are free to really live.”


“Where the eye is focused, there the imagination finds its raw material. The right focus must be won at immense cost and discipline. Train the eye to see the good, and the imagination will follow suit.”


“It is theoretically and practically impossible to build any community apart from love and justice. If only one of these two is focused upon, an inevitable extremism and perversion follow.”


“It is a mindless philosophy that assumes that one’s private beliefs have nothing to do with public office. Does it make sense to entrust those who are immoral in private with the power to determine the nation’s moral issues and, indeed, its destiny? …. The duplicitous soul of a leader can only make a nation more sophisticated in evil.”


“Anyone who claims that all religions are the same betrays not only an ignorance of all religions but also a caricatured view of even the best-known ones. Every religion at its core is exclusive.”


“God is the shaper of your heart. God does not display his work in abstract terms. He prefers the concrete, and this means that at the end of your life one of three things will happen to your heart: it will grow hard, it will be broken, or it will be tender. Nobody escapes.”


“The tragedy is that just when we need to remember the most because we have climbed some pinnacle of blessing and success- that’s when the tendency is to turn our back upon God.


Sources:

Good QuotesQuotation Collection, Christian QuotesLiberty Tree, Christian Apologetics Forum, Just My Thoughts, Simply Quotastic

This is an awesome exercise to do.  If there are any authors or speakers you’d like me to research, let me know, but I encourage you to do this sort of thing yourselves as well.

October 29, 2010

The Devotional Ministry of Selwyn Hughes

I grew up with the Our Daily Bread devotionals, but many years ago, I discovered the devotional booklets Every Day With Jesus by the late Selwyn Hughes.   The advantage to these books is that you are studying a single subject for 60 days.   Can’t remember what you read earlier this morning?   Maybe a more focused study like this is the answer.

EDWJ is distributed in most countries of the world, but is relatively unknown in the U.S.  Probably this is because there are so many free devotional books in the States, whereas CWR (Crusade for World Revival) in England, the publisher of EDWJ charges for the booklets, and it’s not cheap.  ($5.50 in Canada through bookstores from David C. Cook.)   However, they do publish annual collections under various titles, and you can still find some of the ones Broadman & Holman published in the U.S.

Here are some samples of Hughes’ writing:


Seeing Life Whole

For reading & meditation: 1 Peter 3:13-22
“‘ Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have ‘” (v.15)

As Christians we ought never to forget that the message of the Bible is addressed primarily to the understanding; it enables us to understand life. Because of the Bible, we are able to give a reason for the hope that is within us. The psalmist found the truth of this. In the sanctuary he discovered an explanation for the way that he felt. He was not given a temporary lift that would stay with him for a few hours or a few days – he was given a solution that would stay with him for the rest of his life.

It was this, in fact, that caused him to write the psalm we are focusing upon day by day. The words: “Then I understood their final destiny” (Psa. 73:17) suggest that previously he had not been thinking correctly. He had been seeing things from a partial and incomplete perspective, but now “in the sanctuary” he began to see the whole picture: “Then I understood”. When? Then – when he came into the sanctuary. There is a line in one of Matthew Arnold’s writings that goes like this: “Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole.” What a delightful phrase this is. Nothing can be more wonderful than to see life steadily and to see it whole.

Much of the inner turmoil we go through in life comes about because we do not see life as a whole. Prejudice has been defined as “seeing only what you want to see”. People who are prejudiced say: “I have always seen it that way.” That’s their problem – their eyes are fixed on just one facet of an issue and they will not allow themselves to look at the other sides.

Restoring The Image

For reading & meditation: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
“May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v.23)

We continue meditating on the importance of looking at life “steadily and whole”. I venture to suggest that people who are not Christians are unable to see life as a whole. How can they, when their thinking takes place only on the level of the natural? Natural thinking is notoriously partial and incomplete.

Take, for example, the field of medicine. A generation ago doctors treated the symptoms that people presented to them, but now, with a clearer understanding of how the mind affects physical health, they have come to see that this approach was partial. One doctor said: “At long last the medical profession has discovered that the patient himself is important.” Medicine is fast moving towards what is described as a “holistic” approach as more and more doctors begin to realize that it is not enough to treat the problem, we must also treat the person.

They are still far from seeing that there is also a spiritual element in the person that has to be considered, but perhaps in time that will come. Christian counselling suffers from the same problem – it does not see the whole picture. I am tired of reading books on Christian counselling that give just one side of the issue and suggest that problems can be resolved by applying one special technique.

Man was created as a whole person and he will never be helped back to wholeness unless every part of his being is treated – spirit, soul and body. God wants to restore His image in us: not in part of us but in the whole.

No Need for Dead Reckoning

For reading & meditation: Acts 26:1-18
“I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” (v.9)

The place where we can see life as a whole is in the sanctuary of God, or, if you prefer, in the presence of God. There we are reminded of things we have forgotten or ignored. See how the Good News Bible translates Acts 26:9: “I myself thought that I should do everything I could against the cause of Jesus of Nazareth.” Here you see the root of Paul’s problem: “I myself thought”. And is not that the underlying cause of many of our problems too? We say, “I myself thought ‘” instead of asking: “What does God think?”

Sometimes sailors will attempt to establish the position of their ships by estimating the distance and direction they have traveled, rather than by astronomical observation. This is called “dead reckoning”. It is sometimes necessary in foul weather but it is fraught with peril. One mariner has said: “Undue trust in the dead reckoning has produced more disastrous shipwrecks of seaworthy ships than all other causes put together.”

There are people who attempt the voyage of life by dead reckoning, but there is no need. God has charted the map for us with loving care in the Scriptures, and our plain duty is to study the chart so that we might become better acquainted with His purposes and His ways. For the better we know the Scriptures, the better we will know God. We cannot ignore the facts of history or science – they help – but if our perspective is not drawn from the Scriptures it will lead us astray. We must not rely on dead reckoning but on divine reckoning.

What the Scripture Says

For reading & meditation: Matthew 22:23-33
“Jesus replied, You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (v.29)

We spend one more day considering the proposition that apart from a relationship with God and an understanding of the Scriptures, we are unable to see life as a whole. The man or woman who knows and understands the Bible will be acquainted with the facts he or she needs to have in order to come to right and sound conclusions.

So immerse yourself in the Scriptures. Understand that human nature is corrupt and that apart from the grace and power of God men and women are unable to live up to their ideals. Realize that the spiritual is more powerful than the material, and unless the spirit is in control we will be driven by carnal desires. When people say humanity is getting better and that sin and evil are just the “growing pains” of the human race – what are the facts? You get them from the Scriptures and only from the Scriptures. What does the Bible tell us about evil? It says it is part of the human condition and can never be rooted out except through the power and the grace of God.

So study the facts of Scripture. Read them, memorize them, and meditate upon them. When next you feel dispirited because you cannot make sense of something, ask yourself: What are the facts? Dig into the Scriptures and draw your perspective from what the Bible says. The root of many of our emotional problems lies in a lack of clear thinking – clear thinking based on Scripture. Think as God thinks about issues and you will feel as God feels about them. For you are not what you think you are, but what you think you are.

These readings are from the archives for March 1 – 4 this year.  You can link to them through this page, which offers current readings. For the record, I remained a EDWJ subscriber for 18 years.