Churchie Feeds

Belief That Will Get Us into Heaven

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 04/08/2019 - 11:00

Point to a saucer of milk you have put down for your kitten and the kitten may simply play with your pointing finger. The kitty doesn’t understand your sign. But point a six-year-old child in the direction of his lost ball and he will run immediately to retrieve it. He takes the pointing finger as a sign.

That’s how John uses the word, sign, when he refers to Jesus’ miracles. They point to something beyond themselves. When, for example, Jesus feeds the 5000 men miraculously from a lad’s five barley loaves and two sardine-sized fish he is pointing to something more.

The crowd experienced the wonder of the miracle but didn’t understand what it pointed to. Their scheme in response to the free meal was to capture and make Jesus their king. They must have thought: free meals for life!

They were so serious about their scheme that his life was in danger. Jesus slipped away to a nearby mountain, and when night came he walked on water and the next morning was with the disciples in Capernaum.

When the crowds discovered that both Jesus and his disciples had disappeared from the northeastern shore of Galilee they took boats to Capernaum on the western shore. They hoped to see more miraculous deeds and perhaps experience another miracle meal.

When they found him, Jesus challenged their motives: I tell you truly, you are looking for me not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill (John 6:26). Then he led the discussion in the direction of a food that  will endure to eternal life.

When the men asked, What must we do to do the works God requires? Jesus answered, The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent (John 6:28,29). The rest of the chapter deals with the sign and the conflict his words awakened. They were in no mood to believe.

In this chapter John used the word “to believe” nine times. At the outset, Jesus said to them: The work of God is this: “to believe” in the one he has sent (John 6:29). The word, believe, used in this way was to be taken seriously.

The men suggested that Jesus repeat the miracle of manna given miraculously to their forefathers in the wilderness. Jesus’ corrected them and in doing so moved them one step closer to understanding the sign he intended the feeding of 5000 to be: For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives light to the world (John 6:33)

He was referring to himself, an immeasurably better gift than manna. Their obtuseness in the presence of our Lord was remarkable. They argued back. They asked questions filled with doubt.

He even put his finger directly on their unbelief when he said: But as I have told you, you have seen me and still do not believe (John 6:36).

The picture is enlarged. God the Father was deeply engaged in this gift of eternal life for his creatures. Jesus said: all those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away (John 6:37). But he added, For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day (John 6:40). The two promises belong together.

Jesus’ strongest and most arresting statement during this exchange was this: Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood you have no life in you, whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise them up on the last day (John 6:54).

This was Jesus metaphoric way of saying that believing in him involved more than a surface confession — the tipping of a hat or the signing of a pledge. He was the bread of life. Believing in Jesus involved their receiving him, the taking of him into their very beings by faith to live there.

When the gospel is simply given and a small child is asked: Would you like to invite Jesus into your heart, they usually have an instinct for answering. Believing in Jesus at any age involves bidding him to enter and live within us in the power of the Holy Spirit.

On this occasion his teaching proved to be too exacting for the timid and shrunken souls of some of them. They grumbled at his imagery. Even a goodly number of his disciples said his teaching was too hard to accept. The crowds thinned out.

Then Jesus put this question to his twelve disciples: You do not want to leave me too, do you? Peter responded: Lord, to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68). It was a golden moment for Peter. He momentarily understood what was behind Jesus’ miracles and words. He understood the sign — Jesus, the bread of life for time and eternity.

O for a faith that will not shrink
though pressed by many a foe,
That will not tremble on the brink
of poverty or woe.

Lord give me such a faith as this,
and then whate’er may come
I’ll taste e’en here the hallowed bliss
of an eternal home.

William Bathurst, 1831.

 

Image info: TumbleDryLow@Angela (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: God’s Super City

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 04/01/2019 - 11:00

And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:2 RSV).

The city is neither modern New York nor ancient Sodom. It is neither buried beneath centuries of sand nor clouded by the haze of fossil fuel combustion.  It isn’t marked by human genius, nor is it scarred by human depravity.

Its splendor owes nothing to man; it is the city of God. Humans, wherever they have gone, have organized into communities. Their skills in social structures have come to a peak in the building of cities like Tokyo, San Francisco, Toronto, London, and Atlanta. These highly developed communities have witnessed across history to the genius of their creators. Yet cities have fallen one by one: sacked by enemies, corrupted by their inhabitants, or emptied by the vagaries of history.

The Bible has a dual attitude toward cities. Jesus loved Jerusalem and wept over it in great tenderness, then pronounced destruction upon it. It was his city, the place of the patriarchs and prophets, and it had known great moments. But it also distinguished itself for its stoning of the prophets. Then this city that God had uniquely honored had swelled with pride and rejected his Son.

The Bible begins its story of mankind in a garden and ends its story in a city, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God (Revelation 21:2). The vision of this city, given to John on Patmos, is rapturous, and the Book of Revelation records it with splendor of expression.

This last book of the Bible speaks throughout in what some have called cartoon language. It has been pointed out that a cartoonist today wanting to show tensions between Russia and China, for example, simply pictures a bear being eyed menacingly by a red dragon. We would get the message.

The Revelation is filled with verbal pictures – four-headed beasts, angels with vials, and cities like the New Jerusalem – from all of which we are intended to get a message too.

The message is that in his time, God will provide the perfect community for those who belong to him. Paul calls it the Jerusalem which is above (Galatians 4:26), and our commonwealth . . . in heaven (Philippians 3:20 RSV). It is the city toward which Abraham was headed, the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10 NEB), the eternal dwelling place of God and His people.

Today, many of the cities of man are under a cloud, if not one heavy with a cloud of sulphur dioxide or a threatening cloud from a dirty bomb. The city is a place of physical decay and human despair to many forgotten people, to them a seeming hell without flames. Yet, their leaders keep a proud silence about God and his Kingdom, and grope only on the horizontal plane for solutions to their troubles.

Even so, Christ wept over a city ruled by such attitudes, and he healed body, mind, and spirit of people in its dirty streets. Can God’s people do less? In every sector there are needs which compassionate Christians can meet, despair they can work to relieve, boredom they can help to replace with meaning. In many decaying cities, small corps of Christians join to help relieve such problems.

But here’s the paradox. We can serve with compassion in the city of man only if we are convinced at every level of our beings that our true destination is the New Jerusalem, the eternal city of God.

Photo credit: blogmulo (via flickr.com)



Categories: Churchie Feeds

The Night Nicodemus Talked with Jesus

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 03/25/2019 - 11:00

The story of Nicodemus in chapter 3 of the Gospel of John sometimes stops me in my tracks.

