As Autumn Approaches

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I love fall. It’s my absolute favorite time of the year.

The air begins to cool. The colors become vibrant.

It’s harvest time.

All of these wonderful things are coming right around the corner.

Before I continue off on a daydream tangent, let me get to the point.

As I sit outside and enjoy the improving weather, for some reason I am reminded of one of Jesus’ parables found only in Matthew. The parable of the workers in the vineyard.

Matthew 20:1-16 (ESV)

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius.”

“Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Let’s just start here: God is the employer in this parable.

His generosity transcends all of our thoughts and ideas on what “fair” means.

There have been plenty of times, whether I like admitting it or not, that I find myself sympathizing with the first workers. Not necessarily on concepts like ultimate reward, but on some of the little things in life. It takes me being deliberate, and purposefully changing my thoughts and motives to be less selfish in the way I view the world around me.

The first will be last, and the last will be first. What?

It’s a tough concept to grasp, or to even want to accept at times. God does not have a firm standard of compensation for services in which we engage. None of us can claim: “Well, I did this, this, and this, so I will get that from God.” Our works are an outpouring of our faith and beliefs, not a checklist for future glory.

Grace transcends our understanding.

No one receives less than they deserve, but everyone receives MORE than they deserve!

God’s grace to those we think don’t deserve it, should be a cause for joy, not jealously.

Whether you’ve been a Christian for a long time, a new Christian, or even someone interested but still unsure about it all, remember it’s not so much about how long or how hard you’ve been working; it’s about your attitude along the way and who you’re working for: Jesus.

Go love on some people who “don’t deserve it”, but need it regardless.

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Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God Book Review

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“In his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Puritan revivalist Jonathan Edwards shaped predominating American theology with a vision of God as angry, violent, and retributive. Three centuries later, Brian Zahnd was both mesmerized and terrified by Edwards’s wrathful God. Haunted by fear that crippled his relationship with God, Zahnd spent years praying for a divine experience of hell.”

Author and pastor Brian Zahnd’s new book “Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God” was a beautifully written book describing the gospel as good news.  Actual good news!  Because it is about a God who actually loves us, desires us, and longs for us.  A God who wants to restore and renew our loving relationship with Him.

In a culture and society where God is too often viewed as a distant angry brute in the sky, storming with thunder and hurtling lightning bolts at anyone and everyone who would dare to step out of line, Zahnd points Scripture (and to Christ) to remind and explain that since Jesus is God, then God is like Jesus, God has always been like Jesus, and God will always be like Jesus.  Jesus is the manifestation of God Himself.  God in the flesh.

Throughout this thought provoking and humbling book, Zahnd expounds upon the theology of God as loving, and not one of vengeance.  Zahnd explores and wrestles with his own past, his own theology, and the route he took to find that God wasn’t angry and hateful, but rather loving and redemptive.

I’m sure we’ve heard both sides, and support both sides, but…

Which one is the gospel?  A wrathful God or a loving God?

Which one is good news to those who hear it?

Zahnd believes: “I am a forgiven sinner now being healed in the hands of a loving God.”

I fully recommend reading this book (it’s an easy read and relatively short) and letting this process in your heart and mind while you seek God in prayer and solitude.

 

 

Read more about the book HERE

Read more about the author HERE

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire Book Review

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Have you ever heard of “The Message” version of the Bible?  I’m sure you have.  Then you know Eugene Peterson.  Peterson translated (or paraphrased) the Bible over several years into “The Message”.  An extremely readable and relatable version of Scripture.

Peterson has done much more than “The Message”, he has also authored over thirty books and taught for many years at Regent College in British Columbia.  I had the opportunity, a month or so ago, to read and review his forthcoming book, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.”

Moses, David, Isaiah, Solomon, Peter, Paul, and John.  These men of the Bible are the sections by which this book is separated.  Uniquely compiled, this book is a collection of forty nine sermons preached over the years during his service at Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland.

Through these sermons the reader has access to years worth of spiritual wisdom and insight, with a large focus on spiritual growth, congregational care, spiritual formation, and theology.  Peterson stays familiar with his close attention to Scripture, theological concerns, and simple, yet concise, applications for Christians.  Overall, a wonderful book for gaining insight on living close to God through His Scriptures.

I highly recommend this book.  Although its geared more towards pastors and those in ministry, it is definitely a useful resource for anyone within the church to grow closer to God by reading, studying, and living life with the Word of God.

 

More into on the book can be found HERE

More info on the author can be found HERE

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

The Church

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The gathering together of people to fellowship in the name of Jesus Christ can, in its form, be called a church.  A church is not a building, but rather the name of the group of people who come together as one usually within the bounds of a building.  A church is also more than just one group of people, but rather can be used to describe all believers who choose to fellowship in the name of Jesus Christ.  Overall, the term “church” will be used in the context of both the local congregation, as well as the universal congregation of all Christians.

Paul speaks of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians Chapter 12, in which he expresses how all who believe in Jesus are apart of the single unified body of Christ.  This is a representation of the church, or how the church is supposed to be, all different parts working together for one goal, which is to spread the love of Christ and to evangelize to all mankind.  The church members all work together for the good of Christianity throughout all the nations, using there various talents and resources to educate those around them of Jesus’ teachings, the problem of sin, and the plan of salvation.

