Christianity 201

September 30, 2018

We are the Church: A Liturgy of Eccesiology

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Ruth Wilkinson

Each of our individual stories is only a part of one huge story.
The story of God working in the world.

We are the Church.
We share our history with generations of
imperfect, faithful men and women,
like ourselves.

One body and one Spirit,
one hope, one Lord,
one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all.

We remember the days of old;
we reflect on all He has done.

[Leader: Our next two songs were chosen for this service by some of the eldest and the youngest people in our congregation. Not because they represent our future and our past, but because they represent our present – who we are right now.
Experience and energy.
Wisdom and hope.
And everyone in between.]

We are the Church.
We share His life today.

Shining our light among the people we meet, so they might see our Father in heaven.

Making the most of our time here, in these difficult days.

He puts a new hymn of praise in our mouths. Many will see and put their trust in the Lord.

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.

And remember, I am with you always,
to the end of the age.” ~ Matthew 28

We are the Church.
We share an endless future.

Tomorrow, next year, time without end.
Living in His light and His sanctuary alone.

Beyond death, and grief, and pain.
Beyond these bodies and at home with the Lord.

Reigning forever and ever in the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world.

And singing with the angels…


We are God’s people, the chosen of the Lord,
Born of His Spirit, established by His Word;
Our cornerstone is Christ alone, and strong in Him we stand:
O Let us live transparently, and walk heart to heart and hand in hand.

We are God’s loved ones, the Bride of Christ our Lord,
For we have know it, the love of God out-poured;
Now let us learn how to return the gift of love once given:
O Let us share each joy and care, and live with a zeal that pleases Heaven.

We are the Body of which the Lord is Head,
Called to obey Him, now risen from the dead;
He wills us be a family, diverse yet truly one:
O Let us give our gifts to God, and so shall His work on earth be done.

We are a temple, the Spirit’s dwelling place,
Formed in great weakness, a cup to hold God’s grace;
We die alone, for on its own each ember loses fire:
Yet joined in one the flame burns on to give warmth and light, and to inspire.

Words by Brian Jeffery Leech, 1976
Music by Johannes Brahms, 1877, Tune: Symphony

July 12, 2018

Big Renovations (Part 2: The Church)

In today’s devotional study, Pastor Clarke Dixon wrote from a specifically Canadian context. I’ve taken the liberty of generalizing his message for our readership here, because the principles certainly apply broadly. However, if you prefer to read the original, click this link.

by Clarke Dixon

We might think that the best days are in the past for the Church… Christianity seems to exert less influence. In many churches Sunday Schools which were once full are now mostly empty. Many churches feel like run down houses which have seen better days.

In the previous post we considered Haggai’s message for those who looked back at the glory days of the temple which could be summed up as “take courage . . . work”. God’s house had been destroyed, but in Haggai’s day rebuilding had begun then halted. However, the run down house can be renovated! Take courage and work!

We also considered that God no longer takes up residence in a temple building, but somewhere far more exciting for us:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NRSV)

If we are God’s temple individually, then how much more are we the place of God’s residence collectively? What does “take courage . . . work” look like for us today as the Church? What does the renovation of the Church look like?

The building and rebuilding of the Church can be summed up in two words; disciple making.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

But what about opposition to Christianity today? Renovations may seem daunting in the face of societal changes. Temple building was a daunting task in Haggai’s day as there had been opposition to the rebuilding in the years previous. However, with a new Persian king amenable to the task, there was really now nothing stopping them from moving forward. While we may feel an opposition to Christianity here in our day, there really is nothing stopping us from moving ahead! Yes, there is a movement to take Christianity out of the public sphere. But we do not need the Lord’s prayer to be prayed in schools for God to be answering our prayers. Yes, there is a movement away from Christian values. But we don’t need laws against sharing recreational marijuana to share God’s love in Christ. We don’t need society to make discipleship or evangelism easy. What we need is courage. “Take courage . . .work”.

We have the same reasons for courage as the people of Haggai’s day; God is present, God’s promises stand:

Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. Haggai 2:45 (NRSV emphasis added)

Plus, the day of God’s glory is coming:

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.  I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.  ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty.  ‘And in this place I will grant peace, ’ declares the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 2:6-9 (NIV emphasis added)

Do you see the best days of the Church as being ahead? If not, perhaps you are too busy looking behind. Don’t look back at the glory days of the Church, move forward into God’s glory.



Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. (I also got to hear this sermon preached live at Clarke’s church!)

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (30 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

January 25, 2018

Redefining Family

by Clarke Dixon

Who feels more like “family” to you, the family you were adopted or born into, or a group of friends? There was an article some time ago which lamented the breakdown of the family. Though I don’t remember much about the article, the author looked at how tv shows were helping to redefine family with “Friends” leading the way.  Many shows portray one’s family members as the last people you would go to for empathy or understanding. However, one’s friends are portrayed as always being there for love and support. With family being redefined in our day how are we supposed to define family? Jesus tells us in Mark 3, and you may be surprised:

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:31-35

Considering the importance placed on family in Old Testament law, Jesus’ redefinition of family was shocking to the people of that day. It may be just as shocking today. We may find ourselves asking if Jesus should have been a better Christian and taken the opportunity to affirm the importance of family. Instead he redefines his family as those who do the will of God. What are we to make of this?