Nicodemus is a Pharisee, so he has high moral and religious standards. Besides, he’s a member of the ruling council in Jerusalem, a man greatly respected there. He may have approached Jesus in the nighttime because he wanted a serious, undisturbed discussion.

Like many in Israel, Nicodemus believed in God’s coming kingdom on earth. He believed all enemies would be defeated and the Messiah would rule righteously. He wanted to be welcomed when the day came.

Nicodemus begins by affirming Jesus with the words: Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him (John 3:2). Perhaps Nicodemus and his peers had shared opinions about Jesus.

Jesus engages Nicodemus in a serious discussion of eternal matters. To this specialist in religion and morality, Jesus announces: Very truly I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again (John 3:3).

Nicodemus asks Jesus quizzically: “By born again do you mean start the cycle of life all over again in my mother’s womb?” Our Lord follows with a fuller explanation.

Very truly I tell you no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). Water is symbolic of the promised washing away of sins, effected in Jewish thought by the shedding of sacrificial blood. This washing is humankind’s universal need, for all have sinned and do fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

Jesus explains that fallen human nature can produce only fallen human nature; that is a fixed reality. But God’s Holy Spirit can and does infuse the seeker with a new quality of life. That’s why it’s called a new birth, or being born again.

The transformation is a mystery, for sure, but so is the wind we feel in our faces but don’t understand its source. Nevertheless, we accept from experience that it exists.

This transformation is often spoken of in Scripture. Ezekiel prophesied to Judah in troubled times: I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean . . . . I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you (Ezekiel 36:25, 26).

All this is of grace — God’s undeserved generosity — and it happens in response to our exercise of the faith God engenders in us as a gift.

The born-again person is not just washed clean; that by itself wouldn’t last very long. But at the same time the Spirit of God indwells him or her. Not infrequently the indwelling Spirit is evident in a believer.

A few days ago a man came to our house to change batteries in a device. He was a total stranger. I sensed somehow that he was a Christian and I asked him. He beamed as he answered that he was a born-again Christian and immediately told me where he worshipped and served.

A new birth brings about change, not all at the same time or in the same way for different people. The change is internal and yet often discernible. Attitudes change. Relationships are corrected. A love to be with God’s people develops. Bad habits are addressed and broken.

So what about Nicodemus? Isn’t he already above reproach? Trying hard? Succeeding in his attempt to “reach upward” to God? Even for Nicodemus, and for people everywhere who are striving to be “good,” the issue remains the new birth — believing in Jesus and inviting him through the indwelling Spirit to exercise lordship over their lives.

That is, the issue is still sin for the “virtuous” like Nicodemus, and spiritual renewal is necessary to gain entrance into the Kingdom now and at the end of the age.

We meet Nicodemus just once more in John’s Gospel: he is helping Joseph, a secret disciple of Jesus, in the burial of our crucified Lord’s body (John 19:38). We can infer that his encounter with Jesus “re-birthed” and changed him for the rest of his life, and for eternity.

Image info: Jesus and Nicodemus, by Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn (1604-1645)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

A Childless Society is Not the Answer to Today’s Terrifying Fears

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 03/18/2019 - 11:00

One night recently a large group of women appeared on television to pledge that they will not have children. They represented a developing movement centered in Great Britain.

I have since seen their leader back on screen twice for interviews. An interviewer wanted to know what was behind this group’s drastic intention. In essence, the leader said their resolution was nothing short of an act of despair.

Their particular concern was climate change and the obvious lack of alarm on the part of the public and politicians. In their opinion, all too soon the climate crisis will see the lights of civilization fading.

Indeed, climate change in the minds of many is a grave peril. But there are also other frightening trends in our world that threaten civilization as we know it — the pervasive breakdown of marriage and family, the alarming decline of civility in society, even the threat of massive destruction from determined enemies of Western civilization.

This week I have been comparing this dark view of the future with the bright light of hope found in the prologue to the Gospel according to John (the first eighteen verses of chapter one).

What a contrast! On the one hand a dark pessimism that Western society has no future worth contributing to; on the other, the enduring good news that a Savior has come into the world to give us hope for both this world and the next. Present perils cannot diminish this hope.

I need to summarize again the illuminating and almost transporting highlights of St. John’s prologue because they so profoundly neutralize despair.

  1. We have a Messiah — a Savior! He is the “Word” referred to in verse one. His name is Jesus, and he is coeternal with the Father. That is, whenever the universe began to be he already was. In fact, he always was and always will be.
  2. He is the agent of God’s creation. All things were made by him, declares the prologue. The Apostle Paul agrees: For in him all things were created (Colossians 1:16). But, if it is his world he will not let it be destroyed even though at times it seems ravaged by man’s evil. There is hope.
  3. Jesus our Lord is a light shining upon all mankind that cannot be extinguished. That light now shines on five continents although perceived on each to a greater or lesser degree. In some places it shines amidst persecution and even bloodshed and in many places it is suppressed by governments that threaten and persecute. Nevertheless, as shown repeatedly throughout history, the light of Jesus can be resisted but it cannot be extinguished.
  4. Sadly, the world does not always recognize Jesus for who he really is — at least at the moment of introduction. Even his own people would not, as a whole, receive him. The prologue introduces this sad information prophetically at the outset.
  5. Still, those who do hear his words and believe in him, accepting him as Creator and Lord, are given the right to become children of God! This is an event as radical as a human birth but it is a second birth, deeply spiritual in nature and initiated by God.
  6. When we know Jesus, we know firsthand what God is like. The Word (named Jesus), second person of the Trinity, forever was before time. But in time he became flesh and “pitched his tent” among us. The result? We have seen in Him, firsthand, the glory of the Father. And, like Jesus, God is full of generosity toward his creatures, a generosity that is always linked to truth.

John’s prologue closes with the marvelous statement: No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God, and is in close relationship with the Father, has made him known (John 1:18).

Does this holy Word take fear and anxiety out of modern life? Not fully, for we are human, limited, frail. But in God’s inviting love he gives grace for us to endure with joy the acute stresses unleashed by wickedness, peril, and loss; he reveals truth enough to keep us from falling on the rocks of unbelief, and he gives courage enough for us to speak hope into the darkness.

A childless world could do none of these things. It would only further impoverish humanity. But the Grace of the Savior taken as a gift from God given in hard times enriches us!

Image info: Tamaki Sono (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Preparing Our Hearts and Minds for Easter

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 03/11/2019 - 11:00

Leading up to Easter, April 21, I intend to spend part of each day in the Gospel of John and I invite you to join me. Yesterday I read all but the last two chapters. Today I’ll finish my read-through and begin my reflections, one passage at a time.

