Christianity 201

January 4, 2019

The Help Someone Needs May Be You Sharing Your Story

Today’s devotional is from the website Partners in Hope Today, which we reconnected with six months ago. The devotionals posted there — in print and in audio — are especially focused for readers who are in a recovery program.  Click the title below to read at source.

Sharing the Message

Audio for SHARING THE MESSAGE

Within each personal story of the journey from bondage to freedom is the power of the Gospel to save those who are lost.  We are simply sinners saved by grace and kept clean and sober daily by God’s mercy.  When we tell our story, our lives give witness to God’s grace and mercy and we are fulfilling the great commission of spreading the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others.  We are pointing them to the pathway of their own healing journey with Jesus who said:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are oppressed;” (Luke 4:18 NKJV)

The Bible tells us that if someone struggles we should be gentle and humble as we help them get back on the right path.  It’s important to remember how we were when we were slaves to our addiction, just as they are now.  We need to support the desire in a person’s spirit to carry out their new life choices, even while their flesh is weak.  We also need to respectfully warn others for whom we perceive ongoing danger.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  (Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV)

We are not the Saviour, but we can love others as God loves us.  Love goes beyond mere words.  Sometimes it is demonstrated in silence or in an understanding touch as we come alongside someone who has strayed from the path of recovery.  Love doesn’t accuse but encourages the person to get back on the path to healing and continue the journey.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, May my life reflect the joy of living life to the full so that others may believe in the power of the Gospel to save and transform lives.  Amen


Would you like to be able to share your testimony with others? It could be very helpful to someone you know or someone you don’t.

CRU — the organization once known as Campus Crusade — offers these tips in organizing your thoughts and the chronology of your personal story.


Although we don’t sing hymns in many of our churches anymore, I decided to include this contemporary version of “Love Lifted Me” as an example of how a story (testimony) can be a great encouragement to someone else.

(For a more rocking version, click this link.)

 

November 13, 2018

Convincing Witnesses

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Six months ago we introduced you to Martha Anderson who has been writing devotions at Strengthened by Grace since 2014 and is the author of four books available on Lulu.com. Click the title below to read this one at source.

Full of the Spirit

But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison, led them out, and said ‘Go stand in the Temple courts and proclaim to all the people the words of this life.’  Acts 5:20

This is what has stuck with me throughout this week, along with a few other thoughts.  It was the apostles that got tossed into jail for telling about Jesus and new life in Him.  The religious leaders were filled with jealousy, which is what 5:17 tells us.  It wasn’t any complicated scheme–just jealousy.  Anyway, an angel let them out and told them to go back to the Temple court and keep teaching.

What catches me is that the angel told them to teach about ‘the words of this life.’  The whole first few chapters of Acts are flooded with the accounts of the Early Church–about how the Holy Spirit has come and landed on them like tongues of fire.  And how when they prayed the place where prayed shook with power and everyone was filled with boldness.  And then there was so much Holy Spirit power that people brought the sick and they passed by Peter’s shadow and they were healed.

So when they went back to the Temple Courts, they talked about Jesus being risen from the dead, exalted to God’s right hand as a Founder and Savior to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  And we are witnesses of these events and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.  

I’m sure the apostles didn’t just mumble a sorry testimony and invite them to Temple too.  No, they were convincing witnesses about the resurrection of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives.  That’s what I’ve been thinking about.

Go on to Acts 6 and read about Stephen.  He was described as being “full of the Spirit,” “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” and “full of grace and power, who was performing great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.”  Now that’s an eye-catcher.

People are looking for something to fill the holes in their empty lives, something big enough to occupy the space that they’re filling with things like their fascination with technology, the NFL, materialism, sex, drinking and other addictions.  If we offer a wimpy version of the Christian life, it is no more appealing than picking up an old textbook, or visiting their grandmother’s church.

But if you show them the real Jesus, and the “life that is truly life,” as 1 Timothy 6:19 says, or the abundant life that John 10:10 talks about.  And 1 Corinthians 4:20 it says that the kingdom of God is demonstrated not in idle talk but in power.  

Last Sunday night I was at our County Jail for Bible study.  There were six Native American women and another jail chaplain and myself.  We talked for a bit to catch up on how they were doing, and as I began the study, there was a male inmate calling out loudly the whole time.  I stopped and asked what that was.  The women said it was a man in the holding cell. They felt bad for him and said he had been yelling out all day in about ten different voices.

I asked if any of them had been at church with me the last summer when one of the women did the same thing and we stopped and prayed–and she stopped yelling out.  The women immediately begged me, “Please stop and pray.  Please pray.”  So we stopped.  The other gal with me prayed out loud first and me second.  We prayed that the spirits that were oppressing him would be bound and that the peace of the Holy Spirit would rest upon him.  Within one or two minutes the man was totally quiet.

I said, “Hey, do you hear that?”  And they said, “Hear what?”  I said, “My point exactly. It’s dead quiet out there.  Jesus did that.  He hears our prayers and has the power to work.  He will do that in your life.”  We got back into the Bible study and the jailers were stirring up a mighty commotion out in the hallway.  I mean it was like a circus out there.  It went on and on.

Finally I stopped and said, “I’m praying again.  This circus has to stop.”  I prayed that God would silence the commotion in the hall and that it would be so quiet that they could hear a pin drop.  Again, within a minute the noise stopped.  And again, I said: “Do you hear that?  Jesus did it again.  That’s what He wants to do for you.”

Today I met with a Native American gal that just got out of jail and treatment.  She came to church and is resolute about “doing the next right thing.”  She is making a break from the bonds of meth and alcohol.  I told her the story of what happened in jail last week.  Her brother is in prison, but God has gotten a mighty hold on him and he is a living, walking evangelist everywhere he was been incarcerated.

She told me about when he was back at the County jail and was with a guy I’ve known since he was a kid.  He was telling this other guy about Jesus and the other guy kept saying that he was a Native and believing that.  Her brother was telling him that it wasn’t helping his life and that  Jesus is the only way, and that He’s real and wants to save him too.

The guy said, “Well, if Jesus is real, I’ll pray for something sweet.”  Maybe he was being sarcastic, because it was 10 at night and he knew it wasn’t going to happen.  But they prayed that S— would get something sweet and that S— would see that God is real.  Not even 5 minutes later a jailer came to their pod where 5 other guys were, at 10:00 at night and said, “S— I have a cupcake for you.  I just thought you’d like it.”

This guy S— got down on his knees and started sobbing and said, “I believe, I believe.”

