Thinking Out Loud

September 8, 2022

Long Live the King!

One of my goals for the past 12+ years at Christianity 201 has been to create a body of devotional literature that is somewhat timeless; not influenced by current events or topics.

However, as I prepared the one which was to appear this afternoon, the world had learned of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and it got me thinking about what the Bible says about government, rulers, and monarchs. I thought I would repeat it here.

For those of us who follow Christ, we are citizens of another world; an eternal place not appearing on earthly maps. The Bible plainly says we are “not of this world.” “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world (John 15:19a NASB) and again, “But our citizenship is in heaven…” (Phil. 3:20a NET)

This is spelled out again in Peter’s epistle:

CEB.1Peter.2.9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. 10 Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

We often use the word “theocracy” to describe a place where the rule of God is law, and the word “sovereignty” to demonstrate the ‘rulership’ (which we call Lordship) of Christ. This was also God’s ‘Plan A’ for the people of Israel, but they wanted what other nations had, a king. (Wasn’t there a commandment about coveting the things belonging to others?)

NIV.1Samuel.8.1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

And that is exactly what happened. “Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.” (Acts 13:21 CSB)

And there we see, in Israel’s history at least, the beginning of kings.

But we believe that all these things take place under the sovereignty of God.  God then inspires Paul through the Holy Spirit to write these words to Timothy:

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior (1 Timothy 2: 1-3 NLT)

To the church at Rome, Paul writes,

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God [granted by His permission and sanction], and those which exist have been put in place by God. Therefore whoever resists [governmental] authority resists the ordinance of God. And those who have resisted it will bring judgment (civil penalty) on themselves. (Romans 13:1-2 AMP)

Especially note the phrase “for there is no authority except that which God has established.” (v1 NIV)

Writing to leaders, Paul tells Titus,

Remind your people to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey them, and to be ready to do good in every way. They are not to insult anyone or be argumentative. Instead, they are to be gentle and perfectly courteous to everyone.  (Titus 3:1 GNT, 3:2 ISV)

So our ultimate submission is to Christ, but Christ compels us to submit to earthly rulers who have been placed over us. Before his death, Jesus affirms,  “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom.” (NLT) or “My kingdom is not from this world.”

We are ultimately citizens of two worlds, this one and the world to come.

Where good, God-fearing, faith-honoring leadership has been given by earthly kings and queens, we give thanks, as we do today.

And we pray for King Charles III, that this may continue.

August 18, 2022

Skye Jethani Adds 3rd Title to “Serious” Series

Book Review: What if Jesus Was Serious About the Church?: A Visual Guide to Becoming the Community Jesus Intended (Moody Publishers, 2022)

Two years ago I was able to review the first book in what we now know has become a series, What if Jesus Was Serious? At the time, I mentioned that the use of “napkin doodles” therein was foreshadowed in one of Skye Jethani’s older books, With. I was unable to get a review copy of the follow-up, What if Jesus Was Serious About Prayer? but when the subject-at-hand for the third book was the modern church, I knew I wanted in, and despite the publisher’s great reluctance to grant review copies, was able to request one.

The reason I wanted to own this one in my personal collection is because this is a theme on which Skye is most outspoken when talking to Phil Vischer or interviewing guests weekly on The Holy Post Podcast. As a former pastor himself, and a former writer for over a decade with Christianity Today, Skye is able to articulate the challenges faced by the capital “C” Church worldwide, the small “c” church locally, and those whose vocational employment is church-related.

The podcast for which he is quite well known fails (in my view) in one respect, in that it is far too American-oriented. If you’re reading this review in the UK, or Australia, or Canada, and you’ve sensed that as well, you’ll be happy to know that the book casts a wider perspective beyond the U.S. I promise you’ll only roll your eyes once or twice.

So for those who need to play catch-up, as with the first two books, this one consists of short — never more than four page — chapters, each of which commences with a little drawing which might be a chart, or a diagram, or a cartoon, or a meme. It’s hard to describe them. Hence the reference to “napkin doodles.” The thing you would draw on a napkin (or blank paper place-mat) in a coffee shop when trying to explain an idea. (Again, the book With is must-reading to see how the concept evolved.)

This one has 51 such chapters, grouped in five sections; The Family Reunion, The Family Meal, The Family Gathering, The Family Business, and The Family Servants.

