Thinking Out Loud

December 3, 2020

With the Arrival of Jesus Comes Something Completely Different

Book Review: The End of Religion: Encountering the Subversive Spirituality of Jesus (Revised Edition) by Bruxy Cavey (Herald Press)

I’ve never undertaken to read and review an updated edition or second edition of any book I’ve already covered, but this is an exceptional undertaking worthy of fresh consideration. Besides, I’ve often said that while some writers’ body of works builds up to a crescendo over a lifetime, other authors state most plainly and forthrightly in their first volume what represents the tenor of their ministry; so why not revisit that a decade later, as is the case here.

The updated version of The End of Religion represents a complete revamping of the original NavPress book from start to finish, with the addition of a new preface and five entirely new chapters.

This is a book about Jesus.

In that vein, it looks at the manner in which the human tendency to religiosity has sometimes, and in some places made the Christian faith about everything but Jesus. Its aim is to renew us to seek the restoration of the type of faith practiced in the First Century and echoed throughout history by those who practice that goal, but also a type of discipleship seemingly lost in modern Protestantism, Catholicism or Evangelicalism.

This is a theme the book constantly returns to, but it does so inasmuch as it is constantly returning to Jesus.

Bruxy Cavey is the teaching pastor of an alter-cultural church in the greater Toronto, Canada area called The Meeting House. With one mother-ship in Oakville on the city’s western fringes — they prefer the term ‘Production Center’ — they have 20 satellite sites — they prefer the classic term ‘parishes’ — which in less pandemic times meet in theaters in Southern Ontario, with a number of additional distant affiliates in diverse places such as Scotland and Italy.

By the way, I love that word alter-cultural. Bruxy’s teaching style, self-deprecating nature and overall sense of humor are found in the book which makes the serious topics it studies a fun read, although I do recommend using two bookmarks, keeping one in the text itself and one in the notes.

Organizationally, the 27 chapters of the book are arranged in three sections which look at the irreligious life of Jesus, how his life and teachings stood in contrast to key elements of the Judaism which provides the context for his time on earth, and the implications for our own words and deeds. Each chapter contains an ample helping of scripture references and there’s also the aforementioned notes to consider.

Who is the intended audience? In many respects, his 2017 title (re)Union: The Good News of Jesus for Seekers, Saints and Sinners (Herald Press; see my review here) is by definition the book you give to someone camped out on the edge of faith. That said, this newer one covers so much primary, formative and apologetic ground that if the seeker in question isn’t intimidated by 400+ pages, they might really appreciate gaining a very thorough understanding of what it is to which they are potentially making a commitment.

While there were echoes of the previous edition to be encountered, I found them to be rare. This is a very updated update! I’d recommend this to anyone looking to read something with an intense Jesus focus.

9781513805498 | Herald Press | $19.99 US – $25.99 CDN

August 14, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Mission

Most of my energies online are now spent with our other blog, Christianity 201. Last weekend, I was intrigued by the teaching passages in Matthew’s gospel, and ended up writing C201’s first 4-part series, which appeared Friday thru Monday. I decided the series was worth sharing here as well…


Ask someone to name a section of Christ’s teachings in the Gospel of Matthew and they will invariably answer “The Sermon on the Mount” or “Matthew, chapters five, six and seven.” But that’s only one of five possible answers.

Since I chose to read the Matthew title last, I’m almost finished the collection of the Biblical Imagination Series commentaries on the Gospels, by Matthew Card. He was the one who really drew my attention to the “The Five Discourses” in a way I hadn’t seen before.

But what is a discourse? Dictionary.com says,

  • communication of thought by words; talk; conversation: earnest and intelligent discourse.
  • a formal discussion of a subject in speech or writing, as a dissertation, treatise, sermon, etc.
  • Linguistics. any unit of connected speech or writing longer than a sentence.