First, Jesus redefinition of family as those who do God’s will is good news for those with no family, or whose family has abdicated their role. You might lose out on the ideal family, but you never need lose out on a family. This, of course, speaks to the nature of the Church. If one’s experience of church is to just show up, sing a few songs, hear a sermon and go home, then we are missing out on part of what God’s will for the church is. Reading the New Testament, you never get the sense that people just went to church. You get the sense that they are the church, in relationship with God and with each other. While some churches practically demand a quiet sanctuary prior to worship as a sign of reverence, I pastor a very noisy church. I prefer to look at the positive side of this and celebrate the fact that people are relating to each other. Many churches, including ours, are known as being friendly. However, churches need to go beyond just being friendly, to being family.

Second, Jesus’ redefinition of family is good news for world peace. We have family everywhere, and that family transcends political, racial and language boundaries. Moving from Ottawa I do not miss city life. I do, however, miss the diversity we enjoyed at Fourth Avenue Baptist. Each Sunday I could look around and see people from Jamaica, Russia, Iran, England, Northern Ireland, Haiti, Benin, and often other nations besides. My favourite Sundays were the combined services with a primarily Congolese church. We would worship in up to four different languages with our love for decorum before God Almighty mixing wonderfully with their excitement about Jesus. One is reminded of what’s ahead:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb . . .  Revelation 7:9

Third, Jesus’ redefinition of family is not a rejection of our genetic family, but a call to enter into it with passion. When someone does the will of God as the brother or sister of Jesus, it is good news for one’s family. What is the will of God within family life? We can think of specific instructions for a wife to “respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:3), and for husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Such sacrificial love and mutual respect is good for family life. We can think of instructions for children to “obey your parents” (Ephesians 6:1), and for parents to not “provoke your children to anger” (Ephesians 6:4). Many other passages pointing to God’s will for us are beneficial for family life also. Like, “love one another” (John 13:34), and “do to others you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31). Those things work well in family. Also “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), and “Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4). Sobriety and faithfulness are always good for family. And one more on God’s will:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Many a dysfunctional family could use more justice, kindness and members who walk humbly with God. Far from a call to renounce family, God’s will is that we do family well.

Finally, Jesus’ redefinition of family points forward to the wonderful possibility of being God’s child. You may say, “But Pastor, I try to do God’s will and find it impossible to always do it. I always mess up at some point”. Keep reading the Gospel of Mark until you get to that place where Jesus prayed “remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36). God’s will was that in Jesus’ death and resurrection death should be defeated and we would be reconciled to God. Jesus did the will of the Father and now we have the wonderful opportunity of being adopted into His family, not because of our perfection in keeping His will, but because of His.

Should we be surprised that Jesus redefines family? We should not be surprised for it is an act of love and grace. God calls us into a new kind of family, then calls us and enables us to do His will within our family of origin.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

Listen to the audio of Redefining Family at this link.

December 4, 2017

Identifying The Spots and Wrinkles

When He cometh, when He cometh,
To make up His jewels,
All His jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own

Like the stars of the morning,
His bright crown adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty,
Bright gems for His crown.

– William Cushing, 1856


Do you hear them coming, brother?—
Thronging up the steeps of light,
Clad in glorious shining garments,
Blood-washed garments, pure and white

’Tis a glorious church without spot or wrinkle,
Washed in the blood of the Lamb;
’Tis a glorious church without spot or wrinkle,
Washed in the blood of the Lamb.

– Ralph Hudson, 1892


Today we’re back with Patrick Hawthorne who blogs at Serving Grace Ministries. Click the title below to read it at source (with comments) and then click “author’s blog page” to view other articles.

Has the Separation Begun?

A passage that has always troubled me is Ephesians 5:27 which reads,

“…that He (Jesus) might present her (the Church) to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

While the “what” of the verse is self-explanatory, the “how,” of the verse is not.  How will the Church – the Body of Christ Jesus – be without spot or blemish?  It’s obvious that the Church has some serious issues that need dealing with, but how will the Lord deal with these issues prior to His return?

Lately, the Lord has been revealing things to me about the Church so that I might pray more effectively.  One way was through a vision while in prayer, A Body Out of Alignment. Another way was through the Word, Storm On the Horizon. This latest has come through a conversation with my mom.  As a side note, never discount nor limit the way in which the Holy Spirit may speak to you.

As I was speaking with my mother about this burden to pray and write concerning the Church she said to me, and I paraphrase, “Did you know that the spots and blemishes of the Church are people?”  Of course I asked her to explain.  “Yes,” she said, “Look at 2 Peter 2:13 and you will see that the spots and blemishes are those within the Church who appear to be part of the Body but practice wickedness and deception.”  Naturally, my curiosity was peaked.

At the first opportune moment I went to those verses.  Sure enough 2 Peter 2:12-13 read,

“But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, 13 and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you,

(2 Peter 2:12-13 NKJV underline mine).

