Christianity 201

October 16, 2017

A Message That Offends

Today once again we are back with Josh Ketchum, a pastor in Mayfield, Kentucky who also has a passion for marriage and family counseling. Click the title below to look around his blog, Life in the Kingdom.

How Jesus Handled Offending Others

Is it me or does it seem that everyone is offended nowadays?  People are offended by all kinds of things from decorations to beliefs.  While we are all entitled to our own opinions and right to be offended, it sure seems to me that it has gotten out of hand.  “I am offended!” has become a common cry that seems often self-serving and unbalanced.  This caused me to investigate how Jesus handled the issue of offending others.

The greek term skandlon means “to put a stumbling-block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall; to be a stumbling block” (Thayer).  It is used metaphorically in the NT to cause or make one to stumble, not physically but spiritually. It is often translated “offense” or the verb form “to offend.”

When I researched the gospels I discovered three key ideas about how Jesus dealt with offending others.

  1. He expected that his message and actions would offend others.  When John the Baptist sends disciples asking Jesus if he truly is the Messiah, Jesus tells them about his miraculous works which he is doing.  Then he adds, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Mat. 11:6).  He understood that his message would be offensive and controversial.  Once many of his disciples turned away from following after him because of his hard teachings, but he didn’t change his teachings or chase after them (John 6:61-67).  He came as the light of the world and he knew the darkness would try to overcome the light (John 1:5).
  2. He practiced and counseled his disciples to leave offended people alone.  Once the disciples came to tell Jesus the Pharisees were offended because of his teachings.  Jesus instructs his disciples to “let them alone” (Mat. 15:14).  He says if they follow these blind guides they will both fall in the ditch.  Earlier, when his hometown of Nazareth was offended because of his teaching, he understood it was because he had grown up there.  He chose to move on and do no more works in the area (Mat. 13:57-58).
  3. When possible, in cases that did not violate the truth of God, Jesus tried to not offend others.  Jesus didn’t intentionally try to offend people.  In fact, even though he didn’t have to technically pay the temple tax since he was the Son of God, he told Peter to pay the tax so as not to offend them.  They would not understand how he was exempt from such a tax, so Jesus paid it, rather than offend them (Mat. 17:24-27).

What are some lessons we can apply to our own lives in 2017 in this ultra-offensive culture from Jesus?  Here are a few for you to consider, I am sure there are more.

  1. The Christian message will still offend people today.  If we craft a version of Christianity that is politically correct and offends no one, then we are not preaching the true gospel of God.  The gospel, in its very nature, is offensive (1 Cor. 1, Gal. 1).
  2. We need to be willing to keep our distance from folks who claim they are offended.  We should try to work through the issue, but if they are not willing, then we need to let them alone.  We should practice the golden rule, always being kind and respectful, but we may be best served by ending the discussion and moving on to other works.
  3. Christians should not be in the business of trying to offend others.  We should try to adopt cultural norms that are acceptable standards of word and action when possible.  Our message and our leader cause the offense, it should not be our petty opinions that really don’t matter that cause them.  For example, we should adopt appropriate terms for races and ethnic groups, rather than persistently using older terms that are now considered offensive.

I hope this study has been a blessing as you try to navigate our overly-sensitive culture and one that is becoming more hostile to the Christian faith.

 

July 6, 2017

On the Right Track: Love in John 13:35

Staying on the right track spirituallyby Clarke Dixon

How do we know that we are on the right track in matters of faith? How do we know that we are “good with God?” Some will point to life experiences. If everything is going well for you, and your prayers are being answered, then obviously you must be on the right track. Others will point to spiritual experiences and say that if you can speak in tongues or have experienced some form of miracle then you must be on the right track. Still others will point to religious activity, that if you are keeping up with religious observances and practices, then you must be on the right track.

But how would Jesus answer this question? Thankfully he answered it long before we asked:

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 NRSV

Notice that Jesus did not say everyone will know we are his disciples if our lives went smoothly, or if we showed ourselves to be be super-spiritually gifted, or really religious. Rather our love is the evidence we are His followers. John also links love with reassurance that we are on the right track:

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 1 John 3:18-19 NRSV

But don’t those who do not follow Jesus also love? My experience is that yes, people who have no interest in following Jesus are capable of being and often are loving people. So does this mean they are on the right track, living lives that please Jesus, and so are “good with God”?

