Christianity 201

February 14, 2021

As We Search Our Hearts

Two days ago we looked at our susceptibility to sin. There are a few verses I realized could have also been included, one of which follows in the excerpt from something by Elsie Montgomery we ran in September:

…Every day I need to ask Jesus what the psalmist asked: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24) This is one prayer that God is so faithful to answer quickly that I’ve often said if you pray it, you better duck!

I decided to continue tracing back the history of the particular scripture appearing here.

Just over a year ago, we shared a devotional from Gary Henry:

…We are hurt far more by the malignancies in our character than by the illnesses in our body. And it is the removal of these sins in the heart that God is concerned with. The Great Physician desires to restore our spiritual health and wholeness.

If we want to improve, we must be honest and open to the truth about our character right now. Not even the Great Physician can help us if we’re not willing to be examined. Trying to hide our symptoms and pretending that nothing very serious is wrong will only result in our getting worse. An accurate diagnosis will be humbling, to be sure, but we should still want to know the whole truth. David’s prayer is that of an honest man: Search me, O God, and know my heart . . . see if there is any wicked way in me (Psalm 139:23,24). We must desire to see ourselves as God sees us…

In December, 2017, Colin Sedgwick included this same verse, but looked at the life of Asa in both 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles and used the analogy of someone having what we call a Jekyll and Hyde character. More than anything else, God hates hypocrisy. Think of the word duplicity and the image is clear of a person who presents a double character. Colin also introduced the idea of a Asa as having an Achilles heel, a weak spot or vulnerability to certain types of sin. He wrote,

…I have to admit, that’s where his story strikes uncomfortably at my heart… Yours too, perhaps. As you search your heart and examine your life, do you see there a big, ugly “But”? Yes, you’re a genuine, sincere Christian. Yes, you want to please and serve God. Yes, you are happy to worship, pray and evangelise. But

If we fail to deal with that “but”, I’m not suggesting that we will lose our salvation. But there are, I think, two things we will lose.

First, our peace of mind. Like Paul in Romans 7:14-25 we will feel ourselves to be “wretched” because we are torn in two.

And second, we will lose our effectiveness for God. Putting it another way, our cutting edge will be blunted.

In August, 2017, I wrote a devotional based on a sermon I had recently heard, that was based on this passage:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land. Daniel 9:4-6

I added,

…each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

When our pastor spoke on this on Sunday he said you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward. He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon

In November, 2015, Rev. Gregory Crofford raised the dramatic account of Ananias and Sapphira whose duplicity cost them both their lives. He introduced this verse to the discussion:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter 4:17, NIV, italics added

Way back in July, 2012, a writer we used several times but knew only as “Cloudwatcher” also touched on the Psalm 51 verse, but introduced this from James 3:11 as well:

Both fresh water and salt water don’t come from the same spring, do they?

I read that verse today and marvel at the duplicity that seems to spring forth from the accounts of fallen Christian leaders; how their words and their actions did not line up. There was, as one person voiced earlier this weekend, apparently a lack of “a congruent life.”

Going back to December, 2011; we come full circle with Elsie Montgomery who noted Spurgeon brought up this scripture in the context of taking a personal spiritual inventory:

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds. -Proverbs 27:23

[Spurgeon] points out that a wise merchant occasionally takes stock. He opens his accounts, examines what is on hand, and determines whether his trade is prosperous or declining. This practice is easily transferred to those who belong to Jesus Christ. Those who are wise will often take stock to make sure that our hearts are right with God. We ask Him to reveal sin and life-patterns that need attention.

That’s all for today; I hope this leaves all of us with much to consider.


For those of you who read the tags which appear after the title, this devotional is tagged with an assortment of search terms from all the devotionals used!

Looking for more content? This weekend I listened to the second part in a recent sermon series, Unleashed by Kyle Idleman based on the Book of Acts. If you’ve got time, sit back and listen to Complacent to Committed.

 

 

 

 

August 11, 2020

You Can’t Hate Religious Hypocrisy and Applaud Political Hypocrisy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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A year ago we introduced you to Geno Pyse, who writes at Geno Pyse and the Proclamation. I know, it sounds like the name of a band! He’s recently decided to change to shorter articles, but this one, the second-last of the longer format things he’s written, caught my eye. Click the header which follows to read this at its source.

