Thinking Out Loud

March 4, 2016

That Moment Where Peter Gets It

I wrote this for Christianity 201, but as I was writing, it evolved into something greater than I intended, so I’m sharing it here. Apologies to those who subscribe to both.

Last month several churches in my area held their annual meetings. Part of this is required by law and is intended to include the election of officers. Because one church has a rather unique take on this, I looked into the choosing of Matthias (to replace Judas Iscariot) in Acts 1, but ended up with a completely different takeaway.

First, the text (all scriptures today are NLT)

20 Peter continued, “This was written in the book of Psalms, where it says, ‘Let his home become desolate, with no one living in it.’ It also says, ‘Let someone else take his position.’

21 “So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— 22 from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.”

23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they all prayed, “O Lord, you know every heart. Show us which of these men you have chosen 25 as an apostle to replace Judas in this ministry, for he has deserted us and gone where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and Matthias was selected to become an apostle with the other eleven.

Some commentaries believe that they cast lots because they had two equally viable candidates and there was no clear consensus for choosing one or the other.

But it was verse 20 that got my attention; and I left the other consideration aside. Sometimes that happens when you’re reading scripture; you’re looking for topic “A” and find topic “B” jumping out at you!

First, some background. In Matthew 16, Peter starts the chapter doing really well. As the lead follower of Rabbi Jesus, he’s got the right answer.

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.

But then things fall apart for Peter a few verses later:

21 From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.

22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”

I think you know what happens next.

23 Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

What I think is clearly stated here is that Peter is unaware that everything Jesus is doing is following a divine script. It’s “necessary for him to go to Jerusalem.” This is all part of God’s plan. But Peter doesn’t see it that way.

Now, flash forward to where we began, in Acts 1. Peter is invoking two prophetic passages from the Psalms foretelling of the replacement of Judas:

Ps. 69:25 Let their homes become desolate
and their tents be deserted.

and

Ps. 109:8 Let his years be few;
let someone else take his position.

Suddenly, Peter realizes that he and the other disciples are following a divine script. He sees it as equally necessary for them to appoint a 12th apostle. He gets it!

At first, I thought this was even more remarkable considering Pentecost had not happened. I mistakenly concluded they were not yet filled with the Holy Spirit. This is, after all Acts chapter one, not Acts chapter two where we read:

3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4a And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit…

But in terms of The Twelve (and any others that were with them at the time) that’s not the case. If we backtrack to the time before Christ’s ascension, John 20 points out:

19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

The point is that Peter is now a changed person, and he recognizes the fulfillment of the Messianic Psalms in everything he is experiencing in his lifetime.

There is another example of the Psalm connection I want to end with. In Matthew 27, we see Jesus on the cross:

46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

This one verse is so rich and contains much we could discuss as to Jesus being abandoned by The Father. But one preacher I heard said that in saying what he did, it was like a giant, neon, flashing billboard saying “READ PSALM 22.” (The people of the day knew the Psalms by their first lines, the numbering system wasn’t around then.)

This is the clearest Psalm in terms of predicting the crucifixion which is taking place at that exact moment:

7 Everyone who sees me mocks me.
They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
8 “Is this the one who relies on the Lord?
Then let the Lord save him!
If the Lord loves him so much,
let the Lord rescue him!”

14 My life is poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart is like wax,
melting within me.
15 My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay.
My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.
16 My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;
an evil gang closes in on me.
They have pierced my hands and feet.
17 I can count all my bones.
My enemies stare at me and gloat.
18 They divide my garments among themselves
and throw dice for my clothing.


Imaging being there and knowing you are right in the middle of everything spoken prophetically in the Psalms
.

Peter figured that out, and from this point on his ministry moves on a new trajectory, with confidence and power.

 

February 27, 2016

The Chair Time Concept

Bill Hybels - Chair TimeSometimes when you visit another church — either in person or online — you become of aware of certain terms or phrases that are unique to their congregation. After a few years of being away, I’ve returned to making Willow Creek in Chicago part of my weekly online travels, and I’ve been introduced to “Chair time,” which is what other Evangelicals might call “devotions.”

I decided to go to Google to see what people are saying about it.