Why spend time each day on this? Easter is a high point of the church year and I want to renew my faith in anticipation of that great Gospel celebration. The Apostle Paul gives me an additional reason when he says, Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).

Sometimes, due to the “grind” of life, we continue to believe but the vitality of our faith fades. A common reason may be that we have become slack in turning regularly to the source of our faith — the Scripture, and especially the sections that recount the Gospel story.

Faith is not like a permanent substance injected into our veins. It is more a God-enabled affirmation we give regularly — daily is best — to the truth as it is in Jesus.

And, looking intentionally through the Gospel of John toward the Easter celebration of our Lord’s passion at Calvary, and his subsequent resurrection, may be an especially meaningful exercise to refresh our faith.

John’s chosen device in presenting the Gospel is a remarkable prologue, the first 18 verses of chapter 1.

A prologue is a literary device at the beginning to help the reader make sense of the main body of the text that follows. It’s been suggested that a prologue is like a short story set down to give us helpful details before the full story follows.

John’s prologue is preparatory theology, set down in simple language to be pondered. It says: In the beginning was the Word. That is, whenever the beginning of the universe came to be, the Word already was. But why does he present Jesus at first as the Word?

Tradition holds that John spent his senior years in Ephesus, a city near the Aegean Sea with a strong Greek influence. For several centuries some Greek thinkers had posited that an unseen principle or source was in being from which all that existed had come. This they often referred to as the Word.

A Jewish presence was also strong in Ephesus and thoughts about God also prominently featured the concept of Word. God created the heavens and the earth by his Word let there be (Genesis 1). And the worshipers in Israel often sang in temple worship such lines as, By the word of the Lord the heavens were made (Psalm 33:6). For them, the Word was God at work.

John appears to pull all this together and in doing so takes our understanding a giant step forward by telling his readers that the Word was not merely an influence or force, but a person he had seen, heard, even touched with his own hand (1 John 1:1).

So John begins the Gospel account with the astounding announcement that in the beginning was the Word — Jesus! That is, even before the creation of the universe, the Word — Jesus — already “was.”  Moreover, this Word was with God, and more astounding still, this Word was God.

Professor Google assures me that our universe is 13.8 billion years old. I cannot verify the number but I respect scientific efforts to make an estimate. However, I am assured from another source that whenever that massive beginning was, Christ our Lord was already there, the alpha and omega of creation.

Image info: (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

A Day in the Life of Pastor John Doe

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 03/04/2019 - 11:00

This is the story of a day in the life of a pastor of medium-sized but busy church. Call it a snapshot of key aspects of a pastor’s daily routines.

Meet Pastor John Doe. You may understand his title as meaning he only has something to do with the church. You may have even heard with amusement the quip that pastors have a one-hour-a-week job — the Sunday-morning hour between 11 and noon. But the following, based on my experience as a pastor, is a glimpse of the other 50 or more hours.

This story may as readily be Pastor Jane Doe’s. In increasing numbers, women are responding to the pastoral task, taking the appropriate training and experiencing the same joys and sorrows in their work as male pastors do, though perhaps in somewhat different ways. But in this case, the story is about Pastor John Doe.

Pastor Doe is settling into his study, to read, meditate, and pray, with his Bible and laptop in front of him. He is laying out pulpit plans for the following Sunday. It’s eight o’clock Tuesday morning.

At that morning service he’ll preach the last of a year-long series from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The title: “The Bedrock of Obedience” (Matthew 7:24-27). In the evening it will be a Bible study on The Christian and Gambling, based on Matthew 27:35-36.

By nine o’clock he hears his administrative assistant/Christian education director arrive in the room next door, and the phone begins to ring. Each day, the AA thoughtfully protects Pastor Doe’s study and preparation time from calls that can wait.

Also on his schedule, at 11:45 he breaks his solitude for the AA’s morning report: the conference superintendent called and wants a call back; the new Smeaton baby has arrived (a boy); and Jane Hewlett of the Mother’s Morning Out Circle phoned to ask if he would lunch with them this coming Thursday noon and bring a brief devotional.

Also, Mrs. Grundy had phoned again to complain that the sound system had not been loud enough Sunday and if this problem isn’t corrected she’ll just stay home and listen to television preachers.

At noon, he usually exercises at a health center nearby, or just takes his lunch alone. By 1:15 he’s on his way to the hospital, first to offer thanks to God with the Smeatons on the safe arrival of their son, then to visit a high-school student who had to have unexpected surgery. On the way back to the church he visits briefly with a member whose husband abruptly left her only two weeks earlier.

By 3:15 Pastor Doe is back at the church for an appointment with a troubled single mother. Behind her tears, he learns, is the fear that her 15-year-old daughter, Alene, is getting into drugs. The symptoms are ominous — secretive conduct, falling grades, money missing from a drawer, and what appear to be exaggerated mood swings.

Pastor Doe has had a good relationship with Alene so he assures her mother that he will make contact with the daughter, but he’ll also put the mother in touch with a support group. They pray together, but both know that, if her fears are true, there may be hard days ahead.

In the few spare minutes before a 4:30 appointment with a young college student, he chooses the music for next Sunday morning’s service and makes note of two bulletin announcements that he must not lose track of. And he reviews the sermon ideas he had recorded during his morning study.

The student arrives. She’s home from college for spring break. She chokes back tears as she unfolds her perplexity. She’s in love with a neat guy, she says, and they are talking marriage. But she’s troubled that sometimes in playful moments he hurts her physically. She shows Pastor Doe a bruise on her arm. After hearing her out (with some internal alarm), the pastor asks permission to double check with a counselor at a distance, one trained in such issues. He prays with her and makes a follow-up appointment.

At 5:50 Pastor Doe arrives at his home. After a pleasant meal he has time to play a computer game with his ten-year-old son, Thomas, and read a Bible story to his five-year-old daughter, Cheryl. At 7:50 he slips away to make contact with a newly formed building committee at the church.

Back to his home by nine, he and his wife sit in the quiet of the family room discussing home and family issues: a different medicine for their son’s bronchitis; their van’s unexpected need for new tires (where the best deals appear to be, and where they would find the money for them); and about conflict issues between staff members of the preschool where his wife works.

As they prepare for sleep after a taxing day, they raise their sights and give thanks for the blessings the pastoral life brings, and in the face of the stresses, to recommit to obedience to the call on their lives.