Is Hypocrisy Relative?

I have heard numerous people state the reason they neither like nor attend church is because churches are “filled with hypocrites.” Such persons give the impression that they hate hypocrisy. But wait, is such a statement true, or does it also reveal hypocrisy—the very thing persons imply to dislike?

First, what is hypocrisy and what are hypocrites? Hypocrisy is to claim or to give the impression of having moral standards, yet to live in contrast to these standards. Thus, a hypocrite is one who does not live in accordance to what he professes.

It might surprise some, but Jesus hates hypocrisy. In Matthew’s Gospel He says of some:

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.’ (15:7-8)

And,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (23:27-28)

In any case, is the issue people have against church really that of hypocrisy? Mind you, I am not saying there are not any hypocrites in churches, for there are some. However, is this really the reason persons despise churches? I dare say, by and large the answer is a resounding “No!”

If there is any realm where hypocrisy surpasses religious hypocrisy by far is that of politics! How often those on political platforms project an image of moral superiority, all the while lying to the masses with all sorts of ulterior motives. The hypocrisy and corruption in politics knows no bounds. But I have noticed, no matter how repulsive the hypocrisy of the political figures, multitudes will not only gather to see them, but to cheer for them!

The tentacles of politics, like parasites, dig into the realms of media and entertainment. Those who denounce the hypocrisy in churches will defend the hypocrisy of journalists spreading agendas rather than giving the facts. While Christians trying to live honest and moral lives are condemned, immoral Hollywood elitists are viewed as purveyors of truth as they applaud and support the cause of the rioters—so long as they do not come to their neighborhoods!

But is hypocrisy relative? Is hypocrisy wrong in religion but permissible in politics? It is an amazing thing to me when I hear persons criticize preachers as being  deceivers, while saying, “Amen” when a politician or talking head speaks boldfaced lies.

So, generally speaking, do people really hate hypocrisy? No, for you cannot truly hate something when you applaud it in other areas. Then what is it about religion, Christianity in particular, people find revulsive? Is it really the hypocrisy? Granted, religious hypocrisy can leave a bitter taste in people’s mouths; but again, many find hypocrisy in other settings quite flavorful. I assure you, God hates hypocrisy in every form and in every setting. In both the Old and New Testaments, hypocrisy is condemned in religious, political, and personal realms.

So what is the real issue people have with Christianity? Jesus gets straight to the point when He declares the true reason people hate not simply Christianity, but Him: “The world … hates me because I testify about it that it’s works are evil.”

No figure in history has ever displayed more powerfully what it truly means to love and show mercy to others. Some denounce Christianity as being “too exclusive,” but no figure has ever had such an open invitation to everyone who will come to Him. However, His teachings strike at our greed, lust, hatred, prejudice, selfishness, etc.

Again, many dislike Jesus’ exclusivity, but consider the reason people are condemned:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. ~ John 3:16-20 (ESV)

The light of Jesus Christ shines into our hearts and exposes our cracks and brokenness. His light exposes our depravity and barbarism. His light exposes who we truly are, and instead of humbly coming to Him, many choose to curse the light and embrace the darkness. Many choose to criticize the broken followers of Jesus, condemning them as hypocrites, all the while extolling hypocrisies far more vehement, divisive, and destructive.

Is hypocrisy relative? No. Hypocrisy stands against truth—which is also not relative. And when one stands against truth he must embrace lies.

 

April 23, 2020

Grumpy Prayers: Making Space for Sorrow

by Clarke Dixon

There is an old Sunday school song I grew up with. There are different versions, but this is the one I learned:

I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!
I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!
Since Jesus Christ came in,
And cleansed my heart from sin,
I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!

This wee song was a favourite, and was often requested. I hated it. At a young age I knew Jesus, and I understood that God loved me. But I also knew I was not happy all the time. My faith has been nurtured over the years and I know God’s love better now than ever. But I’m still not happy all the time!

COVID-19 has given rise to great sorrow around the world. So many have been infected. Everyone has been affected. Even without a pandemic, many have profound sorrow in their lives, even Christians. Are we failing as Christians if we are not happy all the time?