Now that’s proclaiming the words of this life!  Words of power, words that aren’t just words, but are about life changing abundance that people can grab onto and say, “Yes, He is real and can do things in my life.”

Now, I have to go stand in the town courts and speak words of this life…


Want more? Check out this article by Martha: A Stripped-Down, Boring Jesus.

June 25, 2018

Compelling People to Become Christians: Can a Parable Contain a Commandment?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV Luke 14:12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The Parable of the Great Banquet

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses…

…21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

If today’s title seems long, it’s because, in a very, very short comment on a Religion Forum, a writer opened not one, but two different cans of worms. First let’s read what they wrote:

Luke 14:23 says: The master said: “go out to the highways and country lanes and force people to come in, to make sure my house is full”. This verse is not a command of Jesus, but, rather is at the end of the parable

“A man once gave a feast”. In the parable a man gave a feast and invited many guests. At the time for the feast he sent the servants out to tell those he had invited to come because everything was ready. None of those people came, they all had other things to do. The man sent the servants to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Then the servants came to him and said there is still some room left in the banquet room. The man said go out and find people and force them to come so my house will be full.

This verse was used centuries ago by Catholics and Protestants in Europe to support forcing people to go to the one officially approved church in a nation. Today Christians generally don’t favor forcing people to go to church, so what do Christians do with this verse now? I can’t think of any way to get around it except to ignore it. How do Christians soft pedal this verse today?

Parables exist to compare and contrast. When “foolish virgins” run out of oil for their midnight lamps, the message is a warning to be prepared. In other words, don’t do what you see happening in the story.

In this story, there’s room at the table. There are still empty seats. The host of the party desires a full house. In other words, you’re supposed to do what you see playing out in the story.

We’re expected to go out

  • i.e. “Go into all the world”
  • i.e. “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria;” etc.
  • i.e. Search for the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son; etc.

and invite people to the great banquet God is preparing.

In a devotional we posted in March 2017, we noted:

C. S. Lewis wrote, “The symbols under which heaven is presented to us are (a) a dinner party, (b) a wedding, (c) a city, and (d) a concert.”

The banquet in Luke 23 could be either the dinner party or the wedding reception. It’s pointing us to something for which God is preparing us.

But the writer of our opening comment correctly notes that this verse has been used to create forced conversions. Even J. B. Phillips, in his translation, says, “make them come.” The Message says, “drag them in.” “Compel” and “Constrain” are frequently used.

Other translations however offer, “Urge them,” “Persuade them,” etc. (This is considered more consistent with the original Greek, as a later response in the same article points out.)  A respondent to the comment says, “This in Luke is, to me, the same as the wedding story in Matthew 22. There it states to “bid” them to come which is no more than to ask or invite them.”

So: Which is it?

The comment writer is correct in noting that this is a parable, and some aspects of the story may be very similar while the story is slightly different. Not everything in a parable has a perfect 1:1 mapping.  This is because the major point is that God’s desire is for the banquet to be filled. “God is not willing that any should perish.” (John 3:17a.)  In some schools of doctrine, this may grate a little since those who are chosen shouldn’t need to be ‘dragged in’ because of the irresistible grace presenting itself. (This is part of the larger question, ‘If unconditional election is a given, why evangelize?’)

I think the other can of worms is where the comment writer misses out.

The end of the parable is indeed a commandment; one that is consistent with the Great Commission, and all of (a), (b), and (c) above.

The parable represents the heart of God.

It’s a call to “come to the table” that in its broader context is being said in the home of a Pharisee and not strictly about who gets in but who is honored and given a place of prominence.

Make it your goal to invite others to the table.

PW

Come to the table
Come join the sinners
You have been redeemed
Take your place beside the Savior
Sit down and be set free
Come to the table.


Bonus content:

…There are so many people in this world who are lost and lonely and hurting, people who have nowhere to turn and no idea how to escape Satan’s evil grip. Jesus is the only one who can help them. All they need is someone to point them toward the Cross, someone to care enough to take them by the hand and lead them into the arms of their Creator, someone to hold them and love them into the kingdom…

…There is something about staring into the eyes of hopelessness, despair, and absolute grief that brings the gospel message home to you in a way that nothing else can. Your life takes on a renewed sense of purpose and urgency and you want to spend every waking moment of your life sharing your faith and setting captive souls free.

Reaching people for Jesus is what my life is about. “Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled’” (Luke 14:23). I challenge you to join me and ask yourself this question: If I don’t help them, who will?

~Nicky Cruz, sourced at World Challenge.

 

May 21, 2018

The Unsaved Aren’t Afraid of a Hell They Don’t Believe Exists

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re featuring, for the first time, the writing of Kaleb Tillman who calls his blog The Controversial Christian. Kaleb has an extensive background in Christian music and broadcast media. Click the title below to read this at source.

Can a Fear of Hell Save?

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭1:6-12‬ (ESV)

Very, very rarely are salvation and hell mentioned in the same sentence in the Bible. Any call to Jesus, you will find, often avoids the subject of hell entirely. Hell is obviously a thing, and it’s obviously what people are being saved from, but it doesn’t seem so important when the apostles are trying to convince people to follow Jesus.

Now think of every evangelist you’ve seen with a sign during a sporting event, or the televangelists who present the gospel, or the hellfire and brimstone preachers of old, or the people that come and preach on your college campus even though everyone is more interested in yelling at them than taking what they say to heart. What do they have in common?

Well, in most cases, their main selling points are either getting to heaven or not going to hell. They appeal to your fear. And, of course, it’s not just them. Plenty of pastors, evangelists and everyday Christians trying to reach out will bring up the idea that if you don’t accept this idea of Jesus, you are going to hell.

But we never see that approach taken from the apostles in the Bible. Jesus will mention hell, but mainly to people who are already following him, or at least people who claim to be religious leaders. Never is that line of logic used to convert someone in the Bible. Why?

Well, because it doesn’t work.

There are some major problems with using the fear of hell to evangelize:

1) The people who actually need the evangelizing don’t believe in hell.

Here lies a major practical problem. We evangelize to people who don’t believe Christianity. That means they don’t believe in God, the Bible or the concept of heaven and hell, or at least not the Christian versions of those things. Tell them your Bible says they’ll go to hell and they laugh. They don’t think hell exists, so they have nothing to be afraid of. This is why it also doesn’t work to tell people who don’t believe in Jesus that they need to stop sleeping around, for instance. They don’t believe in the concept of sin and don’t hold themselves to Christian standards, so why should they? You have to lead them to Jesus BEFORE they’ll accept the rest of the Bible.