Locally the function of the church should be to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, build up the current believers of the area, provide help and support according to the needs of the surrounding community, baptize new believers into the faith, and to preach and teach to Word of God.

Spreading the good news of Jesus Christ is fulfilling our duty to evangelize and to make new disciples, as commanded in the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20 which states: “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.””

Building up and maintaining the current congregation of the local church is vital to keeping those in the faith strong and dedicated.  Unfortunately there are times in life when Christians get too comfortable or begin to doubt when things get tough in life.  It is the job of the church, the people united together in Christ, to recognize the struggles and questions that their fellow church members might be going through.  Building up struggling or questioning Christians with love, support, and prayer is the job of the church people.  The key to this strength and support is continued fellowship and care for those included in the body of Christ.

Along with evangelism to the outside community who is not involved with the church body, it is also the church’s job to recognize the needs of the outsiders.  The church cannot function properly when it is simply focused on the inside and nothing else.  Jesus taught many times the importance of having a humble servant-like attitude and mindset towards others.  The needs of the church are important, but when it comes to the lost, helping them in their times of need will really show and spread the love of Christ.

One of the more obvious and visible things a church must do locally is preach and teach the Word of God and baptize new believers into the faith.  In today’s culture this might be the only function of many churches out there in America, but this really should only be one aspect of the body.  Preaching and teaching the Word not only helps build up the current Christians with knowledge and insight on the Word of God, it also provides for the Holy Spirit to work and to provide general revelation to believers in Christ.  Preaching and teaching may also work to break down the barrier of sin to the outside world, possibly moving outsiders to making decisions to follow Jesus.  Upon a decision to become Christian, it is then the churches job to provide baptism and continued support during the life of a Christian.  Functionally many churches have this aspect down, but other qualities that a local church must have are just as equally important.

Universally and around the world the church must perform several duties which include: spreading the good news of Christ throughout all nations, providing financial support to other church bodies, missionaries, and missions, and breaking down the barriers of race, language, and denomination to create unity amongst all believers in Jesus Christ.

Christianity is not the most popular religion in all areas of the world, therefore according to the Great Commission, as mentioned earlier, all Christians, the body of Christ as a whole, must do their job to help spread the Word of God to all areas of the globe.  Since many churches are unable to send out people on their own, using all the resources possible to aid in the evangelism of the world, such as financially should be attempted.

As the body of Christ, we are to use any resource that we have, to come together for the one goal of spreading Christ to the entire world.  Missionaries and their missions are simply an extension of the local church body, usually represented by a number of local churches, combining to show the universal church of Christ in one united body.

The body of Christ’s resources should also be spread among other local bodies which can uses the funds and resources that they have attained and help each other out in times of need.  A local church should never have to close its doors due to lack of funds, for the duties of the body of Christ is to help maintain and sustain each other.

Finally, the universal church is represented by all nations, all languages, without denomination.  The goal is to break down the barriers of separation to get back to what Jesus wanted for the body of Christ: unity.  The body of Christ united together to spread throughout the globe is the key goal and aspiration of all who believe in Jesus.  One who understands the great gift of salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross cannot keep this indescribable gift to themselves.  Though we are commanded to spread the news of Jesus, the true motivation of the church to spread Jesus’ name comes from the gratitude and love that overflows from all believers when they accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

The church as the body of Christ should locally and universally function to spread the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the world, build up the current believers of the area, provide help and support according to the needs of the surrounding community, baptize new believers into the faith, to preach and teach to Word of God, spreading the good news of Christ throughout all nations, providing financial support to other church bodies, missionaries, and missions, and breaking down the all to create unity amongst all believers in Jesus Christ.

Easter – A World Reborn (N.T. Wright)

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A portion of the following (with some minor editing) was published in N.T. Wright’s book Following Jesus.  It is a sermon preached by Wright on Easter morning at Lichfield Cathedral in 1994; one of my favorite Easter sermons I’ve ever heard/read:

Easter speaks of a world reborn.  It declares that, after all, Jesus is Lord, and that His kingdom will come and his will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

So then, what language can we use, can we borrow, to do Easter justice?

Well, why not thunder and lightning, earthquakes and tornadoes, devastating terror and tremendous joy so rich you could swim in it?

Well then, yes, we must need the picture-language given by the book of Revelation.

Some people have treated this book like a theological crossword puzzle, trying to figure out mysterious codes and tell-tales of the coming day and time of judgment.

I say no.  Yes, the language is strange at times, partly because it’s from and written to a different culture.

But it’s also strange because we in the modern world have made ourselves strangers to thunder and earthquakes, to terror and to joy.

The closest we get to it all is in our sanitized little world of television and internet, which we can turn off in the click of a button if it becomes too much.

If something happens to allow terror to break through and turn our lives around, most in our culture cannot cope with it.  We run off looking for help, or turning to sin to help ease the pain and pretend it never happened.

But Easter is the time for revolution.