First, Bill Hybels himself, speaking at a 2014 Hillsong conference:

…No doubt you’ve seen a picture of Michelangelo’s most famous painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, “The Creation of Adam,” in which he portrays God and Adam with their hands outstretched toward one another. God is leaning and straining toward Adam, and his fingertip almost touches Adam’s hand, which is more relaxed, not nearly as intent on its mission.

The very hand of heaven reaching for the hand of man.

Now, imagine Adam’s hand reaching out another six inches, grabbing firmly ahold of God’s hand, and hanging on to it tightly. That image captures the single biggest bucket-filler in my life: being firmly hand-in-hand with God…

…If you’re not in the daily habit of reaching for God’s hand and listening for his agenda, let me offer you a challenge: Find a spot in your home—for me, it’s a wooden rocking chair by the fireplace—and sit there for fifteen minutes a day, connecting with God. Read his Word, open up your life to him, and listen for his whispers. When you’re in that chair and you’re in a right relationship with God, it secures your identity. It simplifies your agenda. You won’t be so tempted to run out and do all the other stuff that doesn’t matter a hill of beans to God.

So, chair time. Start there.

At the blog Crown of Compassion, Dave Henning summarizes Hybels’ definition in the book Simplify:

To feel closer to God or hear from Him through His Word, Pastor Hybels notes, we need to allocate purposeful time with God every day.  A chair is any place where we can sit uninterrupted and meet God.  Bill explains:

“Your chair time . . . should be purposeful and slow and protected from distraction, at a time of day that works best for you.”

From a busy mom who is a member of Willow Creek:

…The first thing I thought of was I need a vacation!!!! Why don’t stay-at-home moms have built in vacation days?!   We don’t and that’s okay, but I have a choice to make the most of the game of life and that may mean taking a timeout. It makes sense why our lead pastor at Willow Creek, Bill Hybels, often rehashes the importance of “chair time”, spending 15 minutes a day with your Bible. It’s like a timeout from this crazy life to be with God … just you and Him.  Or why in sports, timeouts are so important to teams.  It gives the team the ability to rest, readjust, and prepare for the remainder of the competition…

A book excerpt from Simplify reads:

..Because you are reading a book about simplifying your life, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you are in a season of throwing away clutter. You are throwing away commitments on your calendar that don’t fit your values. You’re throwing away the financial habit of living beyond your means. You’re tossing some shallow or harmful relationships in favor of deeper, more life-giving relationships in Christian community. Through the hard work of self-evaluation, you are in a season of clearing out and clarifying.

Or perhaps you’re in a season of keeping — keeping new commitments to make time for your family; keeping your daily chair time and prayer time with God holy and set apart; keeping your alignments at work — passion, culture, challenge and compensation. There’s a time for one and a time for the other…  (p. 19)

…Your chair time doesn’t have to be an in-depth Bible study or an hour-long meditation exercise. But it should be purposeful and slow, and protected from distraction, at a time of day that works best for you. More important, it should be daily… (p. 44)

Phil Owen on the difference between devotions and chair time:

…As someone who faith has been a part of my story in one form another for a long time, I’ve known the value of what we call ‘devotions’ or ‘quiet time’ or any other verbiage we’ve given to it over the years.  It’s huge.  It’s great.  But the truth is, I’ve struggled with consistency time and time again.  I have gone through seasons where I’m strong, and seasons where I’m spotty. At best.

Since looking at it SLIGHTLY differently through the lens of ‘chair time’- that’s seemed to be helpful for me.  For whatever reason.

I think that reason has more to do with location than anything else.  ‘I have to’s’ are never any good for any of us.  I fail at ‘I have to’s’.  That’s not entirely true- but an ‘I have to’ in my time of solitude seems obligatory, and is not driven by desire.  This should be a time driven by desire.  And usually it is (though I wouldn’t be truthful if I said there’s never a time where I do it simply because I know I need to…and that’s not all bad either…though that’s another blog for another day).  So for some reason- focusing on location seems like more pressure and seems more familial…

Finally, at the blog, Church of the Servant:

Maybe your chair time is at a coffee shop, your breakfast table, living room coach, your office, or during your commute. It could be morning, afternoon or evening. Your chair time will change your life and help you gain perspective. What do you say…will you find a chair?

Want to learn more? Watch the video below, but be ready to be affected by what you hear:

October 25, 2015

It’s Not What You Do, It’s Who You Know

Moses and the Bronze Snake← ← Why Isn’t This Story in Every Bible Story Collection?