Is there a better song that the one we began with? One which rings true to our experience? Let us remind ourselves that the Psalms are actually songs, that the Book of Psalms is a hymnbook. Let us take an example of what God’s people have sung for centuries:

I cry out to God; yes, I shout.
Oh, that God would listen to me!
When I was in deep trouble,
I searched for the Lord.
All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,
but my soul was not comforted.
I think of God, and I moan,
overwhelmed with longing for his help.

Psalm 77:1-3 NLT

“I think of God, and I moan.” Not too many Christian lyricists are coming up with lyrics like that! The Psalmist goes on;

You don’t let me sleep.
I am too distressed even to pray!
I think of the good old days,
long since ended,
when my nights were filled with joyful songs.
I search my soul and ponder the difference now.
Has the Lord rejected me forever?
Will he never again be kind to me?
Is his unfailing love gone forever?
Have his promises permanently failed?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he slammed the door on his compassion?
And I said, “This is my fate;
the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

Psalm 77:5-10 NLT

There are days where this song from the Bible rings more true for me than the Sunday school song we started with. Perhaps it does for you also.

Here is the point. If the hymn book within the Bible makes space for the expression of sorrow and frustration, we can make space for it in our own lives, in our our walk and expression of faith. Honesty before God is best. Honesty is part of genuine relationship. It would be horrible if my wife and my children only said to me what they thought I wanted to hear, in the way they thought I wanted to hear it, when they thought I wanted to hear it. What kind of relationship would that be? It would be very mechanical. Yet for many people, that is precisely what their prayers look like. Honesty in relationships is best. Honesty before God is best. If we are full of sorrow, let us pray sorrowful prayers. Perhaps Psalms like Psalm 77 can help us find the words.

There is a change tone as the song goes on:

But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
They are constantly in my thoughts.
I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.
O God, your ways are holy.
Is there any god as mighty as you?
You are the God of great wonders!
You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.
By your strong arm, you redeemed your people, . . .
The earth trembled and shook.
Your road led through the sea,
your pathway through the mighty waters—
a pathway no one knew was there!
You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep,
with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.

Psalm 77:11-14,18-20 NLT

Here the Psalmist looks back and remembers what God had done for the people at the exodus, how God led his people to safety like a good shepherd. That would have been a scary time also, with an Egyptian army on one side, and the Red Sea on the other. The Psalmist is thinking here of a time when God made a way, where there seemed to be no way. God helped people who were full of fear, sorrow, and frustration.

We can now remember an even greater miracle. We can think of God’s love expressed in Jesus, his birth, life, death, and resurrection. We can think of God’s love expressed through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Christ God has performed an even greater rescue than done at the Red Sea. He has rescued us from the consequence, impact and power of sin.

We are not told if the Psalmist’s sorrow eased upon reflecting on God’s power and goodness. But his sorrow was reframed. In reflecting on God’s goodness expressed in Christ, we may not become happy, but our sorrows and frustrations will be reframed. Our sorrows are one part of a much bigger, and brighter picture, a much larger, and happier, story.

In reflecting on God’s goodness expressed in Christ, we may not become happy, but our sorrows and frustrations will be reframed. Our sorrows are one part of a much bigger, and brighter picture, a much larger, and happier, story.

A doctor recently called my Dad to tell us that my Mum, who lives in a nursing home, will not be taken to the hospital if she is infected with COVID-19. That makes me sad. However, with regard to my Mum I’m already sad as she is slowly being taken from us by Alzheimer’s disease. There is no sense hiding my feelings from God. I don’t need to. He understands. He is a good and heavenly Father. He came to us in Jesus who of course was no stranger to suffering. We are not allowed to visit my Mum, but this week one of the PSW’s from the nursing home sent us a video of my Mum playing the piano. It just happened to be my favourite hymn! We began with my least favourite song, let’s finish with my favourite:

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate
And has shed His own blood for my soul

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul!