As Pastor Doe lays out his clothes for the next day his mind drifts again, as it had several times in the afternoon, to the text he will preach from. He feels a touch of eagerness to be alone with the text in his study the next morning.

Before settling to sleep, Pastor Doe recalls the words of the Apostle Paul to Pastor Timothy: Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching, and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift… (1 Timothy 4:13).

Categories: Churchie Feeds

How to Cultivate a Christian Mind III

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 02/25/2019 - 11:00

If you were under house arrest in ancient Rome as the Apostle Paul was late in his life, what would you be thinking about? How to escape? How to win an earlier hearing from the Emperor? How to get on the good side of your guards?

None of these were Paul’s first concerns. Instead, from his confinement, he was thinking about a church he had planted and loved deeply at Philippi, in Macedonia, seven hundred miles away. The letter he wrote to that church became the Epistle to the Philippians in the New Testament.

Always on the alert to advance the Gospel, his final point in this letter is an exhortation to young believers to nurture their thought lives to become ever more consistent with their faith in Christ.

In Philippians 4:8 his counsel about their private thoughts is captured in six important words. Here they are:

Truth. This word fits and affirms that which corresponds to reality. Two plus two equals four. (Jesus) is the way, and the truth and the life (John 14:6).

Nobility. Let your thoughts be elevated, worthy, honest.

Right. Stand fearlessly for what you know to be right. Be righteous in all your dealings.

Pure. Avoid moral defilement. Be inwardly pure. God is present at every moment of your life; nothing is hidden from Him.

Beautiful. The reference is to winsomeness. There is no need to be unpleasant in order to model serious faith. The Christian mind, says William Barclay, is set on the lovely things like kindness, sympathy, forbearance.

Admirable. Be alert to what is fine in the world and be free to admire whatever is deserving. See the handiwork of God and admire the wonders of his world.

As I read this passage it appears to me that the Apostle doesn’t want to leave out any important words from his list so he adds — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy…. He appears to say, If there is anything I’ve forgotten, add those words also to the list for meditation and practice.

In the above list of words, the Apostle sets a foundation for morally wholesome thoughts and healthy relationships. The words seem to share a sense of firmness.

They are strong words, binding together ideas rooted deep in reality. To adopt and practice them seriously is to develop staunch character.

Paul’s teaching is apt for our age. Our culture’s saturation with relativism makes many people think truth is flexible, according to whim, and a moveable target: my truth, your truth…

Nobility of thought and behavior has fallen too often to coarseness of expression; righteousness, or right judgment and action, is now replaced with winning by the exertion of naked power; and purity and its subset chastity are too often reduced to vulgarity.

Not so for the Apostle Paul. His conviction is that moral excellence is to flow naturally from the embrace of the gospel. He dares to invite the young believers of Philippi to follow his example in whatever they have learned, received, heard or seen in him. He exhorts them to practice the above list of virtues, at the prompting of God’s Spirit assuring them that as a result the God of peace will be with them.

Paul’s urging to “think on these things” is appropriate because the human mind is like an electronic device that is always processing its environment. It continues even when its owner is not paying attention.

That is why Paul’s advice is so important. As believers, we are to monitor and assume responsibility for what our minds take in and doing so is a Christian discipline.

Christian minds need to be re-educated away from worldly values and enticements, and often some dark and hurtful thought patterns of anger, envy, resentment, greed, lust and such.

God wants us to be selective in our thought lives, searching within our day-to-day environment for thought content that is lovely and admirable.

The payoff is a buoyant and truly Christian mind as the Apostle Paul demonstrates. He was giving his counsel from confinement in Rome. He reports he was in chains. His future was uncertain. Yet the spirit of his letter is firm and upbeat. This shines throughout the whole piece and in that letter he uses the words joy and rejoicing sixteen times.

Image info: Saint Paul in Prison, Rembrandt, 1627 (Public Domain)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

How to Cultivate a Christian Mind II

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 02/18/2019 - 11:00

In a loving pastoral letter to the Philippian congregation the Apostle Paul recommends eight words that describe what should be the content of a healthy Christian mind:

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

Last week, I dealt with the first three: true, noble, and right. In this blog I deal only with pure. In essence, set your mind on what is pure. 

I asked my wife what the word “pure” brought to mind. After a few moments she responded: a drink of cold water from a swiftly flowing stream high on a mountain, a newborn baby, or an object of gold purged of all foreign matter.

Not many things in our world can be called pure. Some psychiatrists tell us that pure motives are never possible, even for Christians. For example, we may contemplate doing some great kindness to someone in need but lurking in the shadows of our mind may be a twinge of pride in our intentions. The human mind is tricky.

Because we are fallen creatures and have failed many times we might be tempted to brush aside purity of motivation as a fool’s errand. Yet we have the unqualified word of our Lord, telling us a pure heart should be a goal.

He said, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8). And the Apostle Paul includes the call to think on whatever is pure in his bouquet of good things to ponder as quoted above.

Even in Old Testament times, when the Prophet Nathan faced King David with his sin against Bathsheba, first David prayed: Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean (Psalm 51:7a). Using the imagery of the temple, he acknowledged that sin brings defilement and must be cleansed.

He then prayed: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (51:10). This suggests divine enablement. We exercise faith and are not left to do it on our own.

And we learn equally directly in the New Testament that inner cleansing for believers is an ongoing need. The writer of Hebrews says: Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:22).

In our profoundly defiled world our Lord wants to raise up an army of Christian men and women who take seriously the call to purity of thought and action. Here are three suggestions to help in the struggle.

First, we can recall and reaffirm daily such scriptural fragments as …not I but Christ, not I but Christ, not I but Christ… (Galatians 2:20). We can carry such fragments of truth anywhere. Another is, …except you are born of water and the Spirit… (John 3:5). In the latter case it is the Holy Spirit in us who gives us the energy to resist our world’s many impure attractions.

Second, we can conduct a thorough inventory and house cleaning of what is not pure in what we listen to and what we read. We may well be faced with wrenching decisions about friends who intentionally would take us in wrong directions.

I remember a large youth gathering where the young people were moved by the Holy Spirit to commit their lives fully to Christ. One of the results of their response to that moving of the Spirit was a massive surrender of impure objects and behaviors.

Finally, once cleansed, we can make use regularly of two instructions of the Apostle John: (1) No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him (1 John 3:6). That is, the power of habitual sin must be broken and God is able to deliver us. Also, (2) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1:9).

Photo credit: Takahiro Kyono (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

How to Cultivate a Christian Mind

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 02/11/2019 - 11:00

The human mind is a vital component of our uniqueness among God’s creatures. Even so, because of the fall of mankind, our minds are damaged and need redemption plus ongoing enrichment.