That’s the question we’re looking at this weekend. Perhaps the story just has credibility issues with adults. A snake on a pole? You only have to look at it; not touch it, or do something else with it?  Perhaps the story simply gets bumped in Bible storybooks by stories involving a giant, or a whale, or a den of lions. But seriously, the way the Numbers 21 story prefigures the crucifixion, while we may not include it in our gospel presentations, we should at least be conversationally familiar with it. If you’ve missed what we’ve said so far, read the articles posted Friday and Saturday.


The Evangelism Explosion Question

Evangelism Explosion was a door-to-door evangelism campaign launched at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida when James Kennedy was pastor, and then made available for churches to train volunteers and use the program in their city or town.

Wikipedia records this about the program:

Evangelism Explosion is best known for its two “diagnostic questions” that users can ask non-Christians as a means of determining a “person’s spiritual health”, and of stimulating an evangelistic conversation:

  1. Have you come to the place in your spiritual life where you can say you know for certain that if you were to die today you would go to heaven?
  2. Suppose that you were to die today and stand before God and he were to say to you, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” what would you say?

After the diagnostic questions, the evangelist is encouraged to explain the gospel in terms of grace, man, God, Christ, and faith.

What the article doesn’t say is that most people would reply to the second question in terms like,

  • I’ve been a good person
  • I lived a good life
  • I prayed to God regularly
  • I kept the Ten Commandments
  • I went to church
  • I always gave money when people needed it
  • I didn’t smoke/drink/take drugs/sleep around

…and so on.

But none of these is the right answer. It is only through the blood of Jesus Christ that any of us obtains the righteousness that is needed before a just God; something I assume the EE people would then go on to explain. (In what’s sometimes called a “law and gospel” approach, the point is additionally made that none of those actions or omissions could be considered good enough when standing before a God who is all-holy.) 

DO versus DONE

So how does one do that? How do we move from people whose religion is all D-O (do this, do that, do the other thing) to one who simply accepts what’s all been D-O-N-E (freely given, and able to be taken irrespective of one’s spiritual balance sheet)?

Growing up in what was then Canada’s only megachurch, The Peoples Church in Toronto, Dr. Paul B. Smith (who also baptized me) would give an invitation almost every Sunday night and ask people to raise their hands if the wanted him “to include them in the closing prayer.”

While being prayed for to receive salvation or praying a prayer are both models that are subject to intense scrutiny and criticism these days, I think his approach is good at least insofar as one must want to placed under the covering that the cross provides.

I often compare this to the cards we get from the postal service telling us that they are holding a parcel for pickup. We can show all our friends the parcel card and even wave it around, but until we actually go to the post office and exchange the card for the benefit it represents, then all we have is piece of thin cardboard. And think about, the analogy really fits because the parcel is yours; it has your name on it.

How else do we describe this invisible transaction? Most people want to do something in order to gain right standing with God. That’s why religion is so popular. People at least can quantify their acts of piety, devotion or righteousness.

But Christianity, in this sense at least, is not religion. You don’t do anything.

And that’s where the transaction model really breaks down for some people. See, when I do a transaction at the ATM, I get a receipt. At least I can hold that in my hand (or affix it to the inside cover of my Bible). But as much as people so desperately want the equivalent to a proof of purchase, such is not the case when it’s something that happens invisibly. You simply, in a way so similar to the story of Moses and the Bronze Snake need to look to the cross.

Truly this is faith.  


 

As stated, there is no magic prayer to pray, but in your own words, you can simply tell God that you recognize that in his higher plans and purposes, the death of Jesus fulfills the requirements of a system that was set in place long before the world was created; and that you realize that as someone who misses the mark of his standard of holiness and righteousness, what you really need is grace. Tell him you want to be included in all that Christ’s death and God’s infinite grace and love have to offer; and in return, you want to begin living a new life in a new way.

 

October 24, 2015

Story in Numbers Foreshadows the Crucifixion

Moses and the Bronze Snake← ← Could you retell this Bible story?

That was the question we asked yesterday, noting that most adults would have difficulty presenting this off the top of their heads, to either another adult or a child, which is unfortunate because it is many ways key to telling the gospel story. Because I think it’s so important, we’re devoting this weekend to looking at this from different perspectives using a mix of fresh commentary and some things that were originally posted at Christianity 201.