2) It’s viewed by non-Christians as intentionally judgmental and offensive.

Yes, Christians are supposed to be extremely difficult to offend, but we can’t apply those standards to non-Christians while we’re evangelizing. Have you ever been in a discussion about, say, Star Wars with someone who has a different opinion on it than you? What if you were talking about how good the prequel movies are and the person you’re discussing with suddenly says “Well, if you like the prequels, you must hate children.” This guy is now attacking your character for seemingly no reason, and you likely won’t respond well.

To a non-Christian, hellfire and brimstone evangelism feels like that. This random person is attacking your lifestyle when he doesn’t even know you. Everything the person is saying may be factually true, but they hear it as an attack only designed to incite anger and start an argument. And when you see someone like that, you don’t want to listen, but you may listen to someone who’s telling you there’s a God who loves you for who you are, which is also true.

3) Fear doesn’t save people.

By far more important than any other reasoning I could give, fear of hell doesn’t work as a path to salvation. As the passage at the top says “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. ”

Salvation comes from a knowledge of who Jesus is, what He did and His love for us, along with us giving our love in return. No one has ever been scared into honestly loving someone. “Love me or die” does not usually get actual love in response. People may act better, go to church, read their Bibles, preach, anything out of fear of going to hell, but without love there is still no salvation.

Now, I’m not in favor of changing the Bible to appeal to people. Hell is still there, and we can’t pretend otherwise. If someone we’re speaking to asks about it, we should absolutely tell them the biblical truth. We as Christians should acknowledge it, and we can even use it as motivation to lead the ones we love to Jesus.

But that’s not the pitch. If our goal is for people to understand the gospel so they may accept the salvation of Christ, especially if we only have a short window to do it, then we need to tell them the information that actually matters: God loves you, Jesus died for you, and if you love Him, He will forgive you. If we can convince people of that, they can come to understand the rest in time. Just something to think about.

October 10, 2017

A Fire That Can’t Be Put Out

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re paying a second visit to Pure Devotion, the blog of Lori Thomason. Click here to read her story. There were two other items we considered for today, but they’re much longer than what we normally do here.

If you have time I hope you’ll consider those; for today’s click the title below to read at Pure Devotion.

Fan Your Flame

2 Timothy 1:6-7 (NLT)  This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

“You cannot put out a fire that burns on the inside.” (Bethel Worship)

I am reminded today of the spiritual gift that God has given me. I have been challenged in the last few days to test the temperature of the water boiling into passion for Christ. Have I become tepid? Is the river of life flowing inside of me lukewarm? God has not given me a spirit of fear or timidity – but have I taken it anyway? He is given me power overflowing from amazing and abundant grace – am I doused in it? Is love my passionate motivation in all things? I have self-discipline. It is produced by the Holy Spirit who tends the fire that burns within me. The passionate pursuit of Christ that began with just a spark of faith turned into confident hope.

Matthew 5:14-15 (NLT) “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.

I am back at the furnace of the three Hebrew boys. I can feel the flame of refinement. The purification process designed to produce gold in our life. The heat that burns away all impurity to reveal the faith that is hidden within. I wonder if that is not the purpose of our life. To go through the same trials, troubles, and tragedies or to face the same temptations (rise or fall) that will demonstrate the Glory of God to all who are a witness. The church has painted a pretty picture. Religion erases the need for grace to give way to a façade of perfection not yet manifested until the return of Christ. We hide our broken hearts. Shield are scraped knees. Hide our dirty hands. When what the world really needs to see is a relationship so authentic that nothing can separate us. The Light of the Word was not lit up hiding in an upper room – but rather on a Cross for all the world to see in His Suffering. A city on a hilltop must be a reference to us. Given credibility in the Kingdom by our witness, but not to be tucked away in time. We are the reflection of His Love in its bloody, messy form. It may not be pretty but it’s the thing that we hold on to.

It’s time to fan the flame of His Spirit invested in us. To blow fresh wind on the passion growing dim within us. See when the fire is within us – the stormy winds cannot put it out. The waves of conflict or controversy will not overtake it. Trials will only make it hotter. Fearless faith rises from the ashes of burned pride as God makes beauty from them just as He promised. Our confidence becomes our conviction. Impossibilities will be the fields where faith is planted confidently and boldly knowing miracles will come up through the fertile soil.

Song of Solomon 8:6-7 (NLT) Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, its jealousy as enduring as the grave.  Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame. Many waters cannot quench love, nor can rivers drown it. If a man tried to buy love with all his wealth, his offer would be utterly scorned.

The holy inhabitation of the Spirit of the Living God within us is the opportunity to experience true intimacy with Him. Jesus lives in us. Successful relationships thrive on intimacy. Intimacy is often considered in a physical sense but truly it is in the most spiritual sense that it is accomplished. Physical and material things change in life for they are in a constant and perpetual state of decay. Our body is born dying. Of course, we may try to maintain our appearance but truthfully the only advantage given to us is believers is new life that begins in our soul. As our soul prospers, so does our life externally. Intimacy is a close, familiar and affectionate personal relationship. It is the product of love and should encapsulate all of its characteristics. (I Corinthians 13) Those engaged in an intimate relationship know the other by close association with deep understanding and detailed knowledge of the other person. Intimacy requires openness by both individuals. It is an act of engagement that speaks, listens, knows and understands far deeper than words. Our intimacy with Jesus Christ gives us the opportunity to experience a passionate love so perfect it burns away every other perception of the word.

Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame. Is my love and commitment to Christ born of an intimate relationship filled with passion possessing the brightest kind of flame? It was the desire of Jesus to love us and live in complete intimacy with us that provoked Him to exhibit “love as strong as death” and “jealousy as enduring as the grave”. Nothing can separate us from God’s Love now. We are more than conquerors and confident overcomers in Christ. If believers truly believed that then there would be nothing that would keep us from the fire. We would jump in feet first in hopes to grow deeper in love with Christ.

I Peter 4:12-13 (NLT) Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.

For everyone will be tested with fire. (Mark 9:49) What if your present trial is actually an invitation to greater intimacy with the Lord? Could it be that He is trying to demonstrate His Love for you yet again with an outcome that is miraculous? Fiery trials will happen according to the Lord. We should be glad because it is through these incidents that we become partners with Christ. It is in His Suffering that our joy is made complete and dispensed in our life through passionate and fearless faith that will not back down from the fight or the fire but valiantly and victoriously fights for love. Are you passionate about your relationship with Jesus Christ? Are you investing in your partnership with the Lord? Fan your flame. Stir the fire deep within. Let your light shine. You will not be consumed but fully connected. A flame introduces to a fire becomes one with it making it burn stronger and brighter than ever before. You are part of something bigger than yourself – become one with Jesus. Jesus came to start a fire in us producing a light so bright it burns away darkness all around us. The Light is produced by His Great Love. How bright is your light day?