The Apostle Paul deals with this need for enrichment. He points out that, after we become Christians — that is, after we are justified and made new creatures in Christ, we need the enrichment of the Christian mind.

In a loving pastoral letter he sets before the Philippian congregation eight key words to focus the process of refreshment that their minds needed — and our minds need.

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

I intend to comment on the first three words in this blog, and deal with the remainder next week. 

Think on whatever is true. Our God is the very essence of truth (Numbers 23:19); grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17); as well, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth (John 16:13). Truth should therefore be a foremost issue in all our thoughts and communications. God’s truth is like the North Star to the mariner; it will guide us through every dark night and eventually bring us safely to the harbor.

For example, the Bible claims to speak God’s truth when it considers marriage to be the union of one man and one woman for life. From the perspective of divine truth this is not negotiable. The Bible challenges us to test these and all other truth issues by the words of our Lord Jesus. He is The Truth (Matthew 19:3-12).

Think on whatever is noble or honorable. That is, whatever is elevating, or worthy of respect. We are to train our God-redeemed minds to sort the noble from the ignoble in all our dealings and to come down on the side of whatever is noble or honorable.

Jesus is our best example. He saw worth in little children in a way the disciples did not and he demonstrated it. He honored the dignity of the deaf, not putting them outside his concern because of their affliction. Even lepers, who were shunned by everyone at that time, got fair and compassionate treatment from him because disease did not hide from him their worth.

Think on whatever is right. The word “right” is from the same root as the word “righteousness.” This in turn conveys the sense of obedience to God’s law. No one except our Lord Jesus himself has met the requirements of God’s law perfectly. We joyfully profess that God made him who had no sin to be sin for us that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). He and he alone is the Lord, our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6).

The Apostle Paul reflects how that marvellous gift of righteousness should affect our characters when he writes to the Corinthian church regarding a misunderstanding: For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man (2 Corinthians 8:21).

When it comes to righteousness we more often think of “doing” what is right than of “thinking” what is right. But our doing what is right begins with our thinking what is right. In this precious passage in Philippians the Apostle gives us guidance: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is just. Here is a good start.

CONTINUED NEXT WEEK

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Categories: Churchie Feeds

Prayer Knows No Boundaries

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 02/04/2019 - 11:00

Many thoughtful people feel a quiet alarm concerning recent social trends. For example, over the past six decades marriage and the family have been severely diminished in favor of greater personal freedom; the historic understanding of gender is under attack; and this past week infanticide came back into view as a legitimate procedure under the term, third trimester abortion.

All of this prompts me to remember the saying John Bunyan is credited with — that you can do more than pray but you cannot do more until you have prayed. We have ample instruction on prayer in the Bible. Consider the Apostle Paul’s instruction.

From his cell in Rome, he writes to the Ephesian believers as “an ambassador in chains.” Beginning at verse 18 of chapter 6 he includes a detailed paragraph calling believers to constant and effectual prayer. He believed prayer had a reach that could not be limited by shackles.

Having used the Roman soldier’s armor as an analogy earlier in the chapter, he makes a strong appeal for the fuller use of the Christian’s ultimate spiritual weapon — prayer. Consider what he commends.

Pray in the Spirit on all occasions (6:18a). Paul would say, for example, we should pray when we get up in the morning, when we retire at night, when we sit down for a meal, when we leave for work or school, or when we meet in a committee. The Spirit makes our prayers living communications.

Pray with all kinds of prayers and requests (18b). What does Paul mean by this? He suggests that our prayers can take many forms. We can extrapolate that they may be private or public prayers; or prayers of petition, prayers of thanksgiving, intercessory prayers, prayers of penitence. They can be prescribed prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 4, or impromptu ones. There is a kind of prayer for every situation.

Be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people . . . (18c). The implication here is that we are to be attached to a company of believers. Paul would know nothing of lone ranger Christians. Our attachment may be to a rural congregation, a city church, or a prayer cell.

Beyond these specific fellowships, however, we belong to all the Lord’s people throughout the globe — the persecuted in one locale, the hungry in another, the war-scattered in yet another. These are set before us as subjects the Spirit would remind us to remember.

Pray also for me, he adds, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel . . . Pray that I may declare it fearlessly as I should (19). The single-mindedness of the Apostle and his focus on making the mystery of the Gospel known is always evident when he writes.

To be sure, looking at just two of his other epistles, we know he wants the infant believers in the city of Corinth to mature in the faith and live like adults. And he wants the Galatian Christians to turn from their legalism and re-embrace the Gospel as they first knew it. He is pastoral toward existing churches.

But at the same time he was also looking for new situations in which he could fearlessly make the mystery of the Gospel known to people who had not yet heard. He knew that collective prayer by many believers would be the mightiest energy to soften hearts to the reception of the Gospel.

And so when alarmed by social trends, let us take the advice of John Bunyan and the instruction of the Apostle Paul to pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers, for all God’s people, that we might be fearless in sharing the saving truth of the Gospel to those new to it.

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Categories: Churchie Feeds

The Peril of Rushing to Judgment

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 01/28/2019 - 11:00

How could King David have imagined that his act of kindness would be misjudged and lead to a blood-spilling war?

Here’s the background: The young King David had captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and twice defeated the Philistines. Military engagements in other theaters had been successful too (2 Samuel 10).

Israel was at peace when David heard that King Nahash, of the Ammonites, had died. Remembering that King Nahash had shown him kindness in the past, David sent envoys to return the favor, delivering his condolences to Nahash’s son Hanan, who was now on the throne of Ammon.

But upon the envoys’ arrival the military commanders in Ammon were immediately suspicious of their mission, even though the envoys were peaceful and showed no signs that they had come to size up Ammon for later attack.

Nevertheless, the commanders “just had a feeling” that the envoys had sinister motives, and they shared those feelings with King Hanan.

Don’t you know, they said, that these men are really here to spy out the city and overthrow it? It was a groundless opinion but it registered like a firecracker with the king.

As a result, he had the envoys seized and each man’s beard shaved half off — a serious indignity in that culture. It would make them appear to their peers like clowns or worse.

The king also had their long robes cut off at the buttocks in order to produce further humiliation. In this half-shaved and scantily dressed condition they were sent on their way.

The word of their mistreatment got to David quickly, and he sent word to the envoys to wait at Jericho until their beards grew back.

At the same time, however, back in Ammon the commanders were having second thoughts. What if their actions had aroused David’s fury? Might he send his army to even the score? They began to make war plans just in case.