…and the transaction so quickly was made, when at the cross I believed…

~lyrics, “Heaven Came Down”

Yesterday we kicked off with the old hymn “At Calvary” and today it’s “Heaven Came Down.” I’ve noticed that when people get older they mind starts to recall classic pieces that are no longer sung in the modern church.

The moment of salvation is an invisible transaction. For some people there is an inward witness that verifies that step of faith.

John 9:24-25

(NIV)

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

But for some people, there is a desire to understand the underpinning of how that invisible transaction takes place. An entire branch of theology is devoted to this:

so·te·ri·ol·o·gy
[suh-teer-ee-ol-uh-jee]

~noun Theology.
— the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ.

So while the healing of the blind man provides its own satisfactory proof if you are, in fact, the blind man or his parents; for everyone else we have the books of Romans and Hebrews to understand the depth of salvation doctrine.

But we often miss a basic fact of how salvation works:

John 3:14

(NIV)
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up

The verse recalls the story from the book of Numbers we looked at yesterday, often overlooked in times of increasing Biblical illiteracy:

Numbers 21:7-9

(NIV)

7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

The concept of the invisible transaction was once entrenched through yet another hymn written by William Ogden in 1887 that was popular in some circles, the chorus inviting you to...

“Look and live,” my brother, live,
Look to Jesus now, and live;
’Tis recorded in His word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”

It’s interesting how the Numbers 21 story is so prominent in the lines of that chorus, but do we have anything in modern worship to replace that? Does our vertical worship allow room to take these Bible narratives and recite them in song?

Youth ministries in the late 1960’s borrowed a phrase from a popular Clairol commercial and suggested that the invisibility of the transaction was such that “only your hairdresser knows for sure.” In other words, there isn’t necessarily a physical manifestation of salvation.

But as with so many things in God’s kingdom, there is a balance to be found on that issue, since the visible manifestation of salvation ought to be the presence of the fruit of the spirit.

I also recognize that many are uncomfortable with a transactional view of the regeneration of the Spirit at salvation. I think sometimes we can suffer from what is called the paralysis of analysis. Perhaps a more modern — albeit still about 40 years old — scripture chorus can help us:

He paid a debt he didn’t owe
I owed a debt I couldn’t pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away
And now I sing a brand new song
Amazing grace!
Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay.

Ultimately, the invisibility of the salvation transaction ought to be central if putting our trust in Jesus Christ to both redeem us and then from that point guide us is to be considered part of the realm of faith. You don’t get a certificate, or a wallet card — though sadly, some churches do just that — when you decide to become a Christ follower.

We cross the line of faith to become Christ followers at some point, but the line itself remains seen only in the spiritual world. That moment of salvation can happen in an instant, what is sometimes termed the crisis view of salvation, or it can take place over a time, what C.S. Lewis and others might call the process view of salvation.

I don’t know that it’s necessary for everyone to have an exact date that they can point to (or have written in the front cover of their Bibles) when they crossed that line of faith, but I think you know in your heart when you’ve arrived at that point.

To repeat what we said yesterday, the people in the Numbers 21 story didn’t have to do anything beyond simply looking to the cross for their deliverance. That’s the part of the story you need to be able to impart to people who want to determine their next step on their journey to the cross, even if you don’t spell out the whole story itself.


Today’s music:
For complete original lyrics to Heaven Came down, click here.
For an abridged version of the original redone in a modern style by David Crowder, click here.
Go Deeper:
To see an index of the main subjects that form a study on soteriology, note the ten sessions covered on this page.
To go extra deep on this topic, check out this teaching page.
Finally, here are links to dozens of other resources on the doctrine of salvation.
~PW

October 23, 2015

Could You Retell This Bible Story?

Moses and the Bronze Snake← ← Do you recognize this Bible story?

This is the cover of a children’s Bible story book, available for only $2.49 US at most Christian bookstores. Yet most adults would have difficulty presenting this off the top of their heads, to either another adult or a child, which is unfortunate because it is many ways key to telling the gospel story. I’ve covered this about five times at Christianity 201, but realized it’s never been looked at here. Over the weekend, I want to spend some time on this theme.