“It is Well with My Soul” written by Horatio Spafford

I’m not always happy. Sometimes my prayers are grumpy. But it is well with my soul. Is it well with yours?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Canada who appears here most Thursdays. His recently redesigned blog is Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can watch the full worship expression, or the reflection alone. For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here

November 13, 2019

Playing ‘Parishioner of the Week’ at Church

NIV James 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6a But you have dishonored the poor…

I remember the first time I encountered this verse. I attended a large church at the time, and there was a couple in the church who would always arrive five minutes late, which was rare in that church culture. The service would start at 11:00 AM with the call to worship, the invocation and the opening prayer; and then either just before or just after the opening hymn, this man and his wife would walk in and be escorted by an usher to a seat near the front that had been kept for them.

Imagine my surprise when someone older and more cynical (but as I later realized, surprisingly accurate) told me that their late arrival was on purpose. That the whole point of their apparent tardiness was to create the grand entrance that I witnessed each week. To be seen. To be known.

In that stage of my life I would later move on to a succession of four much smaller churches, and I could say with all honesty that this problem didn’t apply in those churches. At least not as far as I could see. But it’s not unique by any means.

The problem of favoritism toward the rich obviously was an early church problem. I remember encountering these verses from Ken Taylor’s classic original Living Bible:

LB Romans 14:1 Give a warm welcome to any brother who wants to join you, even though his faith is weak. Don’t criticize him for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong.

The second half of this verse has been used to shut down all discussion of doctrinal matters, which I don’t believe is the intent. The first part has been the subject of what it means to be “the brother of weaker faith” and how it is often new believers (starters) who are prone to religiosity and legalism.

The point is not have a bias against people whose doctrinal interpretation is different on secondary matters.

Both the James and Romans passage remind us that in the church we do tend to give privilege and ministry opportunity to people who are (a) in positions of socioeconomic high standing and (b) people who we’ve already ascertained ahead of time will agree with us on matters of doctrine.

The two areas of potential transgression are simply horses of a different color. It’s all about showing preference to person “A” and indifference to person “B.”

In our world, we have people moving through our churches who come from a variety of backgrounds. It’s said that many millennials really don’t care whose franchise name is on the door. So our churches today you might find Calvinists and Arminians sitting side-by-side, egalitarians and complementarians on the same church board, and pre-tribulation and post-tribulation interpreters sharing teaching duties on the same adult elective class or small group.

In our modern church we sometimes have a different, more subtle examples of bias and prejudice.

When it comes to fairness in any organization, the one thing the world detests is nepotism. The Oxford Diction defines nepotism as:

the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs

In a church environment, this may include unpaid volunteer positions, as well as salaried positions. (For the former, the reward occurs later in heaven, right?)

When Paul and James are telling the early church not to ignore those of weaker faith, or not to prefer the rich people, they are setting out rules. A rule is something that may apply to (a) only one people group, or (b) only one location, or (c) only at one time. But the statements about people with whom we have doctrinal differences, or ignoring the poor are simply examples. In scripture, rules always derive from principles.

And what is the principle?

The principle is simply not to show favoritism. To be so circumspect in all your dealings (and including dealing with the processes of hiring or appointing ministry leaders) as to not be seen as guilty of favoritism. To keep the process open and transparent. To keep accountability unbiased. To be willing to make the tough decisions if someone you’ve already placed in a position is falling short of the task required.

What’s true of churches also applies to Christians in leadership in a business or non-profit. It can apply to extended families. It can apply in neighborhoods…

…I don’t know who among us needed that today, but I hope it will stay with you in situations you find yourself this week.

CEB Deut. 16:19a Don’t delay justice; don’t show favoritism.

NIV Lev.19:15a Don’t delay justice; don’t show favoritism.

October 29, 2019

Holiness and Being Who You Are

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
 – Romans 12:3 NLT

Today once again we’re featuring Jim Thornber, who’s website we refer to as the “other” Thinking Out Loud. Click the header below to read this article there.

Holy Transparent

For four years I was an Assemblies of God minister and a monk with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at the Little Portion Hermitage. This is an excerpt from my book called Taking Off My Comfortable Clothes.

Blaise Pascal said, “We must learn our limits. We are all something, but none of us are everything.” Or, as that wise 20th century philosopher Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) said in the movie Magnum Force, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

A key component in being transparent with who you are involves acknowledging what you are not. Admitting your strengths as well as your weaknesses will allow you to be true to yourself, live the life God created you to live, and enable you to say no to those things that are not your calling.