The spots and blemishes written of are church members.  These are they who live two lives; one life is in the church and the other is in the world. Suddenly things were making sense.

As I previously wrote, I believe we are in the season of the last of the last days.  I don’t know how much longer till Jesus returns but all indications reveal that we are close.  Could it be that the prophecy of Malachi 3:16-18 may occur prior to His return?  Could it be that the separation of the wheat from the tares within the Church has already begun?  Maybe… Be blessed.

Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name.17 “They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels.  And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.”18 Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.  (Malachi 3:16-18 NKJV underline mine)


Lyrics for When He Cometh and ‘Tis a Glorious Church from TimelessTruths.org

October 12, 2017

Grateful for the Christian Church?

Because Thanksgiving has already happened in Canada, our U.S. readers can consider this an early Thanksgiving article for them!

by Clarke Dixon

As people gathered around the Thanksgiving turkey with thanksgiving reflections, how many said something like “thank you Lord, for Christians”? It feels like right now, many would echo the thoughts of Gandhi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.” Do we, who call ourselves Christian, inspire gratitude? Are people grateful for the Christian Church? If you are a Christian reading this, are people grateful for you? You may wonder why I am sticking to the series from Romans for Thanksgiving Sunday. Read on, there is a connection!

8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:8-10 (NRSV)

As far as I know, people upon discovering their spouse is in an adulterous affair don’t say “thank you, Lord!”. Nor if they discover their family member is a murderer do they say “thank God for that.” And so on. People, whether religious or not, have gratitude when their loved ones  are righteous. Paul fleshes out for us in Romans 13 the kind of life that inspires gratitude.

A life full of love inspires gratitude: “love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”. Love naturally inclines us toward the righteousness that people are thankful for when they experience it from their loved ones. When we learn to love, we do not even need the law. One who holds to a high standard of love does not need rules saying “do not commit adultery”, “do not steal”, and so on. He or she would not want to. When I am driving my wife’s van on the highway, I need the occasional sign to remind me of the rule “thou shalt not drive faster than 100 km/h”. It is easy to speed when you have a smooth ride and a 3.6 litre V6 engine. When I ride my motorcycle, I need neither the signs, nor the rule. Having an engine smaller than your average lawn mower, it is “out-of-character” for my Honda 125 to go any faster. When we are so filled with the love and presence of God that His love is overflowing from us, we don’t need the rules to keep us from hurting people. Hurting others is out of character for a loving person. Doing anything but being helpful to others is out of character for the loving person. Keep in mind we are not talking about the “I love what you do for me” kind of love, but the Jesus-going-to-the-cross-for-people-who-do-not-deserve-it kind of love. It is a decisive, sacrificial, other benefitting kind of love.

Are we learning that kind of love that inspires gratitude? If people are not generally thankful for Christians, perhaps we Christians are not loving like we can and should?

Paul continues:

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:11-14 (NRSV)

A life full of light inspires gratitude. To give a loose paraphrase of verse 11, “do this love thing we just spoke of, knowing the age we are in, the age of light breaking in on the darkness”. There is a progression in the Bible from God saying “let there be light” through spiritual darkness beginning with Adam and Eve, through Israel called to be a light to the nations but often having trouble finding the switch, to Jesus being the true light in ways Israel never could. John calls Jesus, the “true light, which enlightens everyone” (John 1:9 NRSV). With Christ a new day has dawned and the darkness is receding. We are called to wake up and live in that new day. We are called to live as those belonging to the Kingdom of light, and not those who live according to the old empire of darkness.

The metaphor of waking up continues with the command to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” when we get dressed. In other words, when people see us, when they see what we put on in the morning, they will see Jesus. Here is also a reminder that it is not about our efforts. It is about God’s continual presence with us.

Let us be reminded of Paul’s original appeal:

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NRSV)

People don’t like it when we are not conformed to this world. But when we are full of love, when we are full of light, the people close to us are grateful. If our nation is not particularly grateful for the Christian Church, then perhaps it is time for us to wake up and put on Christ. Are you up and dressed yet?

Read more at clarkdixon.wordpress.com

 

September 28, 2017

The Leaven and the Loaf

We continue our midweek series looking at a few of the Kingdom parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard or thought. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

The Leaven and the Loaf

“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Matthew 13:33

This is the final brief parable that sums up to the crowd the picture given by Jesus of the kingdom of heaven so far. It is also known as the parable of “The Yeast”, and is often understood as the yeast being a picture of the spread of the goodness of God throughout the world, but it is more likely the complete opposite.

Yeast in Scripture is a consistent picture of evil. From the time of the Passover when God brought Israel out of Egypt, bread eaten in celebration of God’s goodness was to be without yeast. Jesus speaks of the “yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees”, which the disciples understood Him to mean guarding against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6 & 12). Paul exhorted the Corinthian church, “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast… not with the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

If yeast is consistently used to depict evil in Scripture, this parable is unlikely to be an exception. It is not that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast, but that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast mixed into a large amount of flour until it works through the dough. It is the whole picture, all of the dough that is likened to the kingdom of heaven. Evil is contagious; righteousness is not. Cleanliness does not spread; dirt does. The yeast permeates to every part of the dough, which is why we are not given hope on earth of perfection in our personal lives or in the corporate life of the church. As long as we live within a fallen environment we are vulnerable to contamination by sin and subject to failure. Only in heaven is there the prospect of being free from the contamination of sin.