Before we jump to conclusions we will want to remind ourselves of the important role Christianity has played in lifting up an ethic of love in our society. Thanks to the influence of Christianity our society has been “marinating” in an ethic of love. Christianity has added flavor to our nation and many others. So when the Beatles sing “All you need is love,” or when Katy Perry sings “I will love you unconditionally,” there is a Christian ethic shining through. People who have no time for Jesus are nevertheless enjoying a certain flavor he has brought to society.

There are societies which have not had so thorough a permeation of Jesus’ love ethic. You can think of areas rife with militant Islam where a strict interpretation and application of sharia law is seen as more honorable than an ethic of love. We all know where that has led and is leading. Or you can think of where a belief in karma can lead. If you are brought into life as an untouchable, born into a sorry state of affairs, you must deserve it. That’s karma. Jesus teaches grace. Jesus loves us regardless of merit and went to the cross for us. Though Christians can get it wrong, one cannot deny that Christianity has lifted up an ethic of grace and love in some societies in a way that other religions have not in others.

Still, we may be wondering if a person who rejects Jesus as Lord and Savior is on the right track by living a life of love. Actually, yes, they are on the right track. But they have not got on the train. We cannot love enough to go the distance and bring ourselves into the presence of God. We can devote ourselves to a life of love all we want, but when we refuse God’s love for us, we refuse God’s offer to carry us for the distance. We would rather walk, though the destination is far. Too far.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is powerful evidence that we are on the right track. But being on the right track is not enough. This destination requires getting on the train.

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:18-23 NRSV emphasis mine


If the graphic looks familiar, yes it is an Amy Grant album cover, a supposedly rare cover without her name on the front (that we can see).  This article appeared previously at C201 in April, 2015 under the title Staying On Track. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

April 29, 2015

Staying on Track

On the Right Track: Love and John 13:35

Staying on the right track spirituallyby Clarke Dixon (Click title above to link)

How do we know that we are on the right track in matters of faith? How do we know that we are “good with God?” Some will point to life experiences. If everything is going well for you, and your prayers are being answered, then obviously you must be on the right track. Others will point to spiritual experiences and say that if you can speak in tongues or have experienced some form of miracle then you must be on the right track. Still others will point to religious activity, that if you are keeping up with religious observances and practices, then you must be on the right track.

But how would Jesus answer this question? Thankfully he answered it long before we asked:

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 NRSV

Notice that Jesus did not say everyone will know we are his disciples if our lives went smoothly, or if we showed ourselves to be be super-spiritually gifted, or really religious. Rather our love is the evidence we are His followers. John also links love with reassurance that we are on the right track:

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 1 John 3:18-19 NRSV

But don’t those who do not follow Jesus also love? My experience is that yes, people who have no interest in following Jesus are capable of being and often are loving people. So does this mean they are on the right track, living lives that please Jesus, and so are “good with God”?

Before we jump to conclusions we will want to remind ourselves of the important role Christianity has played in lifting up an ethic of love in our society. Thanks to the influence of Christianity our society has been “marinating” in an ethic of love. Christianity has added flavor to our nation and many others. So when the Beatles sing “All you need is love,” or when Katy Perry sings “I will love you unconditionally,” there is a Christian ethic shining through. People who have no time for Jesus are nevertheless enjoying a certain flavor he has brought to society.

There are societies which have not had so thorough a permeation of Jesus’ love ethic. You can think of areas rife with militant Islam where a strict interpretation and application of sharia law is seen as more honorable than an ethic of love. We all know where that has led and is leading. Or you can think of where a belief in karma can lead. If you are brought into life as an untouchable, born into a sorry state of affairs, you must deserve it. That’s karma. Jesus teaches grace. Jesus loves us regardless of merit and went to the cross for us. Though Christians can get it wrong, one cannot deny that Christianity has lifted up an ethic of grace and love in some societies in a way that other religions have not in others.

Still, we may be wondering if a person who rejects Jesus as Lord and Savior is on the right track by living a life of love. Actually, yes, they are on the right track. But they have not got on the train. We cannot love enough to go the distance and bring ourselves into the presence of God. We can devote ourselves to a life of love all we want, but when we refuse God’s love for us, we refuse God’s offer to carry us for the distance. We would rather walk, though the destination is far. Too far.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is powerful evidence that we are on the right track. But being on the right track is not enough. This destination requires getting on the train.