I acknowledge that I am not an apostle, prophet, evangelist, worship leader, business entrepreneur, engineer, chef or bank president; I’m a teacher of Scripture. I also know I thrive teaching the 18-30 year old group, so I can easily say “No” to any request to teach children’s church. At the same time, there are people in the church who love to work with children but would be scared spitless if asked to teach the Tabernacle of Moses to a group of twenty-somethings for twelve weeks, an assignment I would relish with only one regret — we couldn’t stretch it to twenty-four.

Furthermore, I understand that God has given me a certain amount of musical ability, and I’ve played piano on numerous worship teams. However, I also know there are many men and women who are better musicians than I am. Although I enjoy playing piano, I know teaching Scripture and equipping people to be better ministers, not leading worship, is my primary avenue for ministry. The problem for many of us, especially church leaders, begins when we forget Pascal said, “None of us are everything.”

Even while I lived at the Little Portion, my heart’s desire was to teach the Word. Hospitality and service were not my primary virtues, and I had to be taught to be nice to people and look to another person’s needs before my own. Fortunately, my wife tells me I’m gaining in this area. But she has a servant’s heart and rates higher in the area of “pastor” on a spiritual gifts test than I do.

Everybody has a part to play in God’s Church, but nobody, especially the pastor, is required to play every part. I encourage you to acknowledge your gifts, admit your limitations, and focus on your strengths.  What a relief it is when you learned to say “no” to those areas that were not your gifts.

“But,” some have argued to my face, “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.” This is true, but God did not strengthen me to be a children’s pastor, throw a ninety-five mile an hour fastball, invent a cure for cancer or write a symphony like Mozart. He did strengthen me to have faith (Rom. 12:3), love and take care of my family (1 Tim. 3:4-5; 5:8) , consider others better than myself (Phil. 2:3-4), teach the Word (Rom. 12:7) and prepare God’s people for works of service (Eph. 4:12).

Holiness is not being an expert at everything you put your mind to; it is being truthful and transparent with who you are while not trying to be something you are not. Furthermore, I’m discovering that transparency and holiness is a gift of getting older, because pride and the need to prove myself successful isn’t the precious commodity it once was.

July 9, 2019

With You There is Light

Today’s piece represents a return visit to the website ThinkTheology.org which contains a broad assortment of approaches to Biblical, theological and practical study. This one is by . Click the title below to read at source.

Life Sucks

Philippians 4:11-13 I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Yesterday morning at our church staff meeting, the senior pastor asked all of us how we’re all doing. I answered pretty honestly by saying that I’m doing okay, and he answered back, “You know? Life sucks right now.” It’s funny, in hindsight, because later that afternoon a FedEx came barreling through our parking lot and hit our church building’s awning. “Hit” might be a little euphemistic; the entire building shook when she hit the awning.

All of us in the building went out to see what had happened, and we see the driver panicking, looking at the damage to her vehicle and to the church building.

It was bad.

The funny thing is that we had literally fixed this awning a couple weeks ago because another delivery truck had ran into the awning (and then another hit it in the same day.) As I’m writing this, I can’t help but just laugh at the whole situation. I mean, it definitely sucks, but it’s okay. The company will take care of the damages, and we don’t need to really worry about it.

It’ll be taken care of.

It’s a little annoying, but it’ll be okay.

And I don’t want to sound too spiritual, but I definitely think it was God trying to catch all of our attentions. It’s so easy to stick to the script of the day, to do things as they’re supposed to be done, and it becomes somewhat monotonous. Sometimes God uses sucky things to jolt us, to draw attention to what God’s doing, and to remind us that it’s okay.

I’ve been in a long season of trying to find contentment. And if all of us are honest, we’re all trying to find that sweet spot of contentment. We’re constantly going through ups and downs, highs and lows, mountains and valleys, crests and troughs, and we’re trying to figure out how to be stable. In an attempt to remind myself of this, I’ve gotten this idea tattooed on my body, so that I can see it on a daily basis. Life goes up and down, and it sometimes sucks.