This is not to put a pessimistic view of the kingdom of heaven in its expression on earth, but to be utterly realistic as history and contemporary experience have served to confirm.

This is the view of the kingdom given to the crowds. It is the perspective from outside the kingdom and is neither attractive nor appealing. It is unlikely to be held up as the ideal of society, and will not draw people in its natural state. There will always be reason to criticize and disregard it, which is how the kingdom of God is seen by the world at large.

PRAYER: : I pray for the world, Lord, and ask for a deeper work of Your Spirit so that Your goodness prevails over evil, both in our lives and in the church. Thank You, Lord.

September 20, 2017

The Mustard Seed

We continue our September Wednesday series looking at a few of the Kingdom parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard or thought. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

The Mustard Seed

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.” Matthew 13:31

Though the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, “so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” Jesus gives no explanation of this parable, so we must tread carefully. If we remain consistent in our interpretation with the first two parables, which also include a sower sowing seed in a field, then it is a picture of the Son of Man sowing seed into the world, but this time specified as mustard seed.

The popular interpretation is that the kingdom grows from humble beginnings into something good and great, which provides a refuge for the birds. This is not a proper understanding. The key to this parable is in the seed being specifically stated as mustard seed. Mustard is a herb and not a tree. It normally grows to about four feet and would not be a place you would expect to find a bird’s nest. This is not a picture of natural growth but of something unnatural, portraying a false greatness. The birds nesting in the branches are not something good, but evil. In the first parable, the birds came and ate up the seed on the path. Jesus described them as representing “the evil one”.

There is a similar image in a vision given to the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, in which a tree, representing himself, grows large and strong, “with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth… and having nesting places in its branches for the birds of the air” (Daniel 4:20-21). The tree demonstrated Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogance, and in due time, a messenger of God came and chopped the tree down and Nebuchadnezzar was greatly humbled and reduced to poverty.

It would seem what Jesus is saying here is that instead of being characterized by humility and gentleness, the kingdom of heaven in its manifestation on earth has become rich, powerful and, in some instances, authoritative and arrogant. Its strategies are in danger of not deriving from obedience to Jesus Christ, dependency on the Holy Spirit and child-like trust in a heavenly Father, but from marketing tactics, high profiled publicity, public relations expertise and the attempt to woo others with our bigness and noise. It has become a nesting place for the birds!

This parable does not teach the failure of the church as a manifestation of the kingdom of God, but it does predict its distortion and corruption, which history and current experiences have shown to be true. This is how those outside of Christ will perceive the kingdom of God in our world today.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, grant me a humbled heart that remains in submission to You, and keep me from falling prey to arrogance in those who falsely represent Your kingdom. Thank You, Lord.

 

October 18, 2015

The New Community

Yesterday’s reading was quite long; today I want to give you more time to look at it. So we have a reading and a few notes from commentaries at BibleGateway.com

Ephesians 1:17-23 New International Version (NIV)

17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[a] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

If you wanted to just stop there and read this passage just one more time (out loud is even better) that’s fine, otherwise here are some supplementary notes on this passage.

  • The Reformation Study Bible gives us a good introduction:

First, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in believers (2:4, 5; 3:16, 17). Second, Christ enjoys His position as head over everything for the sake of the church. Not only is Christ at the most exalted position in the universe, He is there representing believers (2:6; Col. 3:3) and governing the universe for their sake. The principles of conduct in Ephesians emphasize that authority exists for the sake of service.

  • The Encyclopedia of the Bible on what is meant by the phrase “the church”:

In 1 Corinthians and Romans the phrase indicates the local church, and emphasizes the unity of its members and their harmonious working together according to the varying functions God has assigned by His Spirit to each (Rom 12:4-8; 1 Cor 12:4-31). Paul does not think of Christ as head of the body in these epistles (1 Cor 12:21). In Paul’s later letters, Ephesians and Colossians, reference is to the universal Church, of which Christ is the head (Eph 1:22, 23; 4:15, 16; 5:23; Col 1:18; 2:19). Each member is related to Christ as the directing, controlling center. The unity emphasized in Ephesians is that of Jew and Gentile in the one body (Eph 2:11-16; 3:6; 4:4) while in Colossians the unity of the whole cosmos under Christ’s headship is in view (Col 1:16-19; 2:10).

The origin of Paul’s thought of the Church as the body of Christ has been sought in four fields: (1) the communal participation in the communion bread, as suggested by 1 Corinthians 10:16, 17; (2) the Stoic description of an ecclesia, a public meeting, as a united body composed of different independent persons; (3) the meaning of the “corporate personality” of Israel in the OT, as in the figure of the vine (Ps 80:8); (4) the close identification of Christ with Christians, as for example in their sufferings (Acts 9:4, 5; Col 1:24).