Although I don’t use eBooks, I’m always intrigued by the concept that publishers now routinely offer books completely free of charge. There are Christian bloggers who regularly advise their readers where to find the daily and weekly bargain downloads, but sometimes I’m reading an old blog post, so even though I don’t have an eReader, I’ll click through to learn more, only to find the offer is no longer in effect and there is now a price to be paid.

Fortunately, when it comes to salvation, there is currently no closing date on God’s offer. True, a day will come when that will change. Also true, you don’t know long you have to take advantage. But it’s a free offer. An old hymn stated:

Mercy there was great and grace was free
Pardon there was multiplied to me
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary

For some, this is simply too good to be true. “Surely there is a cost;” they say, and truthfully they are correct. While Salvation itself is a free gift, God offers so much for us for this life, and that is going to involve taking up your cross daily. It might mean sacrifice or it might mean being ostracized by your family, friends and co-workers.

But in our original coming to Jesus, we find the offer to “taste and see” is both easy and simple. The problem we have is putting this idea across to those outside the church, and I believe part of the challenge is that we are living in a culture that is not Biblically literate, and therefore are not, as music and literary people say, “familiar with the literature.”

The story that needs to be kept told for me is the story in Numbers:

Numbers 21:7-9

(NIV)

7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

(If you’re not familiar with this, click here to read all 5 verses.)

This Old Testament story foreshadows, as do so many OT stories, what Christ is going to do. As God’s people sojourn, they are given pictures which are somewhat for our benefit. Sometimes we impute this into the text from a New Testament perspective, but sometimes Jesus spells out for us in words unmistakable:

John 3:14

(NIV)

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up…

ambulance symbolI believe it’s not only important to know this story in a “conversationally familiar with” sense, but also important to teach people how to teach people this story. By the way, when I teach this to people I often point out that this story is the basis for the symbol seen on many ambulances and other emergency vehicles. I would say that most of the people I talk to are astounded to learn the connection.

While a testimony of “what God has done for us,” and a rudimentary knowledge of basic salvation scriptures are both helpful, it’s often needful to be able to construct the offer of “God’s gift” in terms unrelated to the deeper, doctrinal considerations of Romans or Hebrews which the novice believer can’t fully process; and this story provides a simple way of explaining that there’s nothing the person has to do to obtain salvation beyond simply looking to the cross.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at this again in a different way. Stay tuned. Meanwhile here’s a great graphic from Adam4D:

The Great Exchange from Adam4d

Here’s some other material for your consideration:

Graphic: Adam4D (click graphic to source)

August 21, 2015

The Seasons of Life

I subscribe to Breakfast of Champions, a weekday devotional by Andy Elmes which comes as a free email from the ministry Great Big Life, which is better known in the UK.

Get from Every Season All it has for You

John 4:35 (NKJV)

Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!

The journey (pilgrimage) of life is certainly a journey of different seasons. The art of living well is to make sure that you live (milk the goodness out of) each and every season by both sowing into and reaping from each and every one of them. Being alive means that we will all walk through the various seasons of life. Here is a classic verse from the wisdom of Ecclesiastes to make you think this morning.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 (NKJV)

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted.

If you get the chance read the rest of this classic chapter to see the different types of seasons each and every one of us faces as we journey through this thing called life. Like King David said in Psalm 37:25, we will all experience being young and being old and every season in between. I have met some older people that live in the regret of not being a teenager anymore and I have met younger people that can’t wait for a later season of life (like being married), but the problem is they are missing the season they are in. Neither of these is good enough. The answer to how to get the most out of life is to love the season you’re in.

You can’t go back and re-live seasons gone but you can learn from them. You really don’t want to fast forward to future seasons because when the ones you are in are gone, like flowers when they have flourished, they are gone for good. The key for us all today is to carpe (seize) the one you’re in! So choose today to learn from seasons gone, love the one you’re in and, with faith and expectancy, have excitement concerning the ones yet to come that are promised by your God. Every season has something for you so make sure you harvest it out!

To everything there is a season. There are seasons of age, seasons of relationship, seasons of ministry and business, seasons for everything, and in them all there is a time to plant and a time to pluck (harvest) what was planted.

Here is some food for thought for you today as you consider the seasons that you are currently in:

• What seasons are you in today? Is it time to plant (sow) or to pluck up (harvest)?