Those of you that have read my little posts may tire of my references to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but he’s a spiritual mentor of sorts. The more I read him, the more I appreciate him. The more I study his life, the more in awe I become. This was not a man that said and wrote pretty things. Bonhoeffer lived out his faith in the real world. The things that he said in the classroom, teaching young students, he then had to live it out as he suffered in prison. In a way, his writing and reading became practice as he lived out his faith, a journey from the head to the heart.

“In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
But You know the way for me.”

“Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man’s troubles;
You abide with me
When all men fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is Your will that I should know You
And turn to You.
Lord, I hear Your call and follow;
Help me.”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison.

Bonhoeffer was just like Paul in this regard. Paul wrote a beautiful letter to the church in Philippi, not as an abstract description of being content, but Paul was actually content because he had communion with Christ. Philippians 4:13 is an often quoted verse about our capability to endure hardship and do what needs to be done. But what it actually is saying is that we can only do things through Christ. It’s a lovely little preposition, isn’t it? It qualifies the sentence. And what I love is that this preposition, ἐν, can say more than just “through.” Bill Mounce defines it “spatially: in, inside, at, among, with; logically: by means of, with, because of; of time: during, while.”

It’s more than just a simple preposition.

It speaks to the kind of Savior Jesus is. He is able to do all things, and we are in him. Life is always going to suck, but we serve a Lord that has accomplished all things in life, and death, and he is our rock and salvation. We find contentment in all the messiness and craziness when we remember Christ. When we go through circumstances, maybe it’s God trying to get our attention.

Let life suck. Let it be an opportunity to abide in the loving arms of God.

November 29, 2015

Favoritism in the Local Church

NIV James 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6a But you have dishonored the poor…

I remember the first time I encountered this verse. I attended a large church at the time, and there was a couple in the church who would always arrive five minutes late, which was rare in that church culture. The service would start at 11:00 AM with the call to worship, the invocation and the opening prayer; and then either just before or just after the opening hymn, this man and his wife would walk in and be escorted by an usher to a seat near the front that had been kept for them.

Imagine my surprise when someone older and more cynical (but as I later realized, surprisingly accurate) told me that their late arrival was on purpose. That the whole point of their apparent tardiness was to create the grand entrance that I witnessed each week. To be seen. To be known.

In that stage of my life I would later move on to a succession of four much smaller churches, and I could say with all honesty that this problem didn’t apply in those churches. At least not as far as I could see. The problem of favoritism toward the rich obviously was an early church problem.

Around the same time however, I remember encountering these verses from Ken Taylor’s classic original Living Bible:

LB Romans 14:1 Give a warm welcome to any brother who wants to join you, even though his faith is weak. Don’t criticize him for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong.

The second half of this verse has been used to shut down all discussion of doctrinal matters, which I don’t believe is the intent. The first part has been the subject of what it means to be “the brother of weaker faith” and how it is often new believers (starters) who are prone to religiosity and legalism.

The point is not have a bias against people whose doctrinal interpretation is different on secondary matters.

Both the James and Romans passage remind us that in the church we do tend to give privilege and ministry opportunity to people who are (a) in positions of socioeconomic high standing and (b) people who we’ve already ascertained ahead of time will agree with us on matters of doctrine.

Again, in our world, we have people moving through our churches who come from a variety of backgrounds. It’s said that many millennials really don’t care whose franchise name is on the door. So our churches today you might find Calvinists and Arminians sitting side-by-side, egalitarians and complementarians on the same church board, and pre-tribulation and post-tribulation interpreters sharing teaching duties on the same adult elective class or small group.

Rather, in our modern church we sometimes have a different, more subtle examples of bias and prejudice.

When it comes to fairness in any organization, the one thing the world detests is nepotism. The Oxford Diction defines nepotism as:

the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs

In a church environment, this may include unpaid volunteer positions, as well as salaried positions. (For the former, the reward occurs later in heaven, right?)

When Paul and James are telling the early church not to ignore those of weaker faith, or not to prefer the rich people, they are setting out rules. A rule is something that may apply to (a) only one people group, or (b) only one location, or (c) only at one time. But the statements about people with whom we have doctrinal differences, or ignoring the poor are simply examples. In scripture, rules always derive from principles.

And what is the principle?