Luke 12:49 (NLT) “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning!

January 26, 2016

A New Song, An Old Story

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Ecclesiastes 1:9

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun. (NIV)

Decades ago The Rambos, a country gospel group, recorded My Song Is New, My Story’s Old. I had to look up the song yesterday, but the idea of the lyric has always stuck with me. There’s a line that says, “Found a new way to say it.” That’s the challenge to Christ followers everywhere; to find a new redemptive analogy that puts across the story of grace and forgiveness; or to leverage the current technology to get that message seen.

Our devotional today is by John Stuart at the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website. Click the title below to read at source.

Something Old, Something New

Ecclesiastes 1:10 – Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. (NIV)

I am fascinated by the current cinematic trend of remaking or re-envisioning old movies. For the last couple of years, it’s been difficult to find an original story or a completely new series of pictures. Hollywood seems preoccupied with retelling old tales with new actors and brilliant special effects, yet, no matter how wonderful these remakes appear to be, they’re just the same old stories presented in a different style or new medium.

As I watch crowds of people lining up at the movie theaters, it makes me wonder if the church could not learn something from this post-modern phenomenon. Are there new ways to retell God’s stories? Should we seriously consider using innovative media techniques to present our worship, our Bible studies, our programs, and our missions in order to reach a wider community?

The answer is, of course, “Yes!” Christianity has always been good at adapting its faith to new innovative processes. The gospel writers used widely-spoken Greek instead of obscure Aramaic to spread Christ’s message. The Reformers employed the printing press to produce Bibles in various European languages to expand Protestantism. Missionaries traveled the entire world using ships, trains, automobiles, and planes to take the gospel to other nations and indigenous peoples. And today, Christian pastors use the Internet by uploading sermons and devotionals, writing blogs, and posting pictures to reach people in their homes all over the world.

A long, long time ago, in Galilee far away, Jesus Christ lived, bringing a message of hope to His people and the rest of the world. His story is our history and we are the messengers of His words, works, and ways in our own homes, churches, and communities today. The gospel may be almost 2000 years old, but its teaching is still relevant for every human being on this planet. As Christians, it’s up to us to present that old message in new forms, whether it be by texting Bible verses, sharing prayers on Facebook, or writing devotional blogs. The opportunities are both amazing and boundless; it’s up to us to use them to glorify God and expand Christ’s kingdom across the globe.

Questions for personal reflection: How has my faith been shaped by current technology? How am I using that technology to share my faith?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we live in amazing times and have wonderful resources to share Your gospel message with our families and friends, neighbours and strangers. Grant us new opportunities to express our faith in positive ways using the technology at our disposal. In Your holy name, we share and pray. Amen.

January 17, 2016

The Good News, Bad News of Ministry Life

If you knew me many years ago, there was a period when I would sign letters

I Corinthians 16-9

In my mind, the verse played out in the KJV text that I first learned it from:

For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.

Today, I would probably refer you to a more recent translation, such as the NLT:

There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.

If you think about, this is the format of every missionary, church, or parachurch organization fundraising letter or ministry report you’ve ever received.

→ The good news is: God is working in the lives of people, we are seeing results.
→ The bad news is: We face [financial/staffing/logistical/spiritual-warfare/etc.] challenges.

There’s always a challenge. Today in church, the guest speaker shared this:

The greatest challenge in life is not having a burden to carry.

That’s right, without some mountain to climb or river to cross, our lives would actually be rather boring. Certainly there would be no growth. I discussed that quotation with a friend after the service was over, and he said, “Yes, but that’s we all want. We want it to be easy.”

Matthew Henry writes:

Great success in the work of the gospel commonly creates many enemies. The devil opposes those most, and makes them most trouble, who most heartily and successfully set themselves to destroy his kingdom. There were many adversaries; and therefore the apostle determined to stay.

Some think he alludes in this passage to the custom of the Roman Circus, and the doors of it, at which the charioteers were to enter, as their antagonists did at the opposite doors. True courage is whetted by opposition; and it is no wonder that the Christian courage of the apostle should be animated by the zeal of his adversaries. They were bent to ruin him, and prevent the effect of his ministry at Ephesus; and should he at this time desert his station, and disgrace his character and doctrine?

No, the opposition of adversaries only animated his zeal. He was in nothing daunted by his adversaries; but the more they raged and opposed the more he exerted himself. Should such a man as he flee?

Note, Adversaries and opposition do not break the spirits of faithful and successful ministers, but only kindle their zeal, and inspire them with fresh courage.

I checked out a number of commentaries online for this verse, and ended up pulling out several of my print commentaries. One of the greatest insights came at the bottom of the page of the NIV Study Bible:

many who oppose me. Probably a reference to the pagan craftsman who made the silver shrines of Artemis and to the general populace whom they had stirred up (Acts 19:23-34).

Interesting that what appeared to be spiritual opposition was actually rooted in commerce; people who had a vested financial interest in maintaining commercial interests in a pagan form of worship. Think about Jesus and the money-changers in the temple:

NIV Matt. 21:12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.

I’ll let Eugene Peterson re-phrase the Acts reference above:

23-26 …a huge ruckus occurred over what was now being referred to as “the Way.” A certain silversmith, Demetrius, conducted a brisk trade in the manufacture of shrines to the goddess Artemis, employing a number of artisans in his business. He rounded up his workers and others similarly employed and said, “Men, you well know that we have a good thing going here—and you’ve seen how Paul has barged in and discredited what we’re doing by telling people that there’s no such thing as a god made with hands. A lot of people are going along with him, not only here in Ephesus but all through Asia province.

27 “Not only is our little business in danger of falling apart, but the temple of our famous goddess Artemis will certainly end up a pile of rubble as her glorious reputation fades to nothing. And this is no mere local matter—the whole world worships our Artemis!”

28-31 That set them off in a frenzy. They ran into the street yelling, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!” They put the whole city in an uproar, stampeding into the stadium, and grabbing two of Paul’s associates on the way, the Macedonians Gaius and Aristarchus. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the disciples wouldn’t let him. Prominent religious leaders in the city who had become friendly to Paul concurred: “By no means go near that mob!”