The Ammonites hired twenty thousand Syrian foot soldiers as well as the king of Maakah south of Ammon and a thousand of his men, and another thousand men from Tob to the north and east.

When David received this information he further escalated tensions by dispatching his general, Joab, with his army of battle-tested fighting men — perhaps as many as thirty thousand in number.

The battle was joined and became so extended that near the end of the ensuing war the Syrians even summoned troops from beyond the Euphrates River to come and engage.

Before it was over, David gathered all of Israel’s remaining manpower and he himself joined the battle.

He won, but the result was both tragic and gruesome. David’s forces had killed seven hundred of the Syrian charioteers and forty thousand foot soldiers.

How could such a bloody struggle develop out of an official gesture of sympathy and respect? The story is set in ancient times, with their gruesome military practices, to be sure, but we may draw a modern moral lesson.

To wit: It is words of suspicion and misunderstanding, not physical weapons, that initiate wars. Such words once uttered can take on a life of their own. A word spoken with haste can wound or seriously damage a relationship.

It all calls to mind the arresting words of Jesus: But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken (Matthew 12:36).

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Categories: Churchie Feeds

How Do Christians Put the Trials and Troubles of Human Existence into Proper Perspective?

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 01/21/2019 - 11:00

I have been thinking about this question this week. By the age of 93, I think I have learned what we do not do:

  1. We don’t pretend that trials and tribulations don’t exist.
  2. We don’t treat them stoically (though there are times that just “hanging on” is part of the answer).
  3. We don’t blame them on others.
  4. We don’t surrender to self-pity.
  5. We don’t ask “why me?”

So then, what do we do? The Apostle Paul was the expert in facing the harsh experiences that come in the active life of faith:

As may be seen in 2 Corinthians 11, he was three times beaten with rods; once pelted with stones; three times shipwrecked. He spent a night and a day clinging to the wreckage of a ship in the open sea. He faced danger from rivers; bandits; hostile fellow Jews who considered his “blasphemy” worthy of his death; false believers; and on and on.

It is hard to think of any man who endured so many hardships, and all in a time without modern resources and comforts.

For St. Paul, one of our most important human ancestors in the faith, what was his formula for staying on top?

In his own words, here it is: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

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Categories: Churchie Feeds

How Powerful Are Genes and Family Influence?

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 01/14/2019 - 11:00

I lost both parents 52 years ago this past Christmas season. My mind travels back to ponder ways I am like them due to the genes we share and my long exposure to their influence throughout childhood and youth.

As a young man, I was not wise enough to ask my parents many questions and write their answers down to save family lore. But their children (three older siblings, a ten-year lapse, and then me and my younger sister, Eunice) retained enough insights to patch together often-repeated highlights of their early days.

As well, Carol, our niece by marriage, has shown keen interest in our family history and her research has added to what we know.

My parents came to Canada from Lancashire, England, choosing to settle on the sparsely populated prairies in the West. My father arrived alone in 1904, one year before Saskatchewan was declared a province.

Imagine the resolve and courage my father and mother must have shown. At 20 years of age and not long married, Dad left my mother behind, boarded a ship in Liverpool, and sailed across the vast Atlantic Ocean to Halifax at the eastern ship approach to the young country of Canada.

In Halifax he boarded a train of turn-of-the-twentieth-century vintage and endured what must have seemed an endless journey of two thousand miles into something like oblivion—the unknown and largely unsettled prairies of Western Canada.

He landed in Roche Percee, where there was a developing coal mine in the southeastern region of what was about to be incorporated as the Province of Saskatchewan. His design was to put his coal-mining skills to work and thus provide for the arrival and support of his wife, Esther Jane (née Millington). She was able to join him five months later.

He had good reason to begin his life in Canada as a coal miner, because back in England at fourteen years of age he had been taken into the Lancashire coal mines to work full time with his father. This was permitted by law, and so by the age of 20 he was well qualified, having spent stretches of six years underground, digging coal.

Although he had completed only five weeks of schooling before being taken out of school permanently, he soon graduated from coal mining in Saskatchewan to become a market gardener and later a merchant. In today’s parlance we would say he had no education at all and few “marketable skills.” But he had ideas and vision and endurance.

He was also intensely motivated. This showed to the end of his life. Hard work was a challenge, not an insult or imposition. I remember him as restless, always moving, thinking of other possibilities. To the best of my knowledge he wanted to get out of the rut of the working poor. It was that, I believe, more than anything else that pointed them toward Canada.

His behavior and interesting brogue never let his family forget that he was a Lancastrian by birth and acculturation. In one sentence he might speak of the ’air on his ’ead. In the next his subject might be the hair in the hatmosphere. He never confused the patterns.

For my mother’s later journey to join him she had the association of some other family members. But she also had the added challenge of an ocean storm that kept the ship rolling in rough seas and the passengers secured below deck for several days. Then she had to face the same tedious railroad journey into the far reaches of the developing Dominion of Canada.

My mother’s family also was poor but she had a certain sense of propriety in her manner. She was the disciplinarian of our home. She had the notion that children should obey always never be “cheeky” with adults, and believed that laziness was an offense and would be sure to lead to the poorhouse. She read the Bible to us daily and I think that’s where she got some such ideas.

As immigrants from England to Western Canada, they had no savings to fall back on and no family behind them to rescue them. They knew that if they were ever to come to a place of reasonable security it would be by their own ingenuity and hard work.

I look back on their homesteading venture as noble. They were not complainers, but occasionally they gave us glimpses into how exacting their pioneering life had been. Once my mother spoke of a time of drought early in their days in Canada when she walked three miles across the prairies to the nearest neighbor to exchange turnips for a few carrots so there could be some variety in their diet. All of this helps me to understand why they lived so frugally right up to the end of their lives.

When I think of the early chapters of their lives as immigrants I am filled with awe at their courage and determination to establish themselves in the New World. They both lived to be 83. With a few weeks more than six years of education between them, they established themselves as self-supporting, responsible citizens.

If they were alive today they would blush to learn that I write this way. They were humble people, aware of their imperfections and those of their offspring. But God had put in them a flame of energy to achieve and they exercised it with a will. I treasure their heritage.

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Categories: Churchie Feeds

Why Must Christians Pray in Jesus’ Name?

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 01/07/2019 - 11:00

Attend a Baptist, Anglican, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, or Interdenominational church service in your community and you may notice some differences in forms of worship or theological emphases. But, in every case, you will observe a common likeness in the conclusion of prayers offered — the prayers will end with words like these: We pray all this in the name of Jesus, our Lord.