I immediately shared the second part with my wife. I find that I can never read enough about the Eucharist, Last Supper, or Communion Service, and our need to keep its centrality in the modern worship service. It and the third part, about the manner in which we worship are the longest two groupings in the book and include subjects that are important to the author.

Skye Jethani is so forthright and authoritative on these subjects, and I feel he is a voice that everyone in Evangelicalism needs to be hearing.

Because I tend to gush about the books I review — I choose them and don’t get books sent automatically — I do have a couple of criticisms. One is that for those who obsess over page counts, the 232 pages in this one include about 45 which are essentially blank. That’s a product of the way the book is formatted, and in balance, one needs to also consider this digest-sized paperback uses color process throughout.

The other thing was the ending. For me, there wasn’t one. The 51st article ended abruptly, which I expected given the concision that Skye employs throughout. But then I turned the page looking for a conclusion; something that would tie everything altogether, and there wasn’t one. No closing statement. Perhaps, as with the podcast for which he is known, there is a bonus chapter only available to Patreon supporters.

Those complaints aside, I encourage you to consider this. It’s fairly quick reading, and if you or someone in your family is employed in ministry, it contains a number of great conversation starters. If you simply care about where modern Evangelicalism is headed, it contains even more topics to provoke discussion.

July 18, 2022

A Compelling Case for Christianity

The book we’re highlighting today is special to me because I’ve known the author, Clarke Dixon for a decade, and had read the material when it first appeared as part of his blog, now called Thinking Through Scripture and later re-blogged on our own Christianity 201 page, where, when not on sabbatical, Clarke is our regular Thursday devotional writer. He is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

Beautiful and Believable: The Reason for My Hope is especially directed towards those who might be sitting on the fence regarding Christianity, or doubting its core claims, or having specific objections.

From the introduction:

The picture of the diving board on the cover was taken by one of my sons where we vacation. My sons have taken the plunge from this board many times. Me, not so much. I can understand reticence. However, despite my caution, there are good reasons to dive in from this board. The water is deep. There are no sharks. Jumping in can be great fun. Or so I am told. I tend to be a skeptical person.

There are many reasons people share for being skeptical of the claims of Christianity. In this short book I would like to introduce you to some reasons that we can lay aside our doubts and fears and take the plunge into a life of faith. It is beautiful. It is believable. And it can be great fun.

This book is presented in two parts. The first part gives reasons to believe in God and trust in Jesus based on the beauty of Christianity. The water is refreshing on a hot summer day. Jumping in is a beautiful experience. Christianity, when expressed well, leads to greater beauty in one’s life, and indeed the world.

The second part gives reasons to believe in God and trust in Jesus despite the warnings of the people who say it is foolish to do so. According to the evidence, the water is deep, there are no sharks. Faith is not a blind leap, but a reasonable step.

If you are skeptical, I understand. However, I invite you to discover how Christianity is both beautiful and believable. I invite you to join me on the diving board, maybe we might even take a step . . .

The chapters are short — this is a great title to give to a guy, since some men have trouble staying on track while reading — and Beautiful and Believable is printed in a very clear, readable font.

Your local bookseller in Canada and the U.S. can order through Ingram, using ISBN 9798836457112 for the print edition, or of course, the usual (!) online source for books for both book and eBook, or from Apple Books; currently the print MSRP has been set generously low for the 142 page paperback.

December 8, 2021

Jesus Taught 12 Students for 3 Years: What Was the Curriculum?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:24 am

This drawing first appeared at my devotional blog, C201, a year-and-a-half ago. I find it amusing looking back that the related article I wrote specifically mentions Matthias and Justus, the two nominees to replace Judas after the betrayal, but in the drawing it’s Matthias and “?.” (There’s a pun here somewhere about how sometimes there’s just no Justus.)

The two were mentioned toward the end of the article as an example of people 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. (Acts 1: 21b – 22a) in order to show that while “the twelve” were the “official” disciples, there were others such as the siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus; Mary the mother of Jesus, two other Marys (a popular name; they must have been Catholic) and people like Nicodemus who appears at both the beginning and end of John’s Gospel, and John Mark, who might have been too young to be counted at the outset but is definitely part of the inner circle in the Garden of Gethsemane.