But the one thing the dictionary website offers that’s most useful to us is a listing of related words, some of which include:

communication, discussion, conversation, monologue, huddle, homily, chat

Can you guess which one jumped out at me? Huddle. That’s what I see happening here. The coach calling in the key players who will be on the field to discuss the game plan. (I’m not a sports guy, so that last sentence is a bit of a minor miracle.)

I know some are loathe to get their theological points of reference from Wikipedia, but I’ve been finding it somewhat reliable lately, and on this point they begin,

In Christianity, the term Five Discourses of Matthew refers to five specific discourses by Jesus within the Gospel of Matthew.

The five discourses are listed as the following: the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

Each of the discourses has a shorter parallel in the Gospel of Mark or the Gospel of Luke.

A very small taste of what to expect when you visit Steve’s cartoon panels on The Five Discourses. Click image to link.

Better yet, in a world where visuals aids like The Gospel Project really sparks learning to life, I found a most interesting website where cartoonist Steve Thomason has illustrated all five discourses. (I don’t feel the liberty to copy/paste more than a very small section of one panel here, and can only encourage you to visit this one especially.) The expressions on the disciples faces as Jesus tells them a little about what they might face are priceless. And realistic.

Steve has the discourse/passage beginning at Matthew 9:35 and carrying through all of chapter 10. The first four verses of chapter 10 are the choosing or appointing of the twelve disciples. As we mentioned a few weeks ago, we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that there were only twelve. The followers were many.

The real meat of Christ’s instruction to the twelve however starts in verse 5 and continues to the end.

At this point, you need to read that entire section.

For those who don’t click, a few highlights would include:

7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

8b …Freely you have received; freely give.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.

28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (all NIV)

Back to Michael Card, he explains why this chapter is so very much worth reading:

Matthew 10 provides a good illustration of what is fundamentally different about this gospel as compared to the others. When Jesus sends the twelve apostles out on their first mission, Mark devotes only two verses to Jesus’ instructions to them (Mk 6:10-11). Luke provides only three verses (Lk 9:3-5). Matthew devotes an entire chapter of forty-two verses. While Matthew may be a selective minimalist in regard to the detail of the story, he is at the extreme opposite when it comes to the words of Jesus. Remember in Mark we have only twenty-two minutes of “face time” with Jesus. In Luke we have fifty-three minutes with Jesus speaking directly to us. In John we have only forty-four. But in Matthew, Jesus speaks to us for more than an hour…

Matthew: The Gospel of Identity, p98

If our devotion includes a desire to ‘spend time with Jesus’ then Matthew ought to rank highly in our list of New Testament books.

 

June 16, 2020

The Tomb of the Prophets

This was originally supposed to appear on Saturday at our devotional blog, Christianity 201, but due to a glitch in scheduling, it didn’t go out until I discovered the problem yesterday evening. Again, while I don’t want Thinking Out Loud to simply become a mirror site for C201, I put a lot of work in to this one, and furthermore it was a rare request, in this case from my oldest son. So you get to read it here today.

NIV.Luke.11v47 “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them.

Throughout scripture we find definite definite support for landmarks and memorials. We’ve covered this theme here at least three times previously:

So why do those who built tombs for the prophets show up among the list of “woes” proclaimed by Jesus? Is it suddenly wrong to remember those who have gone before? There must be something else going on.

The IVP Bible Commentary notes that:

The second woe for the scribes is for their support of the slaying of the prophets. Now this woe contains irony: “you build the tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them.” They built these tombs, no doubt, to show how they honored the prophets. But Jesus argues that in fact it shows their support for killing these divine agents! By building the tombs, he says, you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did. Here is one of Jesus’ fundamental critiques of the leadership: they have been disobedient as their ancestors were…

The Wikipedia reference for “tomb of the prophets” states,

The Tomb of the Prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi… is an ancient burial site located on the upper western slope of the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. According to a medieval Jewish tradition also adopted by Christians, the catacomb is believed to be the burial place of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the last three Hebrew Bible prophets who are believed to have lived during the 6th-5th centuries BC. Archaeologists have dated the three earliest burial chambers to the 1st century BC, thus contradicting the tradition.