The practice of praying in Jesus’ name can be traced through history to the final and intimate words of Jesus, spoken to his distraught followers hours before his trial and crucifixion, as recorded in John 14-16.

John tells us that seven times Jesus instructed his followers to energize their continuing work through prayer. In five of those references he told them (and us) to offer prayers in his name (John 14:13a; 14:14; 15:7; 15:21: 16:23). In the other two, Jesus does not mention using his name, but it can be assumed (14:6; 15:7).

In 14:6 Jesus says to his followers, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” This is comprehensive. It refers primarily to the eternal destiny of believers, but it seems to me to also support the additional truth that in all our prayers we come to the Father through Jesus.

Frequent approaches to God through prayer in Jesus’ name during our lives on earth can be seen as preludes to how we will experience our eternal destiny in heaven.

Only one of these references is a promise without limitations: “You may ask me for anything in my name” (John 14:13b). The absence of limits to what we can ask here has been troubling to some. It’s as though prayer gives us access to a candy shop.

In the instruction that precedes, however, Jesus tells his followers to ask in his name so that the Father will be glorified in the Son. Our prayers in his name are in this promise first and foremost to bring glory to God.

In another of the promises of abundant resources through prayers offered in his name there is the expectation of constancy or faithfulness: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Intimacy with Jesus through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit appears to be a prerequisite to effective Christian prayer.

Such promises of fruitfulness, however, do not assure smooth sailing in the life of a disciple. Jesus tells his followers that the world will hate and treat them roughly because of his name: and “If they persecuted me they will persecute you also” (15:21).

As an aside, it is interesting to note that in our fading Judeo-Christian culture, when ministers or laypersons are asked to offer a prayer at the start of a community function, the protest heard most commonly is not against the act of prayer itself but against its being offered in Jesus’ name.

Returning to John’s account, Jesus gives a final assurance of results from the effect of praying in His name. “My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be full” (John 16:23b-24).

There is a connection here between the constancy and depth of our prayers and the joy we experience in the Lord’s service. This explains why Christians who suffer severely for their faith and pray deeply in their suffering may appear to have a joy more abundant than those living untroubled, comfortable lives.

It is clear from these verses that even on the eve of his crucifixion Jesus expected the work of his Kingdom to go on in the world and he gave out the prime resource for expansion of that Kingdom: prayers uttered in faith and in His name.

However much we have yet to learn about prayer, may our prayers offered regularly in Jesus’ name bring depth to Christian living and joy to the Father’s heart.

 

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Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-Post: Making Good Decisions and Sticking to Them

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 12/31/2018 - 11:00

Our grandson Zachary is about to complete his residency in anesthesiology. After four years of medical school, this five-year program, as you would expect, has been highly focused on what an anesthesiologist must know.

But along the way, nuggets of truth tangential to his training have also proven to be valuable. He gave me an example.

Some time back, he listened to a talk a medical doctor had given to a chapter of the Christian Medical Fellowship. It was about how to make good decisions.

The doctor, he explained, set forth two reference points that should be reckoned with when one is making decisions: righteousness and wisdom.

The doctor’s first point was that the standards of righteousness are fixed. They are set down in the Scriptures, and these standards, God’s Ten Commandments, are solid and unchanging reference points.

They may not break down for us the thousands of questions our minds can raise but our decisions are more to be trusted if we act in accordance with them.

For example, we are to worship no other gods, and to revere God’s name; we are not to steal or bear false witness, etc. Issues like these are not negotiable (Exodus 20).

At the same time, the standards of righteousness, though changeless, do not need to be consulted for every decision. For example, whether to wash the car on a Saturday afternoon may not require moral pondering. But whether to return an extra five dollar bill given out unintentionally by a cashier requires a clear and instant moral response.

What to wear to a picnic may not take a lot of moral thought, while whether to enter a business partnership with someone whom you sense may not always be honest does trigger a process that should lead to a clear moral decision.

Wisdom, Zach heard, is the application of common sense undergirded by our understanding of righteousness. Both of these aspects of our reality must be factored in for good decision making.

For example, wisdom helps us to choose our friends wisely. It aids us in making good vocational moves. Working together with the demand that we must aim to be righteous, wisdom applied can save us from entanglement with false friends and such entrapments as substance abuse, pornography, and other soul-destroying enticements.

Wisdom encourages us to maintain our commitment to righteousness and at the same time wrestle with the unknowns and perplexities of life. That is, our commitment to righteousness gives us a solid footing for decision-making while wisdom helps us probe the options, imagine consequences, and evaluate godly advice.

The point the doctor made that seemed most helpful to Zach — and would have been most helpful to me at the same age — was that when we must make a decision for which there is not an obvious “wisdom-directed” answer, after we have satisfied the righteousness criteria we can move forward without paralyzing fear.

That’s because when our first impulse is to honor God and always make righteousness our primary aim, and when we use the best wisdom at our disposal, we can believe that God will take our decisions and bless their outcomes, or even teach us from them. And we can believe as well that he will deliver us from the paralysis of second-guessing our decisions.

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Categories: Churchie Feeds

Christmas Makes Us Want to Sing

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 12/24/2018 - 11:00

Saint Luke lays out very carefully the story of our Lord’s coming to earth as a baby. In the process, he includes hymns, or releases of lyrical praise, in four situations in the drama.

After receiving the angel’s message of the special child she would bear and name Jesus, the Virgin Mary traveled from Galilee to the hill country of Judea to visit her relative, Elizabeth. There, Elizabeth exclaimed to her prophetically that she would bear the Lord Christ, and in response Mary broke forth in a beautiful song of exaltation beginning with: My soul glorifies the Lord … (Luke 1:46-55).

I visualize this outbreak of joy and amazement as beginning at the entrance to Elizabeth’s humble dwelling when the two women greeted each other and began to share their stories.

Months later, eight days after Elizabeth’s baby was born (to become John the Baptist), the infant was taken for circumcision and naming. There was some disagreement among friends and relatives about the name, some of whom expected the baby would be named after his father, Zechariah.

As you will recall, Zechariah was unable to speak. This was punishment for his disbelief when the Angel Gabriel made promise of the baby’s coming birth. At that time, Gabriel had also told Zechariah what the baby was to be named. Now, in obedience, Zechariah settled the community discussion by writing on a tablet, “His name is John” (1:62-63).

With that, Zechariah’s powers of speech were restored and the Holy Spirit came upon him. He began to prophesy in a second hymn-like burst of praise, beginning with: Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them … (1:68). It’s a long prophecy full of a great hope for Israel.

