Christianity 201

September 29, 2016

Aiming for Perfection

Matthew 5:48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Today we’re featuring a new author here. John Mark Reynolds writes at Eidos a Patheos blog. Click the title below to read at source, and then browse the site to see other things he’s written.

Let’s Be Perfect!

Jesus said a hard thing when He said: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

I don’t know about you, but I am not perfect. In fact, we pass off our failure by saying to ourselves: “Nobody is perfect.” This is wrong since at least the God-Man, Jesus, is perfect and there is a good theological argument that in her obedience His mother was also perfect.

When we demand perfection of ourselves, then we do great harm. We put our false ideas of perfection and our efforts in place of the good we can do. Striving to be perfect can drive a person utterly mad.

So here we are: imperfect. One strategy is to not worry. We are all imperfect, so imperfection can love company, but this foolish. Instead, we can look to what can help us get better. If we cannot be perfect, perhaps we can be more perfect than we are. This at least stops our perfectionism that strains for something we cannot do.

Yet this is not enough. Jesus commanded us to be perfect and sadly, “closer to perfect” still is not perfect and only perfection will do. God’s utter joy is to intense for soul with even a slight fault. Hell is the collapse of a broken soul in the face of the weight of God’s glory.

We must be transformed from within and the task is beyond our abilities. God must come and live in us and those parts of us that He inhabits are made perfect. As Saint Paul says there is the imperfect old man and the new man that is coming.

We are simultaneously perfect and broken. Death will cause the broken bits to fall away  while the perfection God makes, the persons we were meant to be, will be left. This impacts every part of us, if we will let it. Our minds can be made ready for paradise by Divine Wisdom, our hearts by Divine Love, and our passions purified by Divine Goodness. All we need to do is turn from our lies to God’s nature.

God is wisdom.When a man says: “I want to know,” then he is seeking God. When a man says, “I want to understand,” then he is seeking God. God is wisdom, there is no division. To know God is know virtue, wisdom, and joy. We know wisdom, because God knows all things and give His children vision, understanding, and decidedness. We seek God and He reveals Himself to us. This vision of God, the experience of being born again, gives us a fresh understanding of the world.

We commit ourselves and then we see.

Is this experience for all? It can be. Christians are invited perfection and we can move forward into divine transformation if we wish. Why don’t I wish this good thing? Simply because I am unwilling to lose what seems good enough.

 

 

 

November 4, 2014

Six Signs of Discipleship

Luke 6:40 The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

John 8:31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.

Because this is Christianity 201 and not 101, some of you may be already involved in leadership in your local church. Church Relevance is a website that is devoted to issues facing pastors, leaders and people involved in the governance of local congregations. This article by Ben Savage continues with some practical things and for that reason, if you’re in leadership I encourage you to click the title below to read this at source.  For everyone else, here is the first two-thirds of the article:

 

When you work with church leaders for long enough, you begin to identify common themes and challenges. I have been involved in lay leadership in several churches and have worked with hundreds of pastors over the years, and one thing they all have in common is the desire for people to engage with their church and be transformed by an encounter with Jesus.

Setting the stage for these encounters takes many forms. Each church is unique, but all face a similar challenge:

How do we measure the intangible with the observable?

Spiritual growth and engagement is largely intangible. You can’t measure someone’s growing love for and connection to God using a yardstick. So we look for the outward signs of a disciple. This is not a foolproof plan either; we all know stories of individuals who have outwardly lived “as they should” only to reveal later that there was little to no real connection to the Father.

But one big reason that this approach breaks down is simply that churches don’t have the right tools to get a full picture of someone’s engagement and connection to the church.There are many ways people can live out their faith, but here are six common signs of discipleship:

  • Connection through Prayer
    1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 – Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
  • Engagement in Scripture
    Joshua 1:8 – Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
  • Being Present
    Hebrews 10:25 – Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
  • Acts of Service
    Isaiah 58:6-8 – Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness the LORD will be your rear guard.
  • Investment in Others
    Ephesians 4:11-13 – 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.
  • Worship through Generosity
    Deuteronomy 16:17 – Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you. …

June 12, 2014

God’s Plan for You is Clearly Defined

Susan and Jen take turns writing posts at the blog The Free Slave’s Devotional. Susan posted this one two weeks ago under the title God’s Plan, God’s Will.  I encourage you to click through and look around the rest of the blog.

