Christianity 201

November 6, 2022

The Injury of Precious Souls

Whatever direction our devotional study might have taken today, please forgive me, but I felt it was more important to do this instead…

A few weeks ago I was exposed to a story involving one of those incidents which is (unfortunately) all too common in church life. An individual acting under her perceived authority in a particular area of church management had been extremely abrupt with another member of the church, the latter who (also unfortunately) is a relatively new Christian.

The story is one of those ‘tempest in a teapot’ things that doesn’t affect the day-to-day operation of the church, but it was significant enough that it somewhat sickened me to think that the latter person had been deeply affected (i.e. hurt) the by the actions of the former person, to the point they decided to relinquish their own volunteer service in that area.

This second person is a woman. While she is in no way unattractive, whenever I look at her, I see something else. I see a precious soul. The C.S. Lewis quotation again comes to mind:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors…”

Furthermore, as a new Christian, she is also a fragile soul, as in the end, are all of us. And so this verse came to mind:

[Jesus: ] “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. – Mark 9:42

While the NIV use of “stumble” gets stuck in our minds, other translations (including a range as wide as NLT to NASB) render this as “sin.” We tend to think of the verse in that way; someone overtly leading someone into sin by introducing them to some horrific behavior or setting an incredibly poor (or hypocritical) example of what it means to live the Christian life.

But the enemy can work in more subtle ways. The HCSB reads, “…whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones…” and over the years I have seen some otherwise exemplary people drive others out of local churches through words that should not have been spoken.

Confession time: I did it myself once, though it was years later that I was informed of the details. He was a young person — I wince at that as I type it — who was volunteering in our sound (tech) department, and there were a lot of hiccups at the 9:30 AM service. I remember being firm and saying, “These problems will be fixed at the 11:00 AM service.”

While I don’t think it was anymore harsh than that, again, we need to remember that some people are fragile souls. He wasn’t a regular volunteer; I think he was just starting to come on board, but then someone else was away, so he got tagged as the principle sound mixer that day, and he wasn’t really on my radar.

Years later someone told me — and as I type this I hope it wasn’t true — that he left the church that day. So many years had gone by that I’d even forgotten his name, and his father, who had attended the church, had married and left the area. To this day I’d like to pick up some of those pieces, but his service was so short-lived that others couldn’t recall him when I described him to them. Ouch!

In the second part of a verse that’s contextually in a passage about judging others, Paul writes this:

…[M]ake up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. – Romans 14:13b NIV

Returning to my original story, I don’t think people realize the damage they can do others, especially those who are new in their Christian walk. I don’t believe that they would ever consider for a moment that their words would cause someone to leave the church. I know I didn’t.

The words of Jesus on this from Mark’s gospel (above) are echoed by all the synoptic gospel writers. Luke writes:

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.  (17:6,7 NRSV)

as does Matthew:

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!  (18:6,7 NIV)

Guard yourself against the possibility of inadvertently injuring a precious soul.

April 15, 2019

A Conscious Choice to Use What We Have for Good

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This marks seven times we’ve featured the writing of Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. The blog isn’t currently as active as it was, but I felt this deserved to be shared with you today.

Two Ways to Live

Have you ever had a truth penetrate your mind that was so simple that you wondered why it took you so long to figure out?

I have.

One of the reasons for this reality is because the Holy Spirit holds back a teaching for the moment it will make the biggest impact in our lives. It has less to do with our IQ and more to do with timing.

One of the times I have experienced this happened several years ago while I read James 3:1-12, particularly verses 9 through 12:

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water (James 3:9-12; ESV).

James wrote that there are two uses for our tongues.

  1. We can bless God and others with our words. Our tongues can be an instrument of worship to God and an instrument of encouragement to those around us.
  2. We can curse God and others with our words. Our tongues can be an instrument to misuse the holy of God and an instrument to abuse those around us.

Think about how you use your tongue. Are people blessed by what you say or are they hurt by the words that come out of your mouth?

As I pondered this passage, the Holy Spirit showed me that the application encompasses more than our tongues.

Ultimately, what James taught in this passage applies to the way we live.

We can use our bodies to either sin and rebel against God, or we can use them to obey and worship God.

It is true that our actions fall on a spectrum between those two realities, but in the end we are either living in obedience or we are living in sin.

In his book Surprised by Hope, N. T. Wright devoted a whole chapter to the idea of “building for the kingdom.”

“But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom” (p. 208).

This leads us to ask the question, “How do we build for the kingdom?”

In light of the passage from James, I would argue that we build for the kingdom when we devote our lives to doing good works in the name of Christ Jesus.

This is the point I want us to get today: just as our tongues can curse or praise God, our lives can either work for His kingdom or they can work against His kingdom.

I believe that sin is rebellion against God, and it has a corrupting nature, not only in our lives, but in the world.

Remember, this world was created good, and it has been corrupted through Satan, sin, and death.

For us to build for God’s kingdom requires us to leave sin behind through repentance, and join our lives to Jesus.

It is not enough just to leave a life of sin, but we also need to pursue what is right.

God called us to a life of obedience and good works. This is the practical side of how we join Him in His effort to redeem all of creation.

It is crucial to remember that our good works are not what makes us right with God, that only happens through faith in Jesus. Rather, our good works are our effort to partner with God in bringing His Kingdom to earth.

The implication of this thought is that the more we devote our lives to God’s kingdom the less we will be involved with sin. In other words, the best way to live out our repentance is to spend our lives doing good.

When we devote our lives to doing good, we are no longer participating in what brings corruption and injustice into God’s good creation.  Just as salt corrupts fresh water, sin corrupts good works.

Consider what the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:7-10, ESV).

Here we discover the key to good works: being led by the Spirit.

The best way I know to be led by the Spirit is to be students of Scripture, to be involved in a church family, and to be devoted to prayer. If we care about doing what God has called us to do, if we desire to be led by the Spirit, then we will make these things a priority in our lives.

There are two ways we can live our lives. We can lives our lives in rebellion against God, or we can live our lives building for His kingdom.

Make the right choice.