• Are you getting from this season everything that you should be or could be? Are you milking out everything that is in the season to be had?

• What else do you need to do to enjoy and seize the season you are in?

God bless you – I pray that this season of your life prospers. Don’t say, “In four months …”, but make the decision to live large today the life God has given!


This has always been one of my all-time favorite Christian songs. If you have 7 minutes, close your eyes and enjoy Seasons of the Soul by Michael and Stormie Omartian.

July 30, 2015

Time With God

Are people spending time with God each day, or taking a devotional shortcut?

A fair percentage of evangelicals would, if asked, respond positively to the statement, “I spend time daily doing devotions and/or reading my Bible.” This is certainly commendable, though if this was a survey question, I wonder if they would qualify how much time constitutes time. I also wonder to what extent the early church would recognize our modern practice of devotions.

Our Daily Bread - Radio Bible ClassIn North America, we’re blessed to have a number of free daily devotional booklets available to us. Our Daily Bread and Upper Room are two of the best known, but some Christian denominations print their own. Most of these follow a very similar format.

In the UK there is Every Day With Jesus, pioneered by the late Selwyn Hughes. On the surface its pages look exactly alike to Our Daily Bread, but you’re actually studying a single theme, continuously for 60 days. (No forgetting what this morning’s devo was all about.) Readers there pay to get these things (along with its successor, Lucas on Life by Jeff Lucas) and that no doubt affects their commitment to using them faithfully. (I have at least ten years’ worth of EDWJ in a box under the bed!)

When I started this blog’s sister, Christianity 201, the idea was that by “digging a little deeper” we could produce something that went beyond the “theme verse, three paragraphs with cute story, and a prayer” type of format. I found in my early days of blogging that I was getting caught up in all kinds of issue-related, topical-interest material, but it all lacked enduring substance. I could have simply ran a daily C201 post here at Thinking Out Loud — which would have greatly increased blog stats — but decided to launch C201 under its own banner. (Some people here have never seen C201, and some readers there have never clicked over to Thinking Out Loud.)

About a month ago at C201, I repented of the “no illustrations” snobbery and admitted that my apparent sober-mindedness probably had its roots in pride more than anything. Didn’t Jesus leverage the power of a good story?

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. Matthew 13:34 NLT

Still, I think that some people simply do the absolute minimum. Booklets like Our Daily Bread are a great way to start the day, or to end it; but if you’ve been on this journey for any length of time, there’s got to be something more. In North America, Australasia and Western Europe, we’re blessed with study guides, commentaries, Bible reference materials, and more Christian living books than any of us could read in a lifetime; not to mention the great host of Christian podcasts and church sermon media online.

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.  Hebrews 5:12 NLT

The little booklets that are available are great. They’ve been a major influence in the lives of so many, and continue to be even today.  However, some people — including people reading this — really need to start digging a little deeper.


Normally I don’t draw attention to the subject tags that appear underneath the title of each article, but as I tagged this one, I was reminded of all the things this touches on.

  • Christian maturity,
  • the deeper Christian life,
  • spiritual disciplines,
  • spiritual formation

May 26, 2015

When There Was No Opportunity to Say Thanks

This is scheduled to appear later in the week at Christianity 201, under the title Gifts In Kind.

In North America, we usually use the phrase “gifts in kind” to refer to donations people make to charities and non-profits of things other than cash. Someone will donate a valuable sterling silver cutlery set, or an oil painting by a renown artist.

We usually think of such gifts as originating with people who are wealthy — after all, they owned these beautiful pieces in the first place — but it can also be done by people who are too poor to make a monetary gift, but find themselves in possession of something that can be assigned a value and then sold by the organization they wish to support.

Today, I want to consider a situation where the gift was somewhat “in kind” — and I’m borrowing the term here for a different purpose — is being made because it has become impossible to give to the original intended recipient. In other words, person “A” is no longer around to bless, but in their honor, I am giving to person “B.”

2 Samuel 9:1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

2 Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”

“At your service,” he replied.

3 The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”

Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan…”

As the chapter continues, David pours out his generosity to Mephibosheth. The book Men of the Bible by Ann Spangler and Robert Wogelmuth tells us:

…David lavished Mephibosheth with more than he ever could have dreamed: land, servants, and access to the king’s table. Mephibosheth had not deserved the misfortune that had marked his life. But neither did he earn the good fortune that suddenly befell him. Mephibosheth must have been overwhelmed by it all.