Is that what’s referenced here?

As with all adventures in Biblical archeology, the journey is (pardon the pun) rather rocky. One article I read suggested that Haggai was buried near the tomb of the prophets. I think this is an example of a situation where we can get mired in the details — ‘Is this the right city?’ ‘Were they from the same family? ‘Was that the first cup or the third cup?’ — and miss what the passage is there to teach us. We shouldn’t get too caught up in what the Bible does teach us, especially when referenced to a 21st Century online encyclopedia in which many people (including me) have editing privileges.

Matthew’s version of this, in chapter 23, verses 29-32 is more detailed, but for greater context (and since it also mentions tombs) I’ve picked it up here starting two verses earlier:

NIV.Matthew.23v27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

On this Matthew passage, the website BibleStudyTools.com quotes John Gill,

Now our Lord must not be understood as blaming them for barely building the tombs of the prophets, and garnishing the sepulchres of the righteous, which they might have done without blame. But because they did all this, that they might be thought to be very innocent and holy men, and far from being guilty of the crimes their forefathers were; when they were of the very selfsame blood thirsty, persecuting spirit; and did, and would do the same things to the prophets and apostles of the New Testament, their fathers had done to the prophets of the Old.

What can we apply from this? The Wycliffe Bible Commentary has an interesting take:

The martyrs of one generation become the heroes of the next. It was easier for the children to build monuments to the prophets than for their fathers to obey them.

And perhaps the tombs were to ‘seal in’ those prophets as The Eerdman’s Bible Commentary suggests:

Although they built elaborate tombs for the prophets, they were really at one with their ancestors who had killed them by making sure they would stay dead. God in His wisdom had foreseen what they would do; their attitude to the prophets and apostles of the church would simply be the culmination of a long history of persecution of his messengers and judgment would follow. (emphasis added)

The International Bible Commentary echoes this,

The only prophets they honor are dead prophets.

This is the constant challenge of scripture and Christian teaching. If certain things are true — in their case it was the words of the prophets — then it may mean that I am going to need to make adjustments to my life.

I love how Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God Study Bible indicated these types of passages using a wrench as a symbol to represent adjustment. (The Bible is based on the author’s “7 Realities of Experiencing God” of which #6 is, “You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.”)

The Life Application Study Bible confirms this, noting in reference to Jesus that even as he is speaking, they are in fact doing the exact same thing. They are choosing not to answer the call for adjustment, response,

God’s prophets have been persecuted and murdered throughout history. But this generation was rejecting more than a human prophet — they were rejecting God himself.

There is always the danger of ourselves doing the same thing: Covering over a situation where our ancestors were complicit in something we would rather forget by appearing to be taking the opposite side. It appears noble, but not when we recognize that motivation is itself incorrect, and not until we realize that the heart attitudes are common to us today and require repentance.

 

October 30, 2018

The Ten Commandments in the New Testament

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:42 am

by Ruth Wilkinson

A group of us decided recently to read Andy Stanley’s book Irresistible, which is the focus of some controversy right now. And, yeah, I found it somewhat challenging.

Challenge accepted. If my life is not to be governed by, for example, the Ten Commandments, but I know that they were there for a reason at the time, I needed to find out for myself how those principles and taboos turned up in the teachings of Jesus and in the letters to the early church.

Whether, and if so how, they were taught and exemplified by my brothers and sisters in The Way.

Here’s what I found:

***

You have heard it said:

Do not have other gods besides Me.

And?

  • Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

John 14:6

  • From that moment many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him. Therefore Jesus said to the Twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life.”

John 6:66-68

So?

I look only to Jesus, and through Him to the Father.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.

And?

  • If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” When the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

Matthew 19:21, 22

  • The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things.

Acts 17:24, 25

So?

I’m called to avoid worshipping things I can touch and shape, things that are created by the One who created me. Even when those things are in my bank account.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses His name.

And?

  • Whoever welcomes one little child such as this in My name welcomes Me. And whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me, but Him who sent Me.”