Some regard the phrase as indicating that the Church is the extension of the incarnation, but it is better understood metaphorically, signifying the unity of believers in the Church, a unity which depends upon Christ.

  • Finally, an excerpt from The Asbury Bible Commentary:

Vv. 20b-22a are creedal in regard to the present role of the risen Son, although they also demonstrate the scope of divine power. Not only did the Father raise the Son from death, but he made him co-regent, with authority far above all [human] rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given on earth. Jesus has authority and dominion both now and in the age to come. Furthermore, God gave Jesus supremacy over all creation (cf. 1Co 15:28) and gave him to the church, his body, as its supreme Head.

Here, then, is the new community, the called-out ones (ekklesia), from both Judaism and paganism that now constitute the church. By divine power and appointment Christ now presides over the church the fullness [or complement] of him who fills everything and provides all spiritual vitality. The fulfillment of the Father’s purpose for the Son is his lordship over the church. Jesus, who fills the whole universe with his presence and governs the entire creation with his given authority, finds his completion as Head of the body, the church. A head without a body is incomplete. As the body renders the head complete, so the church fulfills God’s purpose for Christ.


Footnotes:

  1. Ephesians 1:17 Or a spirit

If there are any passages you would like to see covered here, feel free to write.

 

January 17, 2014

The Breadth of God’s Love

Exodus 20: 5 …for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

I Chr. 16:15 He remembers his covenant forever,
the promise he made, for a thousand generations

Ps. 33:11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
the purposes of his heart through all generations.

Ps. 100:4 …  give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Eph 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Do you seek the key word in the above scripture selections?

The word is “generations,” and while God’s promises definitely extend back to the beginning of time, in many songs and sermons there is a thought of looking forward to the promise of God’s love extended to those who will follow us. In other words, His promises applied to our ancestors and will apply to our descendants, if he waits (or tarries) in wrapping up the present age of salvation by grace.  The writer of Hebrews reminds us that He is the same, yesterday, today and forever and that consistency of character is also a consistency of promises. We are part of a family that extends over all of time as we know it.

The other theme which occurs frequently is “the nations,” and also forms the theme of many worship choruses and much preaching these days as technology and travel makes the world smaller and makes the prospect of reaching the widest part of the planet becomes so much more conceivable.

Isaiah 51:5 My righteousness draws near speedily,
my salvation is on the way,
and my arm will bring justice to the nations.

Isaiah 52:10 The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.

Ezekiel 39:21 “I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay on them…”

Matthew 12:18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
21     In his name the nations will put their hope
(Matthew citing Isaiah 42)

Rev. 15:3 …“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations

In Acts 10, Peter is given a vision prior to his meeting with Cornelius which begins the widening of God’s salvation to people regardless of their membership in ethnic Israel.  He says,

34 … “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right…”

To show the importance of this story, Luke, the author of Acts, repeats the whole thing again in Acts 11.

Paul repeats this when he says,

I Cor 12:13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

and again,

27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

We could add to verse 28, “there is neither people in this nation, nor people in that nation; people who lived then, nor people who live now or in the days to come.

The generations. The nations. This is the breadth of God’s love: No limit, never ending.

The song that follows is nearly 7-minutes long, but if you listen, watch for the line,

People from every nation and tongue
From generation to generation,
We worship you…

January 25, 2013

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit Continue Today

One of the joys of producing this rather unique approach to devotional reading is that we get to include material from a broad range of doctrinal viewpoints while at the same time insuring that our readers don’t get liberal theology mixed in Evangelical teaching.  Today is no exception.  The view expressed here on the continuing work of the Holy Spirit — the side to which I am somewhat inclined — stands in contrast to the cessationist view that says the supernatural gifts of the Spirit ceased at the end of the apostolic age.

I encourage you to read this at source. You’re somewhat on your own today for scripture look-ups; I recommend Bible Gateway.  The post is from Scott at The Prodigal Thought and is titled Seven Reasons The Gifts of the Holy Spirit Continue Today.

I am one who unashamedly believes that God still speaks today. You can call me charismatic. Or you can identify me by the more politically-correct theological term known as continuationism. But I believe God still speaks-reveals-communicates today, as he always has done and will continue into the age to come.

Why would I believe such?

I list 7 reasons below:

1) God is an actual living, personal being

Almost every Christian would uphold this statement. And, so, one would only expect a living, personal being to be a communicator, a speaker. I am not sure I need to quote a lot of proof texts (though I could). But it is simply a theological deduction from reading the entirety of Scripture.

Living, personal beings are communicators in so many ways. And so, why would we expect anything less from the eternal personal being? Thus, he will continue to communicate, speak, reveal, unveil, illuminate, until all things are completed. Well, and then he will keep speaking even after all things have been renewed in Christ!

2) Christ is the charismatic prophet and his body is to follow

When I use the word charismatic, I mean it in the sense that Roger Stronstad defined it in his work, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke:

I use the term “charismatic” in a functional and dynamic sense. By “charismatic” I mean God’s gift of His Spirit to His servants, either individually or collectively, to anoint, empower, or inspire them for divine service. (p13)

And, as the living Word, Christ was the greatest prophet to ever exist. Yes, greater than Moses or Isaiah or Jeremiah. There has been none like him who spoke and revealed the Father as he did.