There is more to the story to be sure, but I want to return again to verse one:

1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

I’m wondering if there’s anyone reading this who can think of someone who has passed from this life, and there perhaps a wish that you could have done something, or done more to bless that person?

Before we continue, it’s important to note that David and Jonathan had a covenant relationship. Matthew Henry notes:

It is good sometimes to bethink ourselves whether there be any promises or engagements that we have neglected to make good; better do it late than never. The compendium which Paul gives us of the life of David is this (Acts 13:36), that he served his generation according to the will of God, that is, he was a man that made it his business to do good; witness this instance, where we may observe,

1. That he sought an opportunity to do good.
2. Those he inquired after were the remains of the house of Saul…
3. The kindness he promised to show them he calls the kindness of God

At this point, it’s easy to let yourself off the hook and say, “I did not have a covenant relationship with anyone like that.

But is there someone to whom you could say,

  • Your father was a major influence in my life
  • Your mother helped me through a difficult time
  • Your brother was like a brother to me
  • Your aunt and uncle were very generous to me at a critical time
  • Your sister’s encouragement was always both needed and appreciated

and then, in recognition of that

  • invite them over for dinner or out to a restaurant?
  • give them a gift, perhaps even a Bible or Christian book?
  • make a charitable donation in their name or in memory of their loved one?
  • write out the story of how their relative blessed you and print it out for them as a keepsake?
  • failing all else, just simply tell them how much their family means to you?

Verse seven is our model. In light of the deep relationship between David and Jonathan:

7 “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Is there a Mephibosheth in your life?

June 1, 2014

Should Christians Celebrate Birthdays?

Instead of including occasional devotional or teaching articles, as I once did when this blog started, I started Christianity 201 to force myself to either write or find something every day that involves Bible study or devotional material. A couple of days ago, I used the occasion of my birthday to discuss an issue which has come up a few times in the last few months.  Since we’re still busy sheep-sitting — we don’t actually watch the flock by night, though — I thought I’d include this here…

Over the last twelve months I have had discussions with two people who feel very strongly that we’re not to celebrate birthdays. There are some Christian groups that teach this, and membership in their group is dependent on agreeing to cease celebration of wedding anniversaries, birthdays and holidays. Much of this is based on a passage in Galatians:

8 Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. 9 So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? 10 You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. 11 I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing.
NLT – emphasis added

Two things are evident here:

  • Paul sees the keeping of special days — and it’s the Old Covenant feast days he has partly in view — as going back or reverting to a series of rituals they had been freed from.
  • The Galatians were doing this to try to please God. They were adding to what Christ’s death and resurrection had made no longer necessary. They were wanting the structure of religion with it’s dos and don’ts.
  • Others of Paul’s converts may have come from pagan religions which each had their own feast days. Old habits die hard. Imagine if you had a family tradition that had been practiced for generations that was suddenly stripped away. These pagan feasts day were incompatible with Christian faith and could not be retained in a Christ-following life.

Happy BirthdayBut clearly, Paul is not speaking of wishing someone a happy birthday. In celebrating my birthday, I trust that my family had these aims:

  • I’m not being venerated. Their purpose isn’t sacred. Their actions are not sacramental. Some people argue that we can’t separate life into the sacred and the secular, but some things we do are merely perfunctory, like getting dressed, brushing our teeth, checking the mail, etc. A birthday serves no spiritual purpose.
  • Recognizing and celebrating the encouragement that someone’s life brings you is scriptural. Over and over we are told to encourage one another, to build one another up. A sincere expression of thanks and appreciation — personal, not what the greeting card writer came up with — should really be an everyday occurrence, not a yearly thing; but we we do need prompting to do this.
  • We are reminded of the passing of time. Our lives are “but a breath;” we are “here today and gone tomorrow.” We live sometimes in the “myth of continuity;” believing that things will always be as they are, but in fact, age will eventually catch up with us, it will happen quickly or when we are not looking. It’s good to be reminded of the fragility of life. That may seem to make a birthday bittersweet, but as you get older, it really is.
  • It’s not wrong to buy people things. We are to be good stewards of the resources that God gave us. Going to a dollar store to buy something that will be broken a week later is not wise stewardship. (Perhaps the earth’s resources should never have been used to manufacture the item in the first place.) But there are things people both need and desire, and having an excuse at least provides a context to nudge someone to acquire something that might be beneficial to their hobbies and interests, but that they might hesitate to purchase for themselves.
  • Children need to identify and celebrate friendships. If you can do a birthday party without excluding anyone, and at the same time not incurring great expense, it’s nice for kids to gather their friends around them. You can also do a party where instead of gifts, people make a contribution to a charity of the child’s choice. (Try Compassion International, Partners International, Christian Blind Mission, etc.)