Mark 9:37

  • “I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.”

John 15:16

So?

If I am called by His name, I act in His name. And in His name I welcome, embrace, grow and bear fruit.

***

You have heard it said:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You are to labour six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work.

And?

  • Then He told them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27

  • Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

So?

I’m not obliged to sit idle on a particular day, but a day has been carved out for me to be free to rest. And the greatest rest of all is to be found in following the one who calls me.

***

You have heard it said:

Honour your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

And?

  • Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honour.

Romans 10:12

  • Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1:27

So?

The family I find myself in, the family of the Church, is one in which I have the joy and the challenge of stepping back from my own self importance, and learning to serve, to honour, to elevate those around me. Especially the vulnerable.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not murder.

And?

  • “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, ‘Do not murder,and whoever murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

Matthew 5:21-22

  • None of you, however, should suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or a meddler. But if anyone suffers as a “Christian,” he should not be ashamed but should glorify God in having that name.

1 Peter 4:15

So?

To indulge in the luxury of hatred not only wounds those around us, it wounds us. We carry the name of Christ. And His love is our standard.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not commit adultery.

And?

  • But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

Mark 10:6-9

  • You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Matthew 5:27-28

So?

Adultery is a broken covenant. A tearing of flesh. A death of the heart. I have no right to kill a living promise.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not steal.

And?

  • The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.

Ephesians 4:28

  • But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord! And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I’ll pay back four times as much!”

Luke 19:8

So?

Honest work is an opportunity to share my time, my ability and my earnings. A chance to err on the side of relationship and generosity.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not give false testimony against your neighbour.

And?

  • You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 5:43

  • Since you put away lying, speak the truth, each one to his neighbour, because we are members of one another.

Ephesians 4:25

So?

I put away dishonesty and speak truth, because my job is, as far as I am able, to love and to live in peace with my ‘neighbour’, which means everybody.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not covet your neighbour’s house…. or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

And?

  • Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for—believe that you have received them, and you will have them.

Mark 11:24

  • I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.

Philippians 4:12

So?

I stop looking around to see what I might be missing out on, and start looking up to the Father for what I actually need.

***

August 10, 2018

Man-Made Lights in the Nighttime Sky

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:39 am

Some of you know that while I’m not writing on a number of online platforms, I spend a few days a week at a Christian bookstore which we own. The shop is named “Searchlight” and it’s registered as a business although we don’t draw a salary. Some years it makes money, and some years it loses.

So what was I thinking when I named the company?

On one level, I was probably thinking of a song by Christian artist Nancy Honeytree from the 1970s. (It’s posted below.)

On a higher level however, I had in mind the two definitions of the word.

The first type of searchlight is the type you see mounted on the back of a large truck. The lens is at least a meter across and the light pivots, pointed to the nighttime sky to attract people from a wide area to see what’s happening, whether it’s the opening of a new store or restaurant or the premiere of a new movie.

It’s saying, “There’s something happening here.”

The Apostle Paul is standing before Governor Festus…

At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.
Acts 26:24-26 NIV

The Passion Translation states the last phrase as, “After all, it’s not like it was a secret! while The Message renders it as, “You must realize that this wasn’t done behind the scenes.

There’s something happening here. The Good News is changing hearts and lives. The message of Jesus is raising people to new life.

The prophet Habakkuk is told to write God’s message in a way that no one can miss it:

And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. – Habakkuk 2:2 ESV

I love how The Living Bible (the predecessor of today’s NLT) renders this:

And the Lord said to me, “Write my answer on a billboard, large and clear, so that anyone can read it at a glance and rush to tell the others.

The word of the Lord is larger than life; not done in a remote corner, and certainly not about something distant, or ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far away.’

This is the best news ever.

The second type of searchlight is smaller, but much more important. It’s the type of light is mounted on a vehicle, a boat or a small plane.

It’s saying, “Someone out there is lost.”

It’s meant not to draw people in to a location, but rather to go out from a location to look for a missing person or persons.