Luke then tells us about a group of shepherds who some months later were in the region near Bethlehem guarding their sheep from the perils of the night. Unexpectedly, an angel of the Lord appeared and the region glowed with a heavenly light so beyond the ordinary that it terrified them.

The angel first spoke calming words, assuring them that nothing in this extraordinary moment should frighten them. Then followed his message: I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord (2:10-11).

The heavenly messenger then gave simple instruction on where to find the baby: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger (2:12).

As soon as this message was delivered, the lone messenger was joined by a vast company of the heavenly host filling the nighttime skies with their radiance. The heavenly choir sang the third song in the Christmas account: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests (2:14). Due to this special announcement, the shepherds were the first visitors to the newborn baby Jesus, God’s Messiah.

Finally, Luke writes that when the time for Mary’s purification came (forty days after the child’s birth), the parents appeared at the temple to offer two pigeons, the sacrifice required of the poor, and to present their firstborn to God, all in keeping with Jewish law.

While in the temple, this couple was met by Simeon, who was a regular presence there. Simeon not only was a righteous and devout man but a man living under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. He expected to see God’s Messiah — the consolation of Israel — before leaving this life.

That day Simeon, by divine appointment, met Joseph and Mary and the six-week-old baby Jesus. He took the baby into his arms and there on the spot sang a song of praise to God: Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation (2:29-30).

And before Joseph and Mary had even left the temple that day they were accosted by yet another constant worshiper — a prophet named Anna. She was 84 and had been widowed after seven years of a marriage. She had given her life to worship and never left the temple, spending her time there in fasting and prayer.

When she came upon the couple with a baby she too discerned instantly what his unique mission would be. From her, there was no fifth song but she gave public thanks to God and spoke prophetically about the child to other worshipers who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel.

Luke tells the story of that first Christmas as having been saturated with song. The Almighty was manifesting his glory in Jesus the Son and believers were responding. And to this day choirs gather in cathedrals and house churches and even in the aisles of department stores or hospital wards to sing the good news; a Savior has been born — Christ the King.

Along with Mary, Zechariah, the angels, and Simeon, when we observe Christmas well may we also break into song — to the glory of God.

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Categories: Churchie Feeds

Praying for Our Daily Bread… Abandoning Tomorrow’s Worries

The Idol Babbler - Fri, 07/27/2018 - 20:31

“How great the value which this truth teaches us to attach to each single day! We are so easily led to look at life as a great whole, and to neglect the little to-day, to forget that the single days do indeed make up the whole, and that the value of each single day depends on its influence on the whole. One day lost is a link broken in the chain, which it often takes more than another day to mend. One day lost influences the next, and makes its keeping more difficult. Yea, one day lost may be the loss of what months or years of careful labour had secured. The experience of many a believer could confirm this.”Andrew Murray

A good friend of mine posted this quote on social media. I can relate, because there are days where my goal is to just get through it… rather than slowing down to take in the moments that God has given me.

Praying for Our Daily Bread

This goes along with something which has impacted my prayer life recently… realizing that my prayers (as taught by Christ Himself) ought to focus on today, and not necessarily tomorrow or the next day, but today. Not that it is wrong for me to pray about tomorrow, but maybe it is more proper for me to pray for TODAY, how I am to deal with what I might see on the horizon. The thing is, the horizon may or may not ever come. Therefore, I ought to instead focus on asking the Lord to be with me this day. After all, Jesus did not teach His disciples to pray for tomorrow’s bread, but today’s…

Matthew 6:11 (HCSB)
Give us today our daily bread.

A few verses later, Jesus made this point about putting too much emphasis upon tomorrow, rather than today…

Matthew 6:33-34 (HCSB)
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

The half-brother of Jesus would later also touch upon this concept when he wrote to the 12 tribes in the dispersion regarding their materialistic mindset…

James 4:13-15 (HCSB)
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring — what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes.
Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

Abandoning Tomorrow’s Worries

It is so tempting to get caught up in what tomorrow might bring.

As James wrote, we must realize that our lives are “like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes.” It is why Jesus encouraged that our prayers be rooted in today, instead of tomorrow.

May we (Christians) learn to pray about the moment we are in, abandoning the worry we create when we lose sight of the peace that Christ has provided us….

Philippians 4:4-7 (HCSB)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Godspeed, to the brethren!

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Categories: Churchie Feeds

Loving His Manner

The Idol Babbler - Mon, 07/02/2018 - 23:46

This blog article can now be found here.

theidolbabbler is now a proud blog contributor to the Bible Thumping Wingnut Network.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

A Simple Way to Explain to an Unbeliever Why We Are Guilty Before God

The Idol Babbler - Sun, 06/24/2018 - 23:17

This blog article can now be found here.

theidolbabbler is now a proud blog contributor to the Bible Thumping Wingnut Network.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

That Helpful Tension

The Idol Babbler - Wed, 06/13/2018 - 19:46

Matthew 22:34-40 (HCSB)
When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

Jesus said that “all the Law and the Prophets” depend on love. They do not depend on anything else. If we take away love, we take away the foundation.

What happens if we take away love, what would all the Law and the Prophets then stand upon?

…Nothing.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he talked about this same theme, mentioning some other things which become meaningless when love is removed from the equation…

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (HCSB)
If I speak human or angelic languages
but do not have love,
I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy
and understand all mysteries
and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith
so that I can move mountains
but do not have love, I am nothing.
And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor,
and if I give my body in order to boast
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Possessing a great acumen for oration, having an incredible wealth of knowledge, or even consistently displaying a sincere religious fervor, none of these things matter if they are not backed by love. Not even an impressive resume of charitable giving carries any weight when love is not in the picture. Take away love, you take away everything. When it comes to God and love, we must remember: when John described who God is, he said that He is love…

1 John 4:8 (HCSB)
The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

If love is what the Law and the Prophets depend upon (as Jesus taught), and if God is love (as John tells us in his epistle), then His commands to us are actually an expression of who He is. They describe His character, His essence. Violate His commands, you then not only violate love, but you also violate who God is.

Does that possibility give you pause?

It should, because we all know that we do not always love. John even warns against ignoring the fact that we fail to love. Look at what he writes…

1 John 1:8 (HCSB)
If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

That Helpful Tension

John goes on though, giving us hope. Yet, he does not release that helpful tension, holding it all together, which keeps us sober in our walk…

1 John 1:9 – 2:11 (HCSB)
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say, “We don’t have any sin,” we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world. This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” yet doesn’t keep His commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in Him: The one who says he remains in Him should walk just as He walked. Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old command that you have had from the beginning. The old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

Godspeed, to the brethren!

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