The principle is simply not to show favoritism. To be so circumspect in all your dealings (and dealing with the processes of hiring or appointing ministry leaders) as to not be seen as guilty of favoritism. To keep the process open and transparent. To keep accountability unbiased. To be willing to make the tough decisions if someone you’ve already placed in a position is falling short of the task required.

What’s true of churches also applies to Christians in leadership in a business or non-profit. It can apply to extended families. It can apply in neighborhoods.

I don’t know who among us needed that today, but I hope it will stay with you in situations you find yourself this week.

CEB Deut. 16:19a Don’t delay justice; don’t show favoritism.

NIV Lev.19:15a Don’t delay justice; don’t show favoritism.

 

 

 

November 27, 2015

Judgment Begins with the Family of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we visit a new author who is also indexed at Faithful Bloggers. Theology in Overalls is written by Rev. Gregory Crofford. We looked at about eight different articles, but many were longer than we use here, so we settled on this one. Click on the title below, then click the “Home” button at the top to look at other stories.

Forgive us, Lord, for we have sinned!

They’re triumphant words, a hymn I sang often as a child on Sunday nights:

‘Tis a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle, washed in the blood of the lamb.

You’d think that 123 years after Ralph Hudson penned those 1892 lyrics that we’d be much closer as the people of God to that vision. But when I look at the church today, I realize how dry like a desert we are, how broken, how guilty, how desperately in need of God’s forgiveness and cleansing. We have forgotten that 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 is addressed to a group of believers, the Thessalonians. God calls the church to be sanctified, to be pure in her culture and her systems, yet we have fallen pitifully short and the watching world has surely noticed that we are no different than they.

Forgive us, Lord, for we your people have sinned!

No denomination has a corner on the market on righteousness. Across the spectrum of churches, things are awry. There’s no need to make a laundry list of offenses. That list is added to every day in online newspaper articles or on social media, undercutting our sacred mission in the world.

Forgive us, Lord, for we your people have sinned!

We look around us at our culture and see it plummeting downward. Too quickly, we are ready to call down upon those who make no claim to Christian faith the fiery judgment of God. But have we forgotten that God’s judgment falls first upon us, the church? Peter reminded his readers:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17, NIV, italics added).

Acts 5:1-11 is the fearful story of Ananias and Sapphira. Because they misrepresented to Peter the price that they had received for selling their land, Peter warned Ananias: “You have not lied to men but to God” (v. 4). Later, to Sapphira he asked: “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?” (v. 9). Because of the cover-up – their complicity in lying – both fell down and died, first Ananias then later – playing dumb – Sapphira. If nothing else, doesn’t this story teach us that harboring known sin in our lives has negative physiological effects upon us? If that is true for individuals, what effect upon the overall health of our churches is there when corporately we look the other way when there has been wrongdoing? Shall we be surprised should God one day look at us, his people, and declare:

Ichabod! The glory has departed (1 Samuel 4:21) ?

The Psalmist wrote:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:24, NIV).

My prayer first of all is for myself, that I will remain transparent before God, allowing the Holy Spirit to convict  me of sin, leading me to ongoing change in my heart and life. But can it stop there? As God’s people, the church, let us acknowledge where we have allowed wrong ecclesiastical practices to go unchallenged and unchanged. Only then can the spiritual revival we seek take hold and make us the holy people God wants us to be. Surely, only a transformed people can transform our world (Matthew 5:13).

Together, let us pray:

“Almighty God, we your people have merited nothing but your disdain. In word, thought and deed, we as your church have failed; we have sinned. Like a land in drought, we are spiritually dry. Again and again, we have sought to increase our power and wealth rather than lifting up the powerless and destitute. We have run after position and fame, forgetting that your son, Jesus, divested himself of his glory, becoming a humble servant. Grant that we your people may  see the sinful log in our own eye then trust you to remove it. Do not repay us, your church, according to our transgressions or we will surely be lost! Forgive us, cleanse us, and fill us anew with the love and presence of the Holy Spirit. Help us, we pray, as your church not to conduct business as this world does, but show us a different way, your higher way. Hear us, we pray, for it is in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, that we with humble repentance offer this prayer, AMEN.”

September 17, 2014

Compassion in Action

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.
 ~James 1:22 NLT

Yesterday I shared this post at Thinking Out Loud, but wanted to also cross-post it here as well.  Diane Lindstrom blogs at Nice One Nana! To read this at source, click the title below.