Be at peace among yourselves. And we exhort you, brothers: warn those who are lazy, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always purse what is good for one another and for all.  Rejoice always.  Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. I Thessalonians 5:13-18

I can’t think about being a part of God’s plan without running into the concept of “God’s Will.”  I capitalized that on purpose, because so many Christians, including myself, tend to capitalize it in our hearts.  Surely, we think, God has a plan for me, a specific plan, so I need to spend lots of time worrying and praying over which college to attend, which person to marry, which job to take.  If I don’t get it right, I might be out of “God’s Will.”

But I’m not sure it works that way.  He pretty clearly lays out His Will right in these verses:

  1. Be at peace among yourselves
  2. Warn the lazy.
  3. Comfort the discouraged.
  4. Help the weak.
  5. Be patient with everyone.
  6. Don’t pay back evil with evil.
  7. Pursue what is good for one another.
  8. Rejoice always.
  9. Pray constantly.
  10. Give thanks in everything.

Nowhere in there does he say I’ve got to pick the “right” spouse or job or country in which to live.  But rather, wherever I live, wherever I work, I need to treat others around me in these ways.

And if I do, I am joining God in His plan.  When I choose not to repay an evil, I am showing my offender God’s grace – undoubtedly His will for my life and the life of the guy who did me wrong. When I am patient with my children, I am joining God in his plan to rear them to adore a patient God. When I comfort a weeping friend, when I help a struggling student, when I make decisions with others in mind instead of just my own gain – I am following God’s will, joining in his plan.  Who else will comfort that woman if I do not?  It is God’s Will that she be comforted.

The other stuff, the big, life-changing decisions, well, if God has an opinion on those, He’ll certainly let me know.  Sometimes, He does.  But if He doesn’t speak from Heaven, I think I can exercise my right as a daughter of the King. Sometimes, a princess gets to pick whatever she likes best, as long as the choice doesn’t go outside of God’s boundaries found in His Bible.

It’s living in the aftermath of those choices that show whether I am truly following God’s will.  In this job, the one I chose, will I treat my coworkers compassionately?  With this husband, the one I chose, will I put his needs before my own?

Father, may I join you in your plan today, right where I am at. Show me Your Will.

 

September 5, 2013

God’s Epistles

Lying in bed this morning, I was thinking about the idea that while books like Galatians and Ephesians constitute Paul’s epistles, I & II Peter are Peter’s epistles, James is James’, and I, II and III John are John’s; in a very real sense the second and third chapters of Revelation constitute God’s epistles. Imprisoned on Patmos, John receives a dramatic vision that apparently begins with him taking some dictation. (For the record, I believe in plenary inspiration, but in this case, would lean toward these chapters being more precisely commanded.)

Most analysis of these chapters focus on God’s assessment of each of the seven churches to whom sections are addressed in terms of what each is doing right and what each needs to do. This reminds me of a previous item I posted here which paraphrases II Tim. 3:16 — All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness — to read:

All scripture has its point of origin in God’s mind, and

  • shows us the path God would have us walk
  • highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
  • points the way back to the path
  • gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

Today’s blog post appeared a year ago at the blog Gospel Musings, and was written by Ben Toh who is a bi-vocational pastor in Chicago. Instead of looking at the two chapters church-by-church, he looked at the content each contains. You can read this at source where it was titled: Christian, Listen Up! (Rev 2:1-3:22)

Text: Rev 2:1-3:22

 

Revelation 2:1-3:22; Key Verse Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:6, 13, 22

“He who has an ear, let him (Whoever has ears, let them) hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (1984, 2011 NIV).