When I say, “official” disciples, I realize some are confused by the use of the term “the twelve apostles” and then there is the matter that we are all, today, disciples. And if we want to throw out numbers, let’s not forget the 72 (or as some prefer, 70) who Jesus sent out two-by-two. Casual adherents and visitors wouldn’t have been allowed on that missions trip.

The point of all this is to bring us to this verse:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. – John 21:25 NIV

Want an example?

In Luke 24:13-35, we have the story of Jesus appearing to Clopas and the other unnamed person on the road to Emmaus. The crucifixion has left them shattered, and they describe their sadness to Jesus and then Jesus responds.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. – v27

Of all the “other things” that John was referring to, most people I know would give their eye teeth to have a transcription of that small group discussion. The entire, big-picture story-arc of the Bible as taught by Jesus himself. Nobody knew it was happening, but for a brief span of time, it was the hottest ticket in town.

So how does this connect with “the twelve?”

The thing that separates those young men from the additional disciples is a rabbinical relationship between teacher and student. He was their rabbi, and for three years they followed him (literally, as he was itinerant, always on the move) as he did whatever might be expected of a rabbi, plus a few extras that probably weren’t.

So what was on the curriculum? What was in the syllabus?

I haven’t seen much written about this, but I would expect there would be teaching on ethics, on philosophy, on Israel’s history, and perhaps even a lecture or two about dealing with pesky parishioners or doing fundraising to support their ministry. Things that rabbis taught their pupils, necessary for advancement on the day they themselves became teachers, plus some of whatever elements would distinguish one rabbi’s teaching from another.

The point is, we don’t know.

Most of what we see and hear of his teaching happened in a public setting, leaving us with enough in terms of the “red letter” quotable quotes to advance the kingdom and change the world; but also leave us hungering for more, such as Clopas and the other person got to hear while walking from Emmaus.

At the site BibleRef.com, the point is made that because of the writing style in John, this observation about the volume of unrecorded actions and teachings of Jesus, is the only time the writer uses the pronoun, “I.”

Throughout the gospel of John, there have been overtly anonymous references to a particular disciple (John 1:37; 13:23; 18:15–16; 19:26; 21:23). The prior verse seems to confirm this person is John, the author of the entire work (John 21:24). John may have used a secretary to write down his words as he spoke, partly explaining why this writing ends with a specific claim to authorship. There appears to be an additional stamp of approval, possibly from a local church, attached to that statement as well.

Here, the “signature” concludes with the gospel of John’s only explicit use of a first-person perspective. It’s not entirely clear if this is still John speaking, or if this continues the note of approval which began with the phrase “and we know…” from the prior verse. Either way, it makes the point that Jesus’ earthly ministry could not be fully detailed in a single book. Further, to explain or understand those words would require immense effort. The existence of Bible commentaries—such as this very ministry—which are many times longer than the text itself is further proof of this.

Apparently John himself (or if you prefer, the writer of the Gospel of John*) is most emphatic on this; grammatically, it’s the crescendo in what has been, after all, a first-person account.

As Knowing-Jesus.com states,

John only related a fraction of the inexhaustible fullness of all Christ did during His 33 years on earth, which was spent going about doing good. He humbled Himself and only did those things He heard from His Father in heaven and He worked the works of God, through the mighty power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

…John’s gospel only touches on the fringe of inexhaustible fullness of all that Jesus did – for words are insufficient to capture the infinite riches of His unparalled life.

The site Heartlight.org sums up the passage well:

Jesus did many great deeds when he was here. He also is continuing to do those great deeds through his people and for the people of the world. But even though the world could not contain a book that recorded all the good things that Jesus did, Jesus did walk on our planet, look up at our stars, and face our mortal frailties so we could see God. Why? Three reasons are especially important to John:

  1. Jesus loves us, as does his Father.
  2. We need Jesus’ love, mercy, grace, example, message, and truth.
  3. The Father wanted Jesus to come and reveal himself to us.

We don’t know every single word that was spoken by Jesus on this earth, but we’re given enough that, if we can process and assimilate that, we can indeed transform our world.


Some of the teaching of Jesus that we do have recorded were indeed asides to the twelve. The public, including seekers, scribes and spiritual leaders were not present. But most of what we read is part of what is termed his “public ministry.”