The Fog of a Broken Heart

Apparently, the two most common lies are “I’m fine” and “It’s OK.”

Casual conversation seems to trap us into a practiced script that alienates us from exposing the truth about who and how we really are.

It’s difficult to be honest with others because to do so, we need to believe that others care and that it will be safe to expose the restlessness in our spirits, without fear of rejection.

image 0916A young woman walked into the store last week and I greeted her with a friendly, “Hi – how ya’ doin’ today?”

She walked up to the counter, took my hand, looked me straight in the eye and asked,“Do you REALLY want to know because if you genuinely care, I’ll tell you about the sh–ty day I’ve had so far.”

It was quiet in the store — no customers around — and because I had engaged in conversations with this woman before, I decided to pursue the dialogue.

“I care, Susan. I care” was my response. I put down the pricing machine and postured myself in a way that said, “Talk to me. I’m listening.”

The young woman began to speak.

“So, here’s the story. My mouth says ‘I”m OK.’ My fingers text, ‘I’m fine’ but my heart says, ‘I’m broken.’ There’s a good chance I’m going to lose custody of my two kids because of my drinkin’ and my mother is giving up on me. I’m not fine. I’m not OK. I feel like I’m gonna’ die.”

With those words, the woman began to weep.

Oh, how humanity is groaning all around us. (Romans 8. 22,23)

The Holy Spirit breathed Jesus’ familiar words into my conscience.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me . . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. ~ Matthew 25:35-36,40

I have learned that it’s a costly choice to care.

Consciously allowing our hearts to break goes against not only our natural tendencies, but also against the grain of our culture. Myriad distractions lure us from embracing pain. There are so many places to hide so that we need not heed God’s beckoning to share in the suffering of impoverished people.

But the pain and empathy I felt moved me to action.

A person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. ~ James 2: 24

I walked around the counter and held her in my arms. Thankfully, no other customers came into the store and I was resolved to be “all there” for this hurting woman. She didn’t need advise or exhortation. I couldn’t be the answer to her pain but I certainly could be “Jesus with skin on” for those precious minutes that she needed to be held.

The fog of a broken heart is a dark fog that slyly imprisons the soul.

If we can be a beacon of light that breaks through the fog, even for a short moment, it is good and honoring to God.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. ~ 2 Corinthians 4.7 NLT


Diane Lindstrom is a Canadian author who looks for Almighty God in the ordinariness of life. She has been blogging daily since 2010 and has recently published her first book, Sisters in the Son.

January 30, 2011

Imitate Me, As I (try to) Imitate Christ

Jon Swanson’s blog, 300 Words a Day is one of a very few listed in this blog’s sidebar because of his consistent devotional focus.   This piece appeared there several days ago under the much simpler (!) title, Being a Model…

Am I living a life I’d want someone to copy?

Why not?

Those two sentences found their way into my journal over the weekend, as I was thinking about a presentation I’ve got coming up. I’m going to talk about being and making disciples. (That subject has shown up as my one word and in my list of 8 ways to get better at following.)

As I thought about the idea of making disciples, of developing followers, I realized that part of making a disciple is being willing to be a model.

I hate that. So do you. The last thing we want is for someone to use our life as a pattern. We know all of the ways that we fail. We know all the strategies that don’t work. We know how we don’t measure up. We know how we hurt someone we love.  We are, we think, models for spiritual failure.

But I think I’m wrong.

Paul consistently said, “Here are my failures. Here’s what I don’t do well. Here’s what God does wonderfully, sometimes in spite of me, sometimes through me.” He said this especially to Timothy, his most mentioned disciple. (A working definition of a disciple is a person who chooses to allow the life and teaching of someone to shape his/her own life.)

Helping people learn how to follow Jesus doesn’t mean being perfect.

It means being translucent, keeping the details hidden but allowing the outline of your humanity to show. It means acknowledging the failures and the forgiveness. It means showing when you let your mouth get ahead of your brain, here is how you ask forgiveness.

When you don’t know how to talk to God, here’s where you start. When you feel like you aren’t measuring up, here’s how you stop trying so hard.

~ Jon Swanson

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.