32-34 Some were yelling one thing, some another. Most of them had no idea what was going on or why they were there. As the Jews pushed Alexander to the front to try to gain control, different factions clamored to get him on their side. But he brushed them off and quieted the mob with an impressive sweep of his arms. But the moment he opened his mouth and they knew he was a Jew, they shouted him down: “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!”—on and on and on, for over two hours.

Some people believe that finding the heart of many world and regional conflicts is simply a matter of “follow the money.” The point is that we don’t know and we don’t always see why people are so very bent on opposing us in ministry. Not to minimize Matthew Henry’s interpretation, it’s simply too easy to say, ‘It’s the Devil;’ or put things into some general spiritual warfare category. Maybe your devout faith and witness are simply “bad for business” for someone nearby.

…My opinion would be that where ministry is taking place many challenges and overt opposition will occur. If it’s not, maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Greater opportunities = Greater opposition.

But the good news is that most of the time the opposite is also true.

Greater opposition = Greater opportunities.

Romans 5:20b (KJV) says,

But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.

Ministry life involves both: Great opportunities for harvest and life change, and many who would rather keep the status quo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 8, 2016

A Different Type of Fishing

ESV Matt. 4:18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

ESV Luke 5:1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”[a] 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Today we pay a return visit to Georgia pastor Clark Bunch (who we tend to interact with more at Thinking Out Loud) sourcing today from his church website at Unity Baptist Church. Click the title below to read at source.

Things Change After Jesus

Fishers of Men

Jesus began his public ministry by being baptized by John in the Jordan. After spending 40 days fasting in the wilderness he began preaching in Galilee and almost immediately called the first disciples. Mark 1 and Matthew 4 share an almost identical account of Jesus calling Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew by saying “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Luke 5 records the miraculous catch of fish and a very similar statement (from now on you will catch men). Things changed for Peter when Jesus got on his boat and called him to follow.

They used to fish with nets. All of the fishermen in the New Testament fished with nets. They cast the nets off the side of the boat, drug them through the water and then hauled up whatever was caught up along the way. Many of us have never fished that way but you’ve probably seen it. Tuna are caught by the hundreds as nets drag them up from the sea. It was a big deal in the late 80’s, early 90’s because dolphins were being trapped in the tuna nets and drowned. In the Luke 5 account the nets were so filled with fish they were breaking and they had to call for backup. Jesus said “I will make you fishers of men” and taught them how to cast the net of the Gospel. Some days you don’t catch anything; Peter and company had just had a bad night the first time they met Jesus. But our call as believers is to cast the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit do what he does to draw people to Jesus. Don’t worry about the days you don’t seem to be catching anything; our calling is to love God, love our neighbor as ourselves, and keep casting the net.

Peter did not fish with bait. I learned from my grandfather how to bait a hook. Most of us here today cast a hook with a rod and reel and catch one fish at a time; catfish, bluegill, trout, that’s how it’s done. When Jesus said “I will make you fishers of men” he was talking to fishermen that cast net which they traded in for casting the Gospel. We are not to fish for men with bait. See where I’m going with this? The prosperity gospel, the health and wealth preachers, are baiting people they hope to hook and do not cast the Gospel net. When praise and worship hymns we sing together are replaced by a rock concert, and when preaching the Word is replaced by a guy promising you will have everything you ever wished for and be richly blessed beyond your wildest dreams, then we’ve quit casting the net. You can fill a stadium with people that have itching ears and are willing to take the bait. People show up for the show. We must not replace authentic worship with worshiptainment.

Peter never stopped fishing. After the resurrection, in John 21:3, Peter says to about half a dozen other disciples “I am going fishing” and they went with him. They weren’t taking a new bass boat out to the lake for the first time or going on a fishing trip to get away from everything a few days. They had spent the past several years with Jesus, listening to his teaching, witnessing miracles and learning to do those same things themselves.  They most likely had no clue what to do next. Things changed when Jesus came, how would they change again when he left them? Peter said “I am going fishing” because that’s what he knew how to do. If the Jesus movement was over there were still bills to pay and food would have to be put on the table. Many of the disciples had been fishermen by trade and when Peter announced he was going back to work Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee and two other unnamed disciples went with him. Jesus appeared to them, the miraculous catch of fish was repeated, and Peter found out that his work and ministry were not over yet. In fact that work was just beginning.

Things change after Jesus. Your life may not change as dramatically as Peter’s did but our goals in life are reshaped as we redefine what is important. One of the things believers do is share with others. Think about intentionally casting the Gospel net this week and we’ll continue next with considering things that change after Jesus comes.

September 6, 2015

The Value of a Soul

And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?
 Matthew 16:26 NLT

When Bill Hybels founded Willow Creek in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs, one if his guiding principles was “lost people matter to God.” Many of the early ‘pioneers’ of Christianity in North America and Western Europe were consumed by this principle, but often today it is rare to run into people who have such passion.

Henry is a man who would feel absolutely naked if he left the house without a couple of gospel presentation booklets in his shirt pocket. He is driven by the possibility of making contact with people each and every day to share his faith, and I believe that because he is prepared, the opportunities happen.

At the website Go To The Bible, there is a long exposition of today’s key verse. This is just the first point:

The Soul Is So Valuable Because of What Man Is and God’s Purpose for Man

When God had spoken the worlds into being, then when He had prepared this earth with all of its living creatures and swarming life in the seas and the birds that fly in the air and animals and creeping things that live upon the earth, He looked upon it all and saw it was good.

But God was not satisfied. God is love, and love wants an object like unto itself upon which it can bestow its affection. His great Father-heart was hungering for a family of children, so He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” And the Scripture says, “In the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

The crowning work of all God’s matchless creation is a being from His own hand into whom He has breathed the breath of His own life and who has become a living soul in His image with a capacity to love like God and return the love of God, to respond to and receive that matchless love; with a capacity to think His thoughts, to live His life, to hold fellowship with Him, to walk in communion with Him, to live with Him.

We see God coming down in the cool of the day to walk with the man whom He has made. There is a blessed and holy and wonderful fellowship between the two.

The purpose God had in the creation of man was not only to have a being like unto Himself who could appreciate and respond to His love and upon whom He could lavish His affections and with whom He could have fellowship, but His further purpose was that this man should be the lord of creation and that one day he should reign with Him and share His glory throughout an endless eternity.

What a glorious purpose God had in the creation of man! In the face of that, many men will deliberately turn their backs upon such a destiny, deliberately defeat the purpose of God in their lives and choose to follow the Devil instead! They will be deceived by him and be dragged from that glorious purpose of God into endless night, separated from God. They will be defeated in their lives and rob God of the glory that rightly belongs to Him in every life.