If you want to delve further into Christ’s teaching, The Gospel of Matthew is your best bet, containing five (count ’em, five) of Christ’s discourses. Much attention is given to the first one, which we call The Sermon on the Mount, but if you want to read what we covered at C201 a year ago about the others, here are the links:

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Mission

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Parables

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: The Church

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: End Times


* I included this phrase as a concession to those who believe and teach that the Gospels weren’t necessarily authored by the person whose name they bear. I’m all for advances in research and textual criticism, but the phrase, “the writer of the Gospel of John” is just an awkward sentence construction.


Warning: Speculation as to what all is contained in the things that Jesus may have said or done which are not recorded is a dangerous pursuit. To say it differently, this is how cults get started. We have enough solid content from the common canon of scripture without having to elaborate or focus on things which are pure conjecture.

November 3, 2021

Jesus as History’s Ultimate Person of Interest

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:41 am

Book Review: Person of Interest by J. Warner Wallace.

This is the fourth time it’s been my privilege to review one of J. Warner Wallace’s books, and while each one makes a compelling case for Christianity, I would propose that the set of four, taken together, provides an almost irrefutable, undeniable case for Jesus being all he claimed to be.

As in his previous titles, the skills of Wallace’s work as a cold case detective provide a motif for the spiritual issues under discussion. This time around it’s a single case: the disappearance and probable murder of a woman named Tammy. In this situation, a body was never located, which makes it the most difficult type of cold case to investigate.

This time around however, on the other side of the analogy is the author’s own faith journey, from atheist to believer. The very personal aspect of this makes it very similar to Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ.

In Person of Interest: Why Jesus Still Matters in a World That Rejects the Bible (Zondervan, 2021) Wallace explains that there are two critical sets of factors at play in a potential murder investigation, and in a critical look at the life of Christ.

He sorts these things using the imagery of a bomb exploding. The first type of these factors includes noteworthy things leading up to the “event,” which he calls the fuse. Then, everything that happens after, he terms the fallout. A longer fuse and  greater fallout lead more clearly to the establishing of a person of interest.

What therefore sets this book apart from other apologetic resources is the emphasis on the particular time and place in history that Jesus occupied, and the spinoff effects including influences in diverse things like art, architecture, literature, sculpture, etc.

Included on the fallout side is the thorny issue of the capital-C Church’s relationship with science, and the influence Christianity has had on other religions, including religions which were founded before the birth of Jesus. It’s a courageous, outside-the-box perspective, and while one might argue that the reverberations from Christ’s life aren’t any more significant than the cultural echoes from, for example, The Beatles, added together, his documentation of such effects make Person of Interest a unique resource.

The book is also peppered with the usual illustrations provided by the author himself which are a hallmark of all of his titles. It does make for faster reading, especially if you process things visually. Some of these however are a bit repetitive, and most require a visit to the website to view more clearly, as the reproduction in the book is rather fuzzy. Several of the footnotes — 54 pages of them in a 312 page paperback — direct the reader to examine these images in detail online, along with selected case notes.

Wallace paints with broad strokes and a few times, I thought the finished work could have been tightened up a little. In the section on architecture he stated that the early followers of Jesus “lacked financial patronage,” (p131) but in fact, this was exactly Theophilus’ role in underwriting the research for the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.

In a section concerned with the early church’s role in fostering education, he mentioned The Didache and referred to it having a “question and answer” format (p160) when in fact it does not follow that catechism method. These are things I’m willing to overlook, however.

I’m not sure that I would use Person of Interest as an initial reading suggestion for someone interested in Christian believe — though a week from now I might do that with one particular person I am meeting — but as a supplement to Wallace’s first book, Cold Case Christianity, it would prove to be a good complementary resource.

A free preview excerpt of Person of Interest, consisting of the introduction and first chapter is available at this link.

If you appreciate the study of Christian apologetics and already own a handful of resources, consider this. I guarantee you don’t have anything like it in your library.

October 11, 2021

Review: Searching for Enough by Tyler Staton

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:01 am

Thomas didn’t really show up until page 149.

Despite being tipped off on page 10 as to the overall direction of the book Searching for Enough: The High-Wire Walk Between Doubt and Faith, I was expecting him earlier because the apostle Thomas is the centerpiece of Tyler Staton’s signature sermon.