Therefore, if Christ is the great charismatic prophet, then by nature, his body is to follow in those same footsteps. The body follows the head. It’s part and parcel to our calling in Christ. It doesn’t mean that everyone is particularly marked out as a prophet today. Of course not. But, via the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and empowering, Christ expects his body to get on with completing that which he initiated. Christ is still continuing that which he began to do and teach (Acts 1:1). Thus, we are now not only a priesthood of all believers, but also a prophethood of all believers.

3) The Spirit continues the same work of Christ

This really connects with the former point, but it’s the Spirit who continues the work of Christ. It is he that comes to empower the people of God, all that we might be vehicles by which Christ continues his work. I know this sounds like the A, B, C’s of pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit), but the charismatic Christ sent the charismatic Spirit to gift the charismatic ekklesia-church. One cannot get away from the reality that the work Christ began so long ago was to continue through the current age.

4) The positive affirmation in Scripture that such gifts would continue

I share much more here, but suffice it to say that there are actual Scripture passages that teach such works and gifts would continue. In the article I have linked to, I specifically take time to look at four positive Scriptural affirmations: John 14:12; Acts 2:17-18; 1 Corinthians 13:8-12; and Ephesians 4:11-16. There are plenty more one could look at and consider, but those are a very solid starting point as to specific passages.

5) Inaccurate interpretation from cessationists

There are the ‘usual suspects’ passages brought up by cessationists. These passages become pointers as to why certain gifts (or ‘sign gifts’) would cease once the full testimony of Christ and the gospel was completed in the New Testament canon. But that’s just it – Scripture actually doesn’t tell us to expect some gifts to cease.

Four very often quoted passages are 1 Corinthians 13:8-12; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 1:1-2; and Hebrews 2:3-4. I have spent some time considering these passages in this article, which you can click to read more thoughts if you’d like.

As a side point, it is also quite interesting to note that phrases like ‘word of the Lord’‘word of God’, or ‘word’ do not usually refer to the graphe or written Scripture. It can refer to such, but not normally. God’s word – not just that in the text of Scripture – was always being spoken, even if it wasn’t recorded in the canon of Scripture (e.g., 1 Sam 10:10-13 and 1 Tim 1:18-19). Again, it’s part and parcel to be a living, personal being that desires to communicate. Here are some other examples below where the above phrases do not refer to the written Scripture:

  • Word of God – Luke 3:2
  • Word of God – Acts 4:31
  • Word of God – Acts 6:7
  • Word of God – Acts 12:24
  • Word of the Lord – Acts 13:44, 48-49
  • Word of the Lord – Acts 19:20
  • Word of the Lord – 1 Thess 1:8
  • The are countless times the word ‘word’ arises and does not refer to Scripture

6) God spoke through those who were not prophets or apostles

Even if one wants to argue that apostles and prophets do not exist today, there are still plenty of examples of others who were used to speak forth prophecy or used in other extraordinary gifts. Here is a smattering from the New Testament:

  • Stephen (Acts 6:8)
  • Philip (Acts 8:4-7)
  • Ananias (Acts 9:17-18)
  • The 120 believers at Pentecost (Acts 2:4)
  • Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:46)
  • Agabus (Acts 11:37-38; 21:10-11) – he was not an apostle, but was a prophet
  • The Ephesian disciples (Acts 19:6)
  • The Galatian believers (Gal 3:5)
  • The Corinthian believers (1 Cor 14)

This should give courage to those of us who are not actually apostles or prophets (most of us!). God wants to utilise his people in such ‘charismatic’ activities since he has been doing such from the beginning.

7) The great testimony of the charismata in church history

I have already written on this topic before, which you can find here. But suffice it to say, there are plenty of examples of God, by his Spirit, speaking and acting out the charismata as found in 1 Corinthians 12.

And, a great resource to look at would be The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal by Vinson Synan. He takes time to chronicle what has happened over the past 100 years or so with the rise of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. In today’s world, it is estimated that there are some 500 million believers associating themselves within the Pentecostal, charismatic or neo-charismatic branches of the church. And the accounts of God’s activity by his Spirit continue on into the 21st century.

Also, another book I have been made aware of, but have not yet been able to read, is Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church by Ronald Kydd.

So, suffice it to say, I find it extremely hard to argue for the cessation, or ceasing, of certain gifts of the Spirit. For me, there is an overwhelming biblical, theological and historical positive case for the continuation of such.

~Scott Lencke

September 7, 2012

Unity is Not Uniformity

Joshua Rhone blogs at — wait for it — JoshuaRhone.com, where this post appeared recently as …

Uniformity vs. Unity

In the fourth chapter of his letter to the Ephesian church the apostle Paul writes,

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV)

I spend a lot of time thinking about the church; how the church is structured; and how the members of the body relate to one another. Over the last few years I have found Ephesians 4 to be inescapable, as it in some measure speaks to each of these things.