Jesus is concluding his meeting with Zacchaeus:

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:9-10 NIV

(Jesus says the same words in Matthew 18:11, in a different context.)

This mirrors Ezekiel 34:11-12:

“For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. – NLT

This has led many to refer to “The God who pursues.”

Part one of the Gospel is “come and see” and part two is “go and tell.”

Something is happening that compels us; draws us; then like Andrew (who on meeting Jesus went to get his brother Peter) we go out and search out more who need to hear.


It turns out I mentioned Searchlight once before at Christianity 201 in this August, 2015 article.


The meaning of Searchlight in the Honeytree song is different yet again, asking God to shine his light into our hearts and souls.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139: 23-24 NLT

April 10, 2018

In the Middle of the Miracle

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:40 am

My stomach is growling.

He’s been teaching and doing miracles all day and nobody in particular wants to leave. But it’s obvious that people are hungry. Someone near the front is discussing this with him and there’s a question if anyone has any food. For a crowd this big?

Yeah, right. I’ve got my caravan of camels loaded up with food just over the hillside. Not.

The woman next to me has been slipping snacks to her kids all afternoon but she’s not volunteering anything. In the distance a little boy is handing Jesus a cloth bag and he’s removing the contents. He’s quietly saying a short prayer.

We’re asked to sit down in groups of 50 households. Since it would later be reported that 5,000 men — plus women and children — were fed, that would be about 100 groups. His disciples start circulating through the crowd. Where did those baskets come from?

When they get to our group I can see the bread and the fish pieces quite clearly. But as I reach for a piece of bread, my eyes go blurry for second and it looks like the piece that’s in my hand was just replaced. Someone would write later that everyone had their full, so hungry as I am, I reach in and grab a second piece. Again, it appears to be replaced. There are now two pieces in my hand, and I grab a piece of fish, and quickly pass the basket to my right.

I think the same guy who served us comes around to the group next to us minutes later and the basket is still filled to the top. The kid who had the cloth bag is standing next to Jesus and they’re both sharing a private moment and laughing with delight.

Is this what it’s like to be in the middle of a miracle?

January 25, 2018

The 72 Jesus Sent: Who Were Those Guys?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:10 am

This will appear on Friday afternoon at Christianity 201. We occasionally cross-post original devotionals here at Thinking Out Loud.

“Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. (Acts 1:21-23 NIV)

New Christians often face roadblocks to understanding because the terminology used is often clear to insiders, but requires explanation to those unfamiliar.

Take for example the word disciple. A disciple is one who follows a master. We are told to “Go and make disciples.” (Matt. 28:19) So far, so good.

But we often speak of “the twelve disciples” and to outsiders this might be unclear. It obviously refers to a very specific group of people to whom Jesus, the itinerant Rabbi, said, “Follow me.” But we know that Jesus had many other followers.

So we sometimes speak of “the twelve apostles” but in the giving of spiritual gifts we’re told, “he gave some apostles.” This phrase in Ephesians 4:11 is translated by Eugene Peterson in this beautiful passage:

He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

Peterson retains the term “apostle” — most commonly found — while some others use “messengers” and “emissaries.” A good definition might be “sent ones.”

This can also confuse, since we sometimes speak of “the apostolic age” and cessationists would argue that when that period ended — when those who were witnesses to the resurrection all died — then the supernatural gifts (healing, tongues, prophecy) also died.

Being a “disciple” is not a specific gift. The mandate to follow Christ applies to all Christians. To say that Jesus only had twelve followers in his ministry is to ignore the passage where he sends out 72 in Luke 10:

The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit.

This “advance team” is interesting because we’re told that Jesus chose them, which would imply he had more than 72 to choose from. In my mind, certainly some of them were women, but that’s another discussion; I know some would disagree. We do know from other texts there were women followers; whether or not they were part of these short-term mission trips is up to interpretation.