I’ve heard him preach it all the way through twice, and almost three times to different audiences, and I’ve continued to be captivated by his teaching style. I was introduced to him though Bridgetown, on a Sunday that John Mark Comer was away, and tracked down some sermons to Oaks Church Brooklyn in the heart of New York.

If you preach at Bridgetown it means you’ve done your homework. The teaching part of the service runs the better part of an hour, and during that time you’d better have something to say, including the necessary research and an equal balance of references to things academic and scholarly, and the stuff of everyday life.

In the past few weeks, Tyler Staton formally took the teaching reins at Bridgetown, moving his family from one side of the country to another, as John Mark Comer moves on to some new projects.

At the time the book was completed New York City was very much in his blood. That city is a mix of all types of people, each carrying all manner of stories and so is Tyler. He has no problem finding connection points with his audience through references to the basic challenges of life; the challenges we face in our search for enough.

John Mark wrote the foreword to Searching for Enough, including the advice to read slowly. At this point I’m thankful to have finished the book — and the review — in the same year the book was written. There’s a lot of rich content here, and as I considered some brief words here, I found myself back at the beginning and drawn into the story all over again.

This is very much a look at the life of Jesus, and especially the final week — what we call the passion week — when “all four accounts slow way down;” and merge, falling into “perfect harmony with one another, suddenly documenting each precise detail when they had been a sweeping survey up to that point.”

And then, post-resurrection, Thomas, aka Didymus (the twin) comes into view. The book dares us to see Thomas as our twin, and recognize that his doubts are not that far from removed from where we often find ourselves; along with anecdotes from the lives of people similar to us, and those who walk a very different road.

Searching for Enough passes my personal litmus test for what a book on the Christian life should be. It’s one I would recommend reading, but is especially good when paired with some background familiarity with Tyler’s teaching style as found on video at YouTube, Oaks Church and Bridgetown.

Available in paperback from Zondervan wherever you buy quality books. Thanks to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Products.


Read an excerpt from Searching for Enough at this link.

April 5, 2021

Mark Clark’s Follow-Up Book Equally Packed with Content

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:09 am

I think the greatest challenge I had with reviewing Mark Clark’s The Problem of God three years ago is that the book was simply so wide-ranging in its coverage of the apologetic waterfront. There is so much entailed in the advice to “always be ready to give an account,” and I so much want to own the material to be able to present it and properly articulate the content when asked that the prospect can be overwhelming.

And then there’s the sense in that book, along with the sequel, The Problem of Jesus that this is Mark’s own story and so he’s able to present responses to the “problems” because he’s worked them through in his own life, as opposed to those of us “older brothers” who grew up in the church and took everything as it was handed to us before we reached an age of potential internal skepticism.

I explained this in my first review,

Until his later teens, Clark was camped on the other side of the border of faith. Partying. Drugs. Disbelief. So he has those still there clearly in view as he writes this; these are the type of people who made up the nucleus of Village Church when it was founded in 2010.

The autobiographical elements are far from distracting, rather they serve an essential purpose, an underlying personal narrative connecting the philosophical threads.

There is a certain aspect to which the subjects in the two books overlap, like to proverbial Venn diagram. I would offer that he may not have had the second book in view when he penned the first, and wanted to cover a sufficient number of bases. Perhaps I’m wrong on this, but there’s a lot about Jesus in the first book, and a number of things about God in the second.

You don’t need to have read the first to start the sequel, and I’m quite happy to own both, which have a combined total of over 600 pages packed with content. To that end, there are 328 endnotes — I lead a dull life and so I counted them — reflecting a host of sources. (Remind me to look up Herman Bavinck, whose contributions were always insightful.) One reviewer offered that Clark “intertwines personal story, heavy scholarship, and winsome argument together.” I would add that the book is definitely accessible to the average reader of Christian non-fiction.

The Problem of Jesus: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to the Scandal of Jesus (Zondervan) covers nine different subject areas, but this time around a double chapter is given to each: The historical Jesus; the Gospels; discipleship; God’s loving nature; miracles; the stories Jesus told; the divinity of Jesus; his death; and his resurrection.

I love books like this, and so it gets my wholehearted recommendation. Take it for a test drive: We included an excerpt at Christianity 201 on the weekend, which you can read at this link.


 

Thanks as usual to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for an opportunity to check out The Problem of Jesus.