Recently, I have been particularly captivated by Paul’s understanding regarding the diversity that exists in the body of Christ (the church). Here, Paul identifies five unique ministries — apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher. Elsewhere, when Paul talks about the body, he goes into even greater detail regarding the uniqueness and variety that God has given to the members of his church.

In looking at this text on this occasion, I have little to no interest regarding the particularities of the ministries. All that matters insofar as I am concerned this evening is that there are multiple and diverse gifts that God gives to the body. He gives these gifts with the expressed intention that: 1) the body of Christ be built up and, 2) the body reach unity. The ultimate desire being a mature people who attain the full measure of Christ.

Where I would like us to focus our attention is on one small word: unity. God’s desire, at least so far as it is summarized by Paul, is that the church reach unity. Extend me the courtesy to say it again: God’s desire is that the church reach unity.

Say it with me, now: UNITY.

Not uniformity.

Unity.

They may not sound or seem all that different. In reality, however, the difference is huge. A uniform thing has an overall sameness. It is homogenous. Unity, by contrast, does not demand sameness. Rather, in unity different and diverse things come together in such a way that they are no longer divided, separated, and/or broken.

God’s desire for the church wasn’t a group of people who look and dress the same. God’s desire wasn’t even for the body to agree on everything. Rather, God’s desire was the the uniqueness and diversity that exists within the body lead to wholeness rather than brokenness.

Wholeness doesn’t come by being the same.

A lack of division doesn’t stem from everyone thinking the same thing.

Unity is the result of multiple and diverse members submitting to Christ and one another in and out of love. Unity comes as we seek not our own interests, but rather the interest of God and the well-being of one another.

The doctrine of the Trinity is the most beautiful and accurate depiction of this. One God. Three Persons. Perfect love. Mutual submission. Blessed Trinity.

~Joshua Rhone

Joshua could use your prayers right now, to learn more click here.

May 29, 2012

Good Old Fashioned Bible Study

I can remember in my younger days attending a youth Bible study in a friend’s basement where we literally wore out our Bibles looking up one scripture, and then another, and answering questions. Some of the study series from Navigators and Inter-Varsity are still like that today; but with modern technology, we get to wear out our mouse buttons instead of our Bibles. (If you missed out on this type of Bible study, today is your day!)

Perry Noble has been doing a series on his blog titled 5 Days in the Word based on the core values of their church. This was actually the final one which deals with the church, but you might want to complete all of them; you might especially like the 4th one which deals with spiritual formation.  (Click through to locate all five parts of this excellent series.)

I Can’t Do Life Alone

#1 – Read Hebrews 10:19-25 and answer the following…

  • Count the number of times the words “us” and “we” are used…with this in mind do you think God intended Christianity to be a solo or a team sport?
  • According to Hebrews 10:25…does God want His people meeting together on a consistant basis?

#2 – Some would argue that church is just not that big of a deal, with that in mind let’s work through the following verses…

  • Read Matthew 16:18…who did Jesus say the church belonged to?  (Follow up…if something belongs to Him is it important?)
  • Read Ephesians 1:22–who is the Head of the Church?  (Follow up…would Jesus really sit at the head of something that is unimportant?)
  • Read Ephesians 3:10–does Jesus want the church to “contain” or “proclaim” His message?
  • Read Ephesians 3:20-21–does Jesus have small or great plans for His church?
  • Read Colossians 1:18–once again, who is the Head of the church?
  • Read Revelation 22:16-21–what is the ONE ORGANIZATION that is still standing when everything else on earth has been destroyed (hint…the answer is in verse 16!)

#3 – In regards to taking this to a personal level…not only do we need church but we need godly men and women in our lives, Christian community, to take a deeper look at this look at the following verses…

  • Read John 13:34-35–how did Jesus say that His followers would be identified?
  • Read Romans 12:10–are we supposed to turn our backs on each other?  (Remember, this was written to people IN THE CHURCH!)
  • Read Ephesians 4:2–how are we supposed to treat one another?  (Once again, this was written to people IN THE CHURCH!)
  • Read Colossians 3:13–how are we supposed to treat others who have sinned against us?
  • Read I Thessalonians 5:11–who comes to mind when you read this verse…and what can you do today to follow through on what this verse commands?
  • Read James 5:16–is there anyone in your life that you feel you could do this with?

#4 – Read Matthew 26:36-39 and answer the following…

  • Did Jesus try to do life alone…or was He honest & vulnerable with those closest to Him?
  • As His followers are we called to do the same?

May 1, 2012

What Theologians Talk About: Grafted In

So when theologians and seminary academics get together, I somehow doubt they turn on the television to watch 30 Rock or The Voice.  And definitely not The Simpsons. Chances are it’s more like the item we chose to post here today.  Actually, this one is too long to post in full, even with a page break, so you must link; but even if you only get halfway through, it’s important to know that:

  1. There is still not consensus about the interpretation of every single Bible passage, even among Evangelicals,  however…
  2. We can learn a lot in the discovery process of looking at the Biblical evidence that supports different positions, and hearing the heart behind each commentary.
  3. We presently see through a glass darkly; we’re not all theologians…

For example, consider this passage in Romans:

NIV 11:17 If some of the branches have been broken off,  and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others  and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 

and this, earlier in Romans:

NIV9:6 It is not as though God’s word  had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.( Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children,  but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.