That is why Jesus said, “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” He misses that infinite, loving, glorious purpose of God in his life and forfeits the opportunity to share with Him His glory through eternity.

What got me thinking about this today? I was reading about the eleven principles that guided missionary William Carey (1761-1834) in his life devoted to missions. You can read the list for yourself at the blog A Twisted Crown of Thorns.

  1. Set an infinite value on immortal souls.
  2. Gain all the information you can about “the snares and delusions in which these heathens are held.”
  3. Abstain from all English manners which might increase prejudice against the gospel.
  4. Watch for all opportunities for doing good, even when you are tired and hot.
  5. Make Christ crucified the great subject of your preaching.
  6. Earn the people’s confidence by your friendship.
  7. Build up the souls that are gathered.
  8. Turn the work over to “the native brethren” as soon as possible.
  9. Work with all your might to translate the Bible into their languages. Build schools to this end.
  10. Stay alert in prayer, wrestling with God until he “famish these idols and cause the heathen to experience the blessedness that is in Christ.”
  11. Give yourself totally to this glorious cause. Surrender your time, gifts, strength, families, the very clothes you wear.

We need more people today who will have this same, all consuming passion for the lost.

Luke 15:3 Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

 

August 2, 2015

A Post-Resurrection Teaching

great-commission-revisted

We often generalize that the days following the resurrection and before the ascension consisted of Jesus seeing people and being seen. But there are some great teaching moments that take place in that time period.

This devotional is by Ashley Bonnell at The Gideons Canada blog Send Me. Click the link in the title below to read it at source. Also, if you or someone you know speaks French, recently there was another shorter devotional by her that was translated en Francais. (If you want to know what you’re sending this is the English version.)

Me? Mission?

Did you know that after Jesus rose from the dead—before going back to glorious Heaven—He stuck around earth a little while longer to relay one important message to His disciples? One main message.  Of everything he could say in His last moment on earth, Jesus chooses one message in particular.

When we think about it like this, we realize that whatever His message, it had to be pretty important for Jesus to stick around to deliver it.

So what was it?

It was the Great Commission. Let’s look to Matthew 28…

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

It’s interesting the context in which Jesus says this. It’s from a position of “It is finished”—meaning, Jesus already defeated death. Jesus already paid for your sins; He has already made you righteous through His sacrifice. And in light of this, Jesus invites us on this mission that we get to be a part of.

Maybe you feel like this is an enormous message and task, and you as the messenger, aren’t quite sure if you have what it takes to do this… But I assure you, Christ in you—you have all you need.

Take Moses for example,

God told Moses he was going to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, out of years of slavery. That was quite an impossible task. And Moses, like us, felt inadequate. Moses responds to God saying,

Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?
(Exodus 3:11)

And God says:

I will surely be with you; (Exodus 3:12)

God’s presence with us is all we need. It is God who does the transformative, freeing work—not us. God promises us, just as he promised Moses, that He will be with us; He will not leave us, or forsake us.

Despite God’s promise, we still sometimes feel incapable. Moses too doubted God’s presence to be enough because of his own inadequacy. But you see, God can use anything and anyone He wishes to reveal Himself. Look what he says to Moses’ doubt:

The Lord said to him, What is that in your hand? And he said, A rod. (Exodus 4:2)

And then God instructs Moses to throw it on the ground, and it turns into a slivering snake.

“This,” said the Lord, “is so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you. (Ex 4:5)

God uses Moses and his rod—both useless in and of themselves. A stick cannot free slaves, and Moses alone couldn’t either… Just as our talent, gifting, and interests and human strength can’t save people…

Jesus demonstrates, through Moses who feels inadequate, and the useless rod—His life-giving, transformative power. God demonstrates that He can bring a dead thing to life; a dead piece of wood into a live snake.

God does the same with believers like you and I—He takes us as we are, in our inadequacies and weaknesses, and He takes the things in hands that are in and of themselves useless, and demonstrates His life-giving power.

God is with you, and He will work through you … not because of anything you do, but because of who He is. God working through us, will set people free, set nations free, and bring people to faith in Christ.

Don’t hesitate, don’t doubt. Look to Jesus, and GO and Tell!

July 25, 2015

Scattering

Parable of the SowerMark 4:1 Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Last night I attended a Friday night Camp Meeting-style service in which the speaker talked about the idea of scattering. He made it clear that this was a message about quantity, and not about quality.

Often we speak of the latter, requiring people to take evangelism training courses and to have a sufficient knowledge of scriptures and apologetics before they can take their witness to the streets, and to their friends and neighbors. But the speaker emphasized that we’ve thereby overly complicated the evangelism process. Although he didn’t refer to it, the verse that came to mind was,

Matthew 10:8b … Freely you have received; freely give.

Texts he used included

Luke 14:23 “The master said, ‘Then go to the country roads. Whoever you find, drag them in. I want my house full! (The Message)

and three repeated key verses in trilogy of “lost” parables in Luke 15

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

What I would call an imperative to share the gospel is found in not only an urgency based on a concern for each and every individual who is not yet part of God’s family, but an urgency based on the idea that time is limited.

John 4:35Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.

which reminded me of another verse

Eph 5:16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. (KJV)
Eph 5:16 Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days. (Phillips)
Eph 5:16 Make the most of your opportunities because these are evil days. (GW)
Eph 5:16 I mean that you should use every chance you have for doing good, because these are evil times. (ICB)

He also spoke about working cooperatively with other ministries, churches, organizations and individuals, quoting
1 Corinthians 3:8 The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. (NLT)

That reminds me of a statement I have posted many times

“There is no limit on what can be done for God, as long as it doesn’t matter who is getting the earthly credit.”

In the notes I took, I want to end here with a scripture that he actually used to at the beginning of his message, taking some familiar words from Jesus in Luke 4:18 and then placing the responsibility on us.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on us,
    because he has anointed us
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent us to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I couldn’t also help but think of Bill Hybels’ guiding principle in the founding of his church:

“Lost people matter to God.”


Unless otherwise marked, texts used were NIV
I didn’t identify the speaker, the “he” in the story was Rev. Brent Cantelon who I can heartily recommend.
The image, inspired from Mark 4, is the logo for the Canadian Bible Society

July 15, 2015

Prophets Without Honor

Wednesday contributor, Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon leaves us with a powerful message before heading off on three weeks holidays.