May 27, 2020

Drawing a Crowd Needn’t Be Seen as Problematic

In the past ten weeks, I’ve been doing more original writing at C201, than here at Thinking Out Loud. While I don’t want this to simply be a mirror site for the other one, I do want to share these here from time to time. This one appeared earlier this month…

Previous generations didn’t have the word, “megachurch.” Of course they didn’t have “televangelist” either. There were indeed large churches, however and there were preachers (George Whitefield is a good example) who preached to thousands — in the outdoors, no less — without the benefit of sound equipment. But we tend to look back favorably on those days, believing it was a matter of substance over style.

Today, we have popular preachers whose television ministries have huge followings and whose close-up pictures are plastered on the front cover of their books. (No, not just that one; I’m thinking of about six.)

The general conclusion at which people arrive is that they are getting those followers because they are saying what people want to hear. On close examination, it’s true that many of the hooks of their sermons and books are positive motivational sayings that also work on posters and coffee mugs.

For those of us who are insiders, we immediately default to the phrase itching ears. This is drawn from 2 Timothy 4:3

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. (NLT)

This true, probably more true now than ever, but the challenge for Christians today is that everyone who drives by a church with an overflowing parking lot is likely to jump to conclusions and declare that church liberal in their theology or empty of doctrines; or infer that people only go there for the music.

It’s true that Jesus warned his disciples they were not going to win a popularity contest. In Matthew 7: 13-14 he tells his disciples,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”. (NIV)

and then immediately makes a statement about false teachers.

Jesus had his own fall from popularity when he began what I call the tough teachings and others call the “hard sayings.” A month ago I referred to “the ominously verse-referenced” John 6:66

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (NIV)

Many of you grew up in churches where you were told you were part of “the chosen few” a reference to Matthew 22:14

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” (ESV)

Jesus told his disciples that they would experience rejection in some places. In Matthew 10:14 he is saying,

If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. (NLT)

In other words, there is, at least in Evangelicalism, a mindset that says that we are a tiny remnant, and by extrapolation is suspicious of large crowds.

But there are exceptions.

I think of an American pastor who since Christmas has been walking his church through some very challenging sermons; raising the bar when it comes to expectations for both compassionate service and lifestyle evangelism. But he’s not off in a corner doing this, it’s one of the top ten churches in the U.S.

I think of two Canadian pastors, from two very different eras, who have a giftedness when it comes to taking Bible passage “A” and showing people how it relates to Bible passage “B.” I’ve seen both of them preach before thousands of people. It was far from “itching ears;” you had to work hard just to keep up with the note-taking, which is challenging when you’re sitting there with your mouth open going, “Wow!”

I think of Nicodemus who we characterize as coming to Jesus in secret. I was always taught that was the reason for his nighttime visit in John 3. But lately I read that the rabbis set aside the early evening for further discussion. He was coming back for the Q. and A. part of the teaching. He wanted more. I find him to be representative of people in the crowd who were there for all the right reasons. (Compare his motivation to that of Felix in Acts 24:25-26.) The itching ears crowd don’t come back for the evening service, the Tuesday morning Bible study, or the midweek prayer meeting.

The website Knowing Jesus has come up with more than 30 good examples of Jesus being surrounded by crowds. True, the Bible tells us that some of them were simply there for the miracle spectacle or the free lunches, but I’m sure that many of them were drawn to Jesus for greater, higher reasons. (There’s a limit to how many hours people will listen to teaching in order to get a fish sandwich lunch.)

So where did all this come from today? A friend posted this on Facebook. I’ve decided to delete the original author’s name.

His words appear deep, meaningful and mature, but indirectly he is lashing out against individuals or movements which are left unnamed. He’s implying that everyone who is drawing a big crowd is doing so at the expense of preaching the Word. I suspect his words land with people who are already on-side, so I don’t really get the point of posting things like this at all.

Furthermore, the inference is that the sign of a successful ministry is suffering, hardship and opposition.

Like so many things in scripture, there is a balance to be found.

In Matthew 5:14 +16, we find Jesus saying

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden”
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
(NASB)

If all you experience is suffering, hardship and opposition, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing everything right, but rather, it could be you’re doing something seriously wrong.

Oswald Smith wrote the hymn which begins:

There is joy in serving Jesus
As I journey on my way
Joy that fills my heart with praises
Every hour and every day

I really hope that’s your experience as well.