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:18-23 NRSV emphasis mine


If the graphic looks familiar, yes it is an Amy Grant album cover, a supposedly rare cover without her name on the front (that we can see).

April 27, 2015

Owning the Holy Spirit

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This week at church highlighted a truth about the Jesus telling his disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. The first thing Jesus said would happen is focused on the world; on the non-followers.

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment…  (NIV)

The phrase in verse 8 you are probably more accustomed to hearing is, “he will convict the world of sin…” (NASB & others). But familiar as this is, we tend to overlook that this is directed to those we could call today ‘outside the Church.’

Instead, we think of the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer.

We certainly get this a few verses later.

13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

The difference between this and verse eight is that we often overlook the activity of the Holy Spirit in the world at large. We forget that God is, by His Spirit, already planting seeds in the hearts of people, already making a difference by His very presence. We look at the situation of the ‘lost’ as though their salvation all depends on human effort; as though it all depends on us.

We also do this in other areas:

  • A Christian pastor has a large church but also has a unique gift of defining the gospel without using the words and phrases to which some of us are emotionally attached. His ministry is condemned because seasoned Christians are judging it in terms of how it touches them instead of how it effective it is being in the lives of those unfamiliar with Christian doctrine. It’s simply easier to attack it than to understand and embrace the pastor’s philosophy of ministry.
  • A Christian author writes a book that also uses terminology and situations not generally associated with the proclamation of the Gospel, and the book is a huge hit with unbelievers and, over the passage of time, many see it as the thing that started them on the road to genuine faith. But conservative Christians find the imagery so different from that used in the Bible that they condemn the author as a false teacher, ignoring the potential that God can and is using it.
  • A member of my church has a great 1:1 evangelism ministry with people he knows from the shop floor of his workplace, and his weekend hobby as a biker. As a result, he often meets people to discuss spiritual interests in a local bar. He is roundly criticized by other people in the church for the inappropriateness of the context where his witness and discipleship conversations are taking place, who fail to see the fruit of the ministry.

You get the pattern. But if the Holy Spirit of God was first sent to the world to convict of sin, we have to realize that we, the religious set, don’t own the Holy Spirit.

Yes, He is a gift to the believer and to the Church, but the Holy Spirit is also a gift to the world.

 

 

 

January 27, 2015

Light of the World; Light to the World

Light of the World - Sermon on the Mount

At the blog One in Jesus, Jay Guin is tracking through the Sermon on the Mount (SOTM) with some deep insights into how listeners to Jesus would have understood his words. I encourage you to click the link of the title below for today’s thoughts, and then find your way to the beginning of the series and perhaps commit to follow through the three chapters. (We promise to still be here when you get back.)

SOTM: Matthew 5:14-16 (Light)

(Mat 5:14-16 ESV) “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

This passage is clearly parallel with the preceding verse on the salt of the earth. But now Jesus is less cryptic, explaining his metaphor in some detail.

As is so often the case, Jesus is referring back to the prophets –

(Isa 42:6-7 ESV) 6 “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

God promises Israel that they will be “a light for the nations” if they’ll respond to his call.

(Isa 58:3-10 ESV) 3 “‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’

“Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. 4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?

6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

8 “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

“If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”

The prophets use “light” in two senses — which are the same sense. To be a “light for the nations” surely means an example of the goodness of following God that will draw the nations to God.

“Then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom as the noonday” refer to having abundant happiness because of God’s blessings. If you serve those in need, God will make you so blessed that you’ll shine like a beacon in darkness.

And so how will God draw the nations? By the joy and blessedness of those who follow him — as they serve the needy and oppressed.

Sound familiar? The Kingdom (or as we like to say, the church) will live in community in such a way that the world will be drawn to enter the Kingdom by professing loyalty to (faith in) the King (Jesus). This life will have many joyous, attractive features. Among them will be —

to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke … to share [their] bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into [their] house; when [they] see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own [fellow subjects of the King] …  [to] pour [themselves] out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted

He’s talking about the church. Really. And if the church would be true to its mission, it would shine like a city on a hill.

Last point (for today). “You are the light of the world” is not a command but a statement of fact. Jesus’ disciples are all the light that there is. Yes, it’s Jesus’ light shining through them, but if they don’t shine, they’ve hidden the light of Jesus under a basket.

So for those of us looking for the secret to successful evangelism, it’s not a tract or a training program or a sales pitch. It’s a state of being. It’s being light.