We also know that not every disciple continued with Jesus. In John 6, Jesus teaches and interacts with the crowd. He talks about being the bread of life, and introduces the idea of “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood.” Then we read,

Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?”(60)
At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. (66 NLT)

Perhaps this sounds familiar. Maybe you know people who started attending your church and then found the cost of discipleship to high a price to pay, or found the teaching, like those early hearers, hard to accept. The similarity to the parable of the soils in Matthew 13 comes to mind especially.

But perhaps you know people who have been faithful throughout their entire lives, who haven’t really been “prone to wander.”

Among the 72 were some of those. In Acts 1:21-23, it’s time to choose a replacement for Judas to be among the inner circle of twelve, and the text states,

“Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.

The InterVarsity Commentary tells us,

By detailing the apostolic requirement of being an eyewitness to the whole course of Jesus’ ministry, including the resurrection and ascension, Luke emphasizes the continuity of eyewitness testimony which would be the church’s foundation. And through it all he presents a prepared church with a restored integrity in its leadership.

There’s no mention of these two nominees before or after this point in Acts 1, but the mere mention of their names gives us insight into a broader community of followers. It’s almost certain, if these two were part of the story beginning from when John baptized Jesus, we can safely assume they were among the 72. Some day we’ll get to meet the other 70.

 

 

 

December 8, 2017

Reckless Love: A Closer Look at the Song

Luke 15:11b [Jesus teaching] “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them…”

Every so often I find myself captivated by a new worship song. Today I want to look at the song, Reckless Love. The following is a shorter (5½ minute) version of the song originally by Bethel Worship.

Before I spoke a word
You were singing over me
You have been so, so
Good to me
Before I took a breath
You breathed Your life in me
You have been so, so
Kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it
I don’t deserve it
Still You give yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

When I was your foe, still Your love fought for me
You have been so, so
Good to me
When I felt no worth
You paid it all for me
You have been so, so
Kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine…

There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
No lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God…

My wife and I had a discussion about this song on the weekend. The idea of a God who will “lavish his love” on us is found in the parable we call The Prodigal Son. We often think that prodigal means runaway, or someone who leaves and returns, but the word’s origins have to do with his spendthrift nature; how he burns through his cash reserves — with abandon.

But in the book The Prodigal God, Tim Keller points out that it is the father in the story who is free-spending. We actually see this twice.

First, he quickly gives away the inheritance to the son. Notice how quickly this is established in the key verse above. Some have said about this story that he knows he needs to lose his son in order to gain him back. There’s an interesting parallel here to 1 Corinthians 5:5 that we don’t have time to explore fully; “[H]and this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

Second, he is equally free-spending when the son returns, throwing a huge party.

22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15)

Reviewing Keller’s book nine years ago, I noted,

  • “Prodigal” means “spendthrift”, which also means “reckless”
  • The father in the story is reckless in his willingness to forgive and reinstate the son
  • The father in the story represents God
  • God is “reckless” in that he chooses not to “reckon” our sin; instead offering forgiveness.

Others have noted the character of the Father in his willingness to run to meet his son while he is still in the distance. In a sermon titled, The God Who Runs Martin Ellgar writes,

He sees him coming in the distance and with joy runs out to greet him. In this way he brings honour again to his son. In the eyes of his neighbours, such behaviour of a man towards his disgraced son is disgraceful and unwarranted in itself. He has humiliated himself before others. The loving father has not only gone out eagerly to meet his returning son, but has willingly sacrificed himself to share in and to relieve the humiliation of the returning son.

To me this parable is much in the spirit of the lyrics of the song above.

However, we can’t leave the song there because much has been made of the lyric leaves the ninety-nine. It’s unfortunate that even among Christians, as we face declining Biblical literacy, we need to stop and explain this. Earlier generations — and hopefully readers here — would pick up on the reference immediately.

Interestingly enough, as I prepared this, I realized that the story is actually part of the trio of parables in Luke 15 of which The Prodigal Son is the third. (Maybe that was partly what drew me to the third story as an illustration of God’s lavish love.)

4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

God desires to lavish his love on you. Are you ready to receive it?