 

April 4, 2020

Songs for Good Friday | Songs for Communion

For the past decade, I’ve linked to or included songs at Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201 which are cross-focused, appropriate for a Communion Service (Eucharist) or Good Friday. There are also a number of songs we’ve done individually or as part of a worship team. I’ve never attempted to gather them all in one place.

These are not the top songs which come to mind for many of you, but ones which I thought might be lesser known, or are more lyrically rich. There are a number by UK artists, and I feel the lyrical depth we get from songwriters there exceeds the output we see from writers in Nashville. I have however included a few you should recognize.

This is the first time I’ve embedded a playlist — not a single video — so to keep it playing you either need to keep this blog page open, or click the YouTube icon to transfer the action directly to YouTube. Right now there are 21 songs, so if you want to have this playing in the background, you should be good for 90+ minutes.

Again, these are not “Easter songs.” A few of them move to the resurrection, but the idea was to focus on the arrest, trial, scourging, suffering and crucifixion of Jesus.

If the player does not open properly here is the link.

February 10, 2020

A Truth Test: Who’s Getting the Credit?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:58 am

In just a few short weeks, Christianity 201 is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Here’s a recent post.

Several days ago I was struck by a verse I had previously skipped over, John 7:28. Jesus says,

“Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”

He says this at the Festival of Tabernacles as the Jewish scholars are trying to get him to state, for the record, from where his teaching derives, since he did not sit under the tutoring of their rabbis. In context:

NIV.John.7.16-18 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.

Some commentaries focus more on the idea that Jesus gives God the Father credit, rather than the particularities of verse 18, which makes a more general statement about how this is can be an example of a test for truth.

For example BibleRef.com:

Rather than being educated in some Rabbinic school, or generating knowledge on His own, Jesus credits His amazing wisdom to God (John 7:16). In context, this is what Jesus means by those speaking on “his own authority.” While Jesus is fully man, and fully God (Colossians 1:19), His earthly mission is to follow the will of God the Father. Since the message Jesus brings is that of God, God is to be given credit for it. Even further, Jesus claims that a person’s willingness to obey God is what determines his or her understanding—rather than the reverse, where understanding enables obedience.

Even Jesus’ critics were forced to take note of His honesty and moral perfection (John 8:46)…

Quoting The Biblical Illustrator commentary at StudyLight.com, there is a closer connection between truth and humility.

1. … The conceited man

(l) Speaks out of himself. He is known everywhere by his ostentatious parade of originality and infallibility. His own opinions evolved from his inner consciousness, in proud independence of other thinkers, are the standard of truth and untruth. His predecessors were all very well in their day; but their teaching is now obsolete. His contemporaries are right according to their light, but their light is only one remove from darkness. To raise the least objection against his ipse dixit is only an evidence of “knowing nothing about it.” How many such original geniuses afflict the Church, the state, halls of science and schools of philosophy!

2. Its aim–“his own glory.” This is the end which the conceited man never loses sight of, and everything he does has as its motive the gratification of his own personal vanity. He dresses and attitudinizes for the purpose of attracting attention; he talks to secure praise for his sagacity or adventures; he schemes and works that he may be talked about, or to obtain gain. And verily he has his reward.

The IVP Bible Commentary at BibleGateway.com continues this theme,

One either speaks from God or one speaks from self, no matter how many external authorities are appealed to. One seeking God, who is caring for God’s glory rather than one’s own, such as Jesus refers to, is able to believe (5:44). Jesus’, “humility and obedience allow him to speak with the authority of God” (Barrett 1978:318), and these are the same qualities that enable a person to recognize God’s word in Jesus’ teaching.

Eugene Peterson renders this verse in The Message as,

A person making things up tries to make himself look good. But someone trying to honor the one who sent him sticks to the facts and doesn’t tamper with reality.

This verse has been percolating in my thoughts for several days now, but it came back again in a service on the weekend, reading the story from Acts 3 of Jesus healing the lame man:

NIV.Acts.3.12b …“Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13a The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus.

The goal of The Incarnate One, and the aim of those First Century apostles was the same: To deflect the glory; the credit; the honor; etc., away from themselves and towards God the Father.

The principle of John 7:18 is to tell us that this can be a test for the veracity; the truthfulness of the one speaking.

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