Some of the same people also do not believe in celebrating Christmas or Easter. While this needs to be the subject of a different discussion, my short answer would be that our family does not celebrate Christmas or Easter, we recognize and stand in awe of incarnation and atonement.

I don’t like birthdays. The thought of another year passing scares me, but only because I realize that there are things I have wanted to accomplish that have not happened, and in fact may not happen. But I don’t want to over-spiritualize this and make it seem that I am being pious or devout by asking my family to skip this year’s birthday observance. We should never let tastes and preferences appear to be deeply spiritual principles.

Including birthdays and anniversaries in the “special days” category Paul is referring to here is to miss the context of the passage, and really amounts to poor Biblical interpretation (hermeneutics).

May 5, 2014

I’ve Landed a Role as an Understudy

In theory at least, you should get to know a little about the people whose blogs you read and follow, and I hope that’s the case here. I realized yesterday I’d never shared here a particular song from the 1980s which had a huge impact on me when I considered its ramifications. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t on either blog. So if you’re in a hurry, skip down to the horizontal line and read the explanation, listen to the song and follow the lyrics. But I decided to include the entire setup here for those who want the context of how I got searching for the song yesterday at C201…

Part of our goal as Christians should be that we grow in our imitation of Christ.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. ~ Ephesians 5:1-2

In another book, the principle is the same, but Paul adds another dimension:

Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
~I Corinthians 11:1

The thing that struck me is that there are examples where the writers of New Testament scriptures take on the God-characteristics in relation to the the people they lead.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. ~ I John 2:1

I find it amazing that the apostle John refers to his audience here as my little children. He is taking on the heart of a father for his readers. This is not a prophetic word, because in the second part of the verse the Father (with a capital F) is distinct. Just as God regards us as his children, John feels that way toward the people to whom the epistle was written. Just a chapter later he again reminds us that we are God’s children:

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. ~ I John 3:2

so he is affirming that we are all God’s children, but also, as a leader in the newly emerging Church, he takes a fatherly role of the people under his leadership.

The second similar passage is:

Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; I Peter 5:2

Remember, Jesus himself says, “I am the good shepherd…” but Peter writes to leaders in the emerging church to themselves be shepherds of the flock. So yes, there is one Great Shepherd of the sheep, but Peter invites his co-laborers in ministry to live as shepherds also, and thereby defines pastoral ministry and eldership.


I also wanted to share something here only because I thought I had covered this already either here or on Thinking Out Loud, but it turns out I hadn’t. Stephen Crumbacher grew up around Hollywood, California and because of the proximity of the stage, film and television industry, he took the idea of being an imitator of Christ, and expressed it in terms of someone who is part of a theatrical or movie production as an understudy. This song has stayed with me since I first heard it in the mid-80s. This may not be your music style, but if it isn’t, just turn down the volume, read the lyrics and enjoy the brilliance of this appropriate analogy:

Well, I really have a shot
So I’m giving it all I’ve got
This is the break I’ve been waiting for.
Some say it isn’t so great
That it was hardly worth the wait
But at least I finally have one foot in the door.

I’m an understudy, got a long way to go.
I was once a nobody not a name you would know.
Now I’m an understudy to the star of the show.

I’ve memorized my part
Learned my lines by heart
Gonna walk the script through page by page
Always do my best
And pray that I can stand the test
‘Cause I never know when I’ll be asked to take center stage

I’m an understudy, got a long way to go.
I was once a nobody not a name you would know.
Now I’m an understudy to the star of the show.

None of know when we will be asked to take center stage, but hopefully we are prepared when God calls us to be his stand-in in someone else’s journey.

 

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