Further Reading: The Father’s Love Letter (presented in your choice of text, audio, or video and available in over 100 languages.)

See also this post: Spiritual Triage – The God Who Pursues Us


I mentioned that my wife and I had been discussing this song. Sometimes I will workshop an idea for a blog post with friends online, and my friend Martin at Flagrant Regard agreed with her somewhat:

If we open dictionary.com, we have this:

1. utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution; careless (usually followed by of): to be reckless of danger.
2. characterized by or proceeding from such carelessness: reckless extravagance.

I can’t get my head around the concept that God’s love is ‘careless’ or ‘unconcerned with the consequences of some action’. Just a bad choice of descriptors in my mind.

Words do matter. What do you think?

July 10, 2016

The Meek, Frank Zappa, and The Life of Brian

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:24 am

img 071016Two days ago, for the second time, we poached a devotional blog post for C201 from The King’s English, an interestingly named site considering the goal is to work through King James Version verses phrase by phrase. But the writer is hardly what you might picture, given the KJV connection, and when I saw this article, I thought, this is perfect for Thinking Out Loud. The writer is Glen Scrivener, and now I owe him two favors; so please click the link below to read this at source…


Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth

Psalm 37; Matthew 5:5

In The Life of Brian we join the outskirts of Christ’s audience for the sermon on the mount.  “The meek shall inherit the earth” filters through to one listener:

“Oh that’s nice innit, I’m glad they get something cos they have a hell of a time.”

It’s a brilliant line.  But Jesus isn’t throwing out a twee consolation to the downtrodden.  He’s preaching revolution.  This is all about world domination.  Who will take over the earth?  Rupert Murdoch?  One World Government?  Militant Islam?  Google? No, the meek.

It’s a laughable prospect.  It sounds as absurd as yesterday’s blessed mourners.  But that’s the nature of the beatitudes, they turn the world right-side-up.  To the world’s ears though, it can only sound ridiculous.

Listen to how Frank Zappa lampooned the phrase in his song: The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing

Some take the Bible for what it’s worth
When it says that the meek shall inherit the earth
Well, I heard some sheik has bought New Jersey last week
And you suckers aint gettin nothin’!

We laugh because we recognize the picture Zappa paints of this world.  It’s dog eat dog and the strong eat the weak.  Fortune favours the brave.  Only the strong survive right?  Well apparently not.  Jesus is saying that everything we thought we knew about power is wrong.  In fact we’re wrong about the whole way in which the world works.

Jesus is not giving us a verse to be cross-stitched onto wall-hangings.  It’s an infallible prophecy of cosmic proportions.  In this dog eat dog world there will be one power that comes out on top.  At the end of all history, emerging from the interplay of a million forces and vested interests, one group will emerge with absolute dominion: the meek.

You could translate it as “gentle” or “friendly” or “humble”.  After millennia of cut and thrust, the winner-takes-all-victors will be the lowly.

Do you have a hard time believing that?  I do.  And an even harder time living it. Why?  Well I wonder if my problem is that I don’t really believe that this is Christ’s universe.  As we considered on the first day of the year, we imagine that the power behind this world is “nothingness” or “chaos” or “a lonely god.”  And if that really were what was “in the beginning” then the meek have no future at the end.  But if Jesus really is Lord, then the Suffering Servant really is the Power behind this universe.

Jesus describes Himself as “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29) and He meets the power-plays of the earth with perfect peace.  As He lay in the grave on Easter Saturday, nothing looked more foolish than His beatitudes.  And yet on Easter Sunday it wasn’t just Jesus who was vindicated.  His whole project of world-domination-by-meekness was established.  It’s not just that the meek will “get something.”  Those who stop exalting themselves and take refuge in Jesus will be the only ones who get anything. In fact, they’ll get everything.  Because the future really does belong to Christ.


Today’s graphic image was sourced at the website, You Have Heard It Said, which also has some interesting thoughts on the same passage. (Interesting find. I have a feeling we’ll be dropping by there again soon…)

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