Unpopular Prophets

And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Amos 7:12-13

The dedicated Christian may be able to relate to Amos. We might paraphrase: “O religious nut, go preach to someone who wants to listen. Stay where you were, preach to your own kind and do not ram your teaching down our throats.” “Preaching” was not welcome there in Amos’ day, for according to Amaziah that is the king’s land, and not here today, for this is Canada where we talk about the weather, hockey, and politics, usually in that order. But not religion. That is a private matter so don’t talk about it. Maybe we have never encountered this sentiment, but maybe that is because we have been too quiet to ever be shushed?

Last week we looked at engaging the minds of those who have already made up their minds. This week we ask what are we to do when we face not just apathy for, but hostility to, our message. Not just “we will never agree with what you are saying, but, we don’t even want to hear it.” What are we to do as Christians when our message has become unpopular? Let us turn to a prophet with an unpopular message for help.

Amos was sent from his homeland in Judah with a message for the Northern Kingdom of Israel. His message tended to be simple: “stop exploiting the poor and bring back justice.” But it was also unpopular, especially with the priest in Bethel:

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’” 12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Amos 7:10-13

Amos was told to go back to Judah and keep his message there. The Christian today may be told to go back to church and keep their message there. So what do we learn from Amos?

Amos was not in Bethel for personal gain. In fact he is not even a “professional” prophet belonging to a guild or school of prophets:

14 Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15 and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Amos 7:14-15

We know Amos was not speaking up for self-gain, so why was he there? Chapter 7 begins with three visions, the first two ending with God relenting from judgement thanks to the intercession of Amos:

This is what the Lord GOD showed me: he was forming locusts at the time the latter growth began to sprout (it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings). 2 When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said, “O Lord GOD, forgive, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” 3 The LORD relented concerning this; “It shall not be,” said the LORD. 4 This is what the Lord GOD showed me: the Lord GOD was calling for a shower of fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. 5 Then I said, “O Lord GOD, cease, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” 6 The LORD relented concerning this; “This also shall not be,” said the Lord GOD. Amos 7:1-6 (emphasis mine)

This is a man who is passionate about interceding on behalf of the people. He loves the people! From Amos we learn this important truth for when we face opposition: The motive for speaking up is not self-gain, but love. In the third vision God points out that His justice must finally overrule the compassion of Amos:

This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; 9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” Amos 7:7-9

But justice will not overrule compassion until opportunities are given to repent, thus Amos is sent to warn the people. God who loves the people! And a strong message is given precisely because of love. In fact any effort to silence a prophet of God is an effort to snuff out the loving activity of God. And to silence a Christian from sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ is to deny an opportunity to love.

Even the most dire prophecies of the prophet are spoken out of love. We might consider the last words of Amos to Amaziah:

“Now therefore hear the word of the LORD. You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’ 17 Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’” Amos 7:16-17

We ought not to take this as a personal attack out of spite: “I don’t like how you have opposed me, so God is going to get you.” Rather this is a final plea, a pointing out of the natural consequences if Amaziah continues down the path he is on: “If you deny the nation the opportunity to repent God will not protect you when the enemy comes. Just think of the dire circumstance that will create for your family, for you, and for your nation!” Amos was not pointing to a “supernatural zapping” but a natural and sad outworking of events. Amos knew about exile and so could warn Amaziah about it. We know about hell. How often do we warn people that the natural consequence of a life lived with one’s back turned to God will be an eternity without God? Hell is not a “supernatural zapping” but a natural and sad outworking of events.

Amos has not been the only spokesperson from God that people have tried to silence. Nor has he been the only one to speak up. John the Baptist loved people too much to be silent about their need for repentance. Jesus loved people too much to be silent about the coming Kingdom. The apostles loved people too much to be silent about the good news that Jesus is risen, that He is Lord and Saviour, that in Jesus God has stepped into history to rescue humanity. This was an unpopular message back in the day: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). It still is unpopular.

How much do we really love Canada? How much do we really love the people all around us? Does fear silence us? Or does love loosen our lips?

All scriptures are quoted from the NRSV

November 20, 2014

Jesus: “Be Me”

John 15:9-12

The Message (MSG)

9-10“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.

11-15“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

God's RepresentativeYou’ve just been hired as a manufacturer’s representative. The manufacturer in this case manufactured the earth, the universe and all that it is in them. Then he appoints you, a part of that creation to represent Him on earth to the rest of creation. That’s hard to take in. A few years ago my wife Ruth wrote this to be read at a church plant she was doing in a place where representing God, representing Christ, would not be easy. But is it any easier where you are? Where I am?

Look at the example I have set in how I’ve loved you and all of the others and follow my example.

Follow my example. Love the world.

Be Me to the world.

Be Me to your neighbors.

The woman across the road, the guy who lives downstairs.

The kids who play on your lawn.

Be Me to the vulnerable, the hungry, the oppressed.

Be Me to the poor, the cold, the homeless, the lost.

Be Me to the rich, the insulated, the sheltered, the lost.

Be Me to the fearful, the sick, the lonely, the isolated, the recovering.

To the educated, to the street-smart, to the foolish.

To the bruised, the bleeding, the calloused, the rough, the tough, the abrasive.

Be Me to the stubborn, the unappreciative, the ungrateful, the dismissive.

To the takers.

To the users.

To the ones who have raised themselves up, the ones who have made themselves as small as possible or who have been made small.

Be Me to the almost there, the almost gone.

To the empty, the misunderstanding, the suspicious, the condescending.

Be Me to the ones whose backs are toward you, the ones whose heads are bowed, the ones whose chins are held high.

Be Me to the uninterested, the undesiring, to the undeserving.

To the shackled, to the free.

Be Me the way I have been Me to you.

Be Me.

You have no right not to be.

~Ruth Wilkinson

August 5, 2013

The Value of a Soul

Tim Challies is a widely read Christian blogger, but many of you might not think of him as a devotional writer. This is however his fourth appearance here at C201. I really liked this piece, which he gave the title, And Also Much Cattle. Many of you are already familiar with the variety of Tim’s blog; for the rest of you, click through to read this one at source.

I love to receive challenges and lessons from unexpected places. Lately God has been teaching me so much through the book of Jonah. Yes, Jonah. Jonah is a book that ends in an unorthodox way. Where most books end with a satisfying conclusion, this one ends with a question mark. Where most books end with people or with God, the final word in Jonah is “cattle.” It’s all very strange. It’s all deeply challenging.

Even the context is odd. Jonah has just witnessed a miraculous city-wide revival with tens of thousands of people turning to the Lord in repentance and faith. Yet despite seeing this great work of God, Jonah’s reaction is one of anger. He is furious with God—so angry that he just wants to die. He would rather die than see these inhabitants of Nineveh call out to the Lord.