All human beings suffer from a selective hearing disorder. No one ever forgets a pretty girl saying to them, “You’re cute.” But when our boss calls us into his office to chew us out, we tune him out and don’t hear well. We also have selective spiritual hearing disorder. No Christian ever dislikes hearing, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26). But will we listen if God says, as he does to the church in Laodicea, “…because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. …you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev 3:16,17)? To stress the utmost importance of listening to the Spirit, Jesus repeats 7 times to the 7 churches the exact same plea: “He who has an ear, let him (Whoever has ears, let them) hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”


Rev 1:1-20 reveals Jesus as the one who loves us and frees us from our sins by his blood (Rev 1:5). This is the gospel, the foundation of the Bible and of Revelation. In Rev 2:1-3:22, Jesus addresses the 7 churches in Asia (Rev 1:4,11), which is modern day Turkey. These 2 chapters may be the easiest in Revelations to understand, for they do not have an abundance of difficult symbols and prophesies. But to hear Jesus’ assessment, admonition, indictment, rebuke and challenge to the churches may not be easy to hear. Thus, Jesus repeats the exact same encouragement 7 times: “He who has an ear, let him (Whoever has ears, let them) hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Instead of going through each church in sequence, let us look at all 7 churches together in the following parts:

  1. The Church.
  2. The Commendation.
  3. The Condemnation.
  4. The Command.
  5. The Christ.

I. The Church What are these 7 churches like?

  1. Ephesus: The Loveless Church (Rev 2:4).
  2. Smyrna: The Suffering Church (Rev 2:9-10).
  3. Pergamum: The Worldly Church (Rev 2:14).
  4. Thyatira: The Immoral Church (Rev 2:20).
  5. Sardis: The Dead Church (Rev 3:1).
  6. Philadelphia: The Faithful Church (Rev 3:8,10).
  7. Laodicea: The Lukewarm Church (Rev 3:16).

1 and 7 are in grave danger. 2 and 6 are in excellent shape (no condemnations). 3-5 are in between, nether good nor bad, with 5 being the worst of this lot.

II. The Commendation

  1. Ephesus: Deeds, hard work, perseverance, uncompromising, enduring hardships (Rev 2:2-3).
  2. Smyrna: Affliction, poverty, slander, suffering, imprisonment, death (Rev 2:9-10).
  3. Pergamum: Unwavering in faith (Rev 2:13).
  4. Thyatira: Deeds, love, faith, service, perseverance, doing more than before (Rev 2:19).
  5. Sardis: None!
  6. Philadelphis: Faithfulness, patient endurance (Rev 3:8,10).
  7. Laodicea: None!

Church going, but dead and lukewarm Christians are the worst (Laodicea). But even those with good deeds, hard work, faithfulness, uncompromising, persevering, doctrinally sound, innovative, “improving” churches may be loveless (Ephesus), worldly (Pergamum), immoral (Thyatira), and dead (Sardis).

III. The Condemnation

  1. Ephesus: Lost their first love (Rev 2:4).
  2. Smyrna: None.
  3. Pergamum: False teaching (Rev 2:14-15).
  4. Thyatira: False teaching (Rev 2:20).
  5. Sardis: Fake reputation (Rev 3:1). Incomplete deeds (Rev 3:2).
  6. Philadelphia: None.
  7. Laodicea: Lukewarm (Rev 3:16). Wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, naked (Rev 3:17).

The holy God expects a holy church with holy Christians. Though we may be good in many ways, God is sorry when our love is lacking, when we compromise with the world, when we are pretentious rather than authentic, and especially when we are lukewarm and blindly unaware of our true inner state. On the last day, they will be many who say, “Lord, Lord,” but Jesus will respond, “I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers!” (Mt 7:21,23).

IV. The Command: All are encouraged to listen and overcome (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26, 29; 3:5-6, 12-13, 21-22), and they will be blessed. “To him who overcomes” (NIV 1984) is replaced with “To the one who is victorious” (NIV 2011).