Questions arise

  • Are we grafted in to the promises given to Abraham and Old Testament Israel or are we grafted in to the church?
  • Is Israel the ethnic, national Israel or does it refer to a spiritual Israel?
  • Is there a relationship between the olive tree in Romans and John’s vine and branches narrative?
  • Biblically speaking, is every Jew an Israelite?
  • If Israel is in unbelief, how can we be grafted in to that?

Hey, I didn’t say this was easy.

Calvin L. Smith of King’s Evangelical Divinity School in the UK attempts to answer this. He posted his answers on February 12th.  He begins:

In Romans 11:17-24 the Apostle Paul likens Gentile believers to a wild olive shoot grafted into a cultivated olive tree.  The obvious question is, what is it that Gentiles are grafted into? Less obvious, it would appear from the widely differing interpretations, is the answer. Consequently there is considerable division among Christians over the relationship between the Church and Israel. This post explores this issue. It is rather lengthy (I do, eventually, get to an answer), but that’s because I’m often asked about this so it makes sense to post something with a little detail I can people them to…

Continue reading here…  Even if you only scan this or only dig deep into three or four paragraphs, there is value to this, because God’s word is living and active… and sometimes challenging.

HT: Living Journey


May 5, 2011

Marriage Re-Enacts a Larger Theme

Today’s post appeared on April 11th at the blog of Ohio pastor David Paul Dorr, where it appeared under the title Marriage Doesn’t.

Have you heard the phrase, “marriage isn’t supposed to make you happy, it’s to make you holy?”That sounds about as appealing as a punch in the face.

We say this with good intentions. When we make marriage about our personal happiness, then our well-being is a house built without a foundation. Whenever we don’t feel happy in our marriage we feel insecure about our decision. If we are REALLY unhappy, then we are convinced that the marriage should end.

So to counter this harmful view of marriage, we say marriage is more about character development, i.e. holiness. This means we can stick the marriage out, no matter how we feel. We say, “We might be miserable, but we are committed, and it all works out for the best because this is making me a better person.”

But that is still building on the wrong foundation. God didn’t give me a spouse for personal gratification or personal improvement. He gave me a spouse so I could be a storyteller. Our marriage’s purpose is to tell an age-old tale.  A story of how God loves His people, and how they flourish under His care as they respect and honor Him.

Paul says in Ephesians 5:32 that marriage is a “profound mystery.” It is not a mystery because we can’t figure it out — it’s a mystery (something hidden that now is revealed) because marriage reflects Christ and His church.

So our marriages are like a play. Men, we have the part of Jesus Christ — loving, nourishing, and cherishing our bride. Women, your part is the church — respecting, honoring, and submitting to your husband. To the degree that we “play” our parts faithfully, our marriage will be gospel proclamation. In an evil world filled with broken relationships, love and honor can thrive.  And those in and around our marriage: the couple, the children, the extended family, the church, the community, will get a practical demonstration of God’s love for them.

~David Paul Dorr

August 21, 2010

Being Real, Being Transparent

The word ‘transparency’ comes up in more recent worship music once that I know of, in the 1976 hymn, “We Are God’s People,” by Bryan Jeffrey Leach.
“Our cornerstone is Christ alone
And strong in Him we stand
So let us live transparently
And walk, heart to heart and hand in hand.”

But the theme is stronger in scripture, especially the injunction to “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” (Matt. 5:37 echoed in James 5:12) Interestingly enough, that scripture got twisted to form the chorus of a hit song by Brownsville Station about a girl who is teasing a guy who wishes she would just say if she’s interested or not. The song’s a bit off the mark with its sexual suggestiveness, but in a sense, when we don’t live life transparently, we’re just teasing everybody.

When we opened our first bookstore, a well-meaning friend recognized the need for a store like ours to be a denominationally neutral zone, like Switzerland is politically. “People shouldn’t know what you think;” he told me. I took that advice for awhile and then realized, people actually wanted to know what I was thinking. In fact they were looking for someone who, as sports talk show host Jim Rome would say, “had a take” on any given doctrinal or ecclesiastical issue.

Mark gets right at the heart of the issue in Jesus’ ministry in verse 22 of chapter 1; “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (NIV) Unfortunately, the NIV doesn’t use the word “Forthright” anywhere, which also describe the quality we see here. But authority (which comes from God) is as desirable now as it was when Jesus taught. People are looking for someone who is willing to take a stand. To delineate the issues. To not be concerned about possibly offending a few (or many) in the process.

I admire people who are wiling to stick their neck out to defend their position on various subjects. And it’s simply an added bonus to meet the person and consider that their public persona is not an act. Because in Jesus’ time, as now, there is a lot of acting going on. I just wanna be transparent.

~For the full lyrics and further thoughts on “We Are God’s People,” check out today’s post at Thinking Out Loud.