And as Jonah sits outside the city mourning the loss of a plant that had shaded him from the sun, God speaks to this rebellious prophet.

The Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

This is one of those classical biblical arguments from the lesser to the greater. God is saying, “You feel compassion for a plant. That’s good. But don’t you see how much greater people are than plants? If you pity the plant, which was here yesterday and gone today, shouldn’t you also pity people? Shouldn’t you pity them even more? And tell you what, even if you can’t bring yourself to pity these pagan people, can’t you at least muster up some sympathy for animals? Surely you don’t want me to destroy all of those animals, do you?”

God calls on Jonah to understand that he is seeing this all wrong. Jonah, the God-fearing prophet, should be rejoicing to see God save sinners. Instead he hates it. He believes that he and his fellow Jews are somehow worthy of God’s grace; he believes that all others—especially those dangerous, pagan Assyrians—are unworthy of grace.

And I think you and I are tempted to come to the end of the book and laugh at Jonah. We can roll our eyes in exasperation. “Jonah, you foolish, ignorant, xenophobic, pathetic man. Don’t you see? People are more important than plants! Only human beings are created in God’s image. Therefore nothing could have more value than people. You are a fool!” And we go our way.

Except for that question mark. We need to answer the question. You and I. Do we really believe that nothing in all the world is more valuable than people? Do we bear this out in our lives?

Jesus said: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” He is saying that one soul is more valuable than all the treasure in the world. You could own the entire universe and you would have nothing compared to the value of a single soul. You could have the wealth of Bill Gates and add to it the treasure of Solomon, and you would be poor compared to the value of a soul.

No wonder, then, that the Bible tells us, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Of course God desires that all people come to the knowledge of the truth! He knows they are lost and he is filled with compassion for them. His great desire is for souls to be saved because nothing is more precious. There is no greater loss than the loss of a soul.

Do we believe this? Do we really believe this? Through his Word, God asked me Jonah’s question: “I have great compassion for the souls of men and women. Do you?” Maybe you need to answer it as well.

Maybe we could sit down and walk through your week together. How did you use your time? What does the way you used your time tell you about how you value souls? Would your time show that souls are precious, more precious than anything else? More precious than your entertainment? More precious than working long hours to have a nice house and nice stuff and lots of comfort?

Maybe you could take a look at your bank statements. What would the way you use your money tell you about what you value? What would it tell about how you really value souls? How much leads directly to mission? How much leads to the healing of the bodies and souls of people created in the image of God?

What if we could listen to your prayers played back? What priorities do your prayers reflect? Are souls your great concern when you are on your knees before God?

Do you have a beautiful lawn and a flourishing garden, yet feel more pity for the grass and plants than you do for people on the other side of the fence?

There is only one thing on this earth that will survive the ages: the souls of men and women. There is nothing more valuable. And through his Word, and especially through the book of Jonah, God has been forcing me to ask, “Am I the one sitting outside the city?”

 

Link to previous C201 re-blogged articles by Tim Challies.

July 1, 2013

Nature’s Splendor Necessitates Accountability

One of the toughest things with which theologians have two wrestle with is the destiny of the unevangelized. In several places however, scripture challenges our ability to consider the idea of anyone existing outside an awareness of God, in passages such as “The heavens declare the glory of God,” and also our passage today.

Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California kicks us off today with a post from his daily devotional blog entitled A Master Designer:

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.Romans 1:20

God has revealed Himself in many ways to every person, everywhere. He has given us the testimony of His own creation. Romans 1:20 tells us, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. . . .”

To say that all of the beauties of God’s creation came about randomly is ridiculous. The person who believes in the theory of evolution makes a choice to believe it. I believe they make that choice because the lifestyle they want to live has no place for God. If there is a Creator, then there is a God. If there is God, then there is a Judge. If there is a Judge, then there is a judgment. And if there is a judgment, they will have to stand there one day. So they have to try to find a way to write God out of the script.

But I think we know intuitively there is a Master Designer behind it all. To look at this world and say that it all just came about randomly borders on the absurd. It would be like saying the 747 aircraft was not the result of the engineering efforts of countless engineers, designers, and workmen at Boeing, but came into being because a tornado swept through a junkyard, and after it was done, there it sat in all its glory.

Yet people will look at something as intricate and amazing as the human body and the creation around us and say it all came about randomly. The Bible says, “Only fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God’ ” (Psalm 53:1).

God has given us the witness of His creation.

Go deeper with some quotations on this verse from the website Bible Verse Reflections:

Fine tuning of the universe calls for a Fine Tuner
Not only did the universe explode into being out of nothing.
It did so with extreme precision.
In other words, the Big Bang was not a chaotic explosion but an incredibly precise event.

Source: Frank Turek


Our universe operates according to some very specific numerical values. We have the speed of gravity, speed of light, the weak force, the electromagnetic force, the strong nuclear force.

One physicist who teaches at Princeton said it is sort of like this.

It is like God is sitting at a big desk and He has got loads of different dials each representing one numerical constant each set precisely to a fixed number.

Now what one of the dials were moved? For example what if light were not to travel at 186,000 miles per second but 200,000 miles per second.
What if the values of the universe were a little different?

This question was described by Stephen Hawking in his book a Brief History of Time.
If you move one of the dials not 1% (one percent) but 1 part in a hundred thousand million million you would have no universe and you would have no life!

The entire universe has to be as big as it is and as old as it is and contain precisely the numerical values it does because if it didn’t we wouldn’t be here.
The universe is a giant conspiracy it seems to produce us.

Now this argument has put modern atheism completely on the defensive.
Why?
Because it is an argument utterly immune from Darwinian attack.
We are talking why, not just our planet, but the whole universe has the values it does.
I would suggest that the idea of a Creator is the best available explanation.

The universe is fine tuned for life.

The fine tuning of the universe suggests a fine tuner.

I am calling that finer tuner “God”

Source: Dinesh D’Souza vs Dan Barker – The Great God Debate.mp3


The fine tuning of the universe for intelligent life makes Gods existence highly probable.

During the last 30 years or so scientists have discovered, that the existence of intelligent life depends on a complex and delicate balance on initial conditions simply given in the Big Bang itself. We now know that our existence is balanced on a razors edge.

The existence of intelligent life depends on a conspiracy of initial conditions which must be fine tuned to an accuracy and degree that is literally incomprehensible and incalculable. It has been calculated that a change in the strength of gravity or the weak force by one part in 10 to the 100th power would have prevented a life permitting universe.

There is no physical reason why these constants and quantities should possess the values they do.

Source: William Lane Craig debate

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