  1. Ephesus: Remember. Repent (Rev 2:5). {Eat from the tree of life (Rev 2:7)}
  2. Smyrna: Be faithful (Rev 2:10). {Receive the crown of life (Rev 2:10); not hurt by the second death (Rev 2:11)}
  3. Pergamum: Repent (Rev 2:16). {Hidden manna, white stone, new name (Rev 2:17)}
  4. Thyatira: Hold on (Rev 2:25). {Authority over the nations, morning star (Rev 2:27-28)}
  5. Sardis: Wake up. Remember. Repent (Rev 3:2,3). {Dressed in white, name acknowledged in heaven (Rev 3:5)}
  6. Philadelphia: Hold on (Rev 3:11). {God’s name, God’s city, new name written on him (Rev 3:12)}
  7. Laodicea: Buy gold, white clothes, salve (Rev 3:18). {Sit with Jesus on his throne (Rev 3:21)}

We should remember God’s grace, repent of our sins, and faithfully persevere by his grace. Yet all of these biblical commands and imperatives, even if obeyed, would be unable to save us, for our own deceitful hearts incline toward evil (Gen 6:5), and deceive ourselves (Jer 17:9). Even our very best and pure deeds are like filthy rags (Isa 64:6). Thus, all of these commands are able to give life only because of what Jesus has already done for us on the cross (Rev 1:5). When we remember the grace of Jesus, his commands are never burdensome (1 Jn 5:3). If they are, it is because we fail to understand the gospel on account of our own hearts being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:13).

V. The Christ

  1. Ephesus: Faithful Friend (Rev 2:1).
  2. Smyrna: Living Savior (Rev 2:8).
  3. Pergamum: Warrior Lord (Rev 2:12).
  4. Thyatira: Heart-Searcher (Rev 2:18,23).
  5. Sardis: Judge (Rev 3:1).
  6. Philadelphia: Sovereign King (Rev 3:7)
  7. Laodicea: Ruler of Creation (Rev 3:14)

Despite our incorrigible sins, Jesus is ever faithful to love us (Jn 13:1; Heb 13:8; 2 Tim 2:13). He is our friend who never leaves us or forsakes us (Heb 13:5), and who promises to be with us to the very end of the age (Mt 28:20). He died for us and now lives forever (Rev 1:18), so that we who should die may live. He is the Living Word, the searcher of our hearts and the righteous Judge to help us truly know ourselves, so that we may come clean before him, and be purified. He is the Sovereign King and Ruler of all Creation, the King of kings and Lord of lords, yet he is ever loving and merciful, and rich in kindness, tolerance (forbearance) and patience (Rom 2:4; Eph 2:4; Tit 3:5).

When David stumbled in the sin of adultery and murder, God, through the prophet Nathan, said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?'” (2 Sam 12:7-9) Though David was blessed in countless ways, he stumbled in sin. Though David was far from God, God’s love for him did not change, and through Nathan, called him back to repentance, as recorded in Psalm 51. As David did, may we listen to his word, repent, and overcome by God’s help. Behold him, so that by his grace we may be transformed into his image from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18).

Let us hear and listen and take to heart a final word from Rev 3:19-20. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” God is not like a homeless transient who needs to come in to be helped and served by us. The doctrine of divine aseity holds that God is entirely self-sufficient, that he is not dependent upon any other thing either for his existence or for his nature. Our God of aseity (self-existence) has no needs (Acts 17:25; Ps 90:2), including no need of us humans. But God has bound himself to us to share with us his boundless love and joy. Yet in our sin, foolishness and self-deception, we think and live and express ourselves as though we might find fulfillment somewhere in the world and became vile idolators. Despite ourselves, God graciously continues his appeal to the churches and to us, at great cost to himself (Rev 1:5), so that we might listen to his tender voice, and open the door of our hearts to him. Will you do so?

References:

  1. Morris, Leon, The Book of Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries). Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1987, 46-57.

  2. Jensen, Irving L, Revelation: A Self-Study Guide. Chicago: Moody Publishers; New Edition edition, 1990.

  3. MacArthur, John, Because the Time is Near: John MacArthur Explains the Book of Revelation. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007.

  4. MacArthur, John, The MacArthur Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, updated edition, 2006.

  5. The ESV Study Bible.