If we ever find ourselves in danger of scaling down and trying to domesticate the gospel into a neat little story, hopefully the Revelation from John will shake us from that and expose some of our raw nerves to the terror and joy of our living God!

Revelation begins with a vision of the risen Jesus; eyes of fire, feet of bronze, face like the sun itself.

No wonder why John fell down at His feet as though he had died.

This is what I’m talking about.  This is where terror and joy meet.  This is Easter.

Revelation 1:12-19 says:

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.

Whatever you’ve lost, whatever sin you’ve committed, whatever bits of your life are locked away in sorrow and shame….Jesus says, “I have the keys.”

Where fear and pain and sin end, God’s power begins.  He raises the dead.

This vision of the risen Jesus serves as the magnificent golden doorway into the rest of this book.

Revelation then has a sort of second introduction, in the form of seven short letters to the seven leading churches at the time, in Asia, or modern day Turkey.

These seven letters serve to teach, equip, help us hold fast, and comfort us as the church and as individual Christians.

But they also serve to push us into the rest of the letter, from the doorway into the throne room.

As the vision in the throne room begins to develop through chapter 4 and into chapter 5, something strange occurs.

The one within the room has a scroll, sealed.  The plan of God.

The plan of salvation.  The divine purpose for recreating the whole universe.

Someone must open the scroll.  But no one can do it.

Revelation 5:1-7 says:

I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.”And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.

Here is the Easter message in the most vivid of picture-language.

The Lion, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, has become a Lamb, a sacrificial Lamb.

He has become the Paschal Lamb; and by his death he has conquered the powers of evil so that now the plan of God; God’s rescue operation for the universe, can be unrolled and put into dramatic operation.

The battle is over!  The victor’s triumph won!

And the scene concludes so beautifully.

Revelation 5:8-14 says:

When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they *sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.“ You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

Imagine being John for a moment.  Hearing the voice that we would instantly recognize; calling us with a love which is stronger than death.

He would say to us too: “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”

As the weeping Mary met the living Jesus on that first Easter morning, so too did the weeping John discover the Lion, who is the Lamb, conquering over sin and death.

Easter is all about the wiping away of tears.

In our fear of terror and joy we have forgotten the purpose of the tears in the first place.

We become embarrassed by them.  They become a reminder of the truth of our culture, we are fallen, and we are human, made in the image of God Himself.

Jesus also wept.  He wept at the tomb of his friend; He sobbed in the garden.

We have allowed, too often, our proper dislike of emotionalism to deceive us into trying to ignore our emotions.

But if Good Friday and Easter don’t stir our emotions, then the deceiver has indeed enslaved us.

We cannot live like that.  We must let go, and allow Christ to conquer hearts and minds, our pains and sins, and past and future.

So then what is the full hope of Easter?

Well, the middle chapters of Revelation are filled with battles being waged and wars being fought, which all lead up to the great victory.

In the last two chapters we find a new vision, of a new city; one that takes place of the fallen, the sinful, the broken one.

Revelation 21:1-7 says:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.

Most Christians would gladly express their future hope in terms of leaving this world and going to another one, called Heaven.

But here, at the climactic moment of the greatest of truths, we find that the Heavenly city comes down to earth.

Easter unveils the truth beyond the truth of mere survival of the hope of Heaven; the truth that God’s Kingdom will come!

God wants to re-create!  You!  The whole world!

Easter exposes the astonishing fact that the whole world is to be reborn anew.

New heavens, new earth; married as one.  That is our destiny.  That is the universe’s destiny.

All because of Easter.  All because of Jesus’ resurrection.

There will be no barbed wire, no bullets, no bombs, no pain, no mourning, no disease, no death.  And Revelation itself lists many things we will no longer face.

All the weapons of the deceiver himself will be gone.

Your tears will be wiped away from your eyes.

And it is all because of the Lamb.

This, right here, is John’s contribution to the biblical picture of the cross and resurrection of our Savior.

Here was see his vision of the Jesus who summons us, in awe and joy, to follow him.

We see Jesus, the one with eyes of fire and the voice the sound of waterfall.

Who lived, and died, and lives again forevermore.

Jesus is the Lion of Judah, the Messiah, who became the sacrificial Lamb.

Whose blood defeated evil and rescues us and the world from the bondage of sin.

Now, at the end of the vision, He is the bridegroom.

He is the one for whom we have longed without knowing it, the one for whom we are made, the one whose love for us is like the sun, and all out earthly loves mere reflections like the moon.

The love of the Lamb is the great reality that undergirds the entire vision, the entire Bible.

And it is the loved that is revealed on Easter.

In this love and with this knowledge we find that the hand that has wiped our tears away, also calls us to follow Him, to go dry the tears of our fellow neighbors.

The Lamb call us to follow Him where He goes, the dark places of this world, the dark places of our hearts, and to shine His light.

We are called to share in this amazing grace he gives, called to share in His ministry.

We continue to strive forward until the day of His return; the day the whole world with join and sing.

As Revelation 5:12-13 says:

saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”

The Spirit of the Disciplines

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Individual practice is an important aspect of one’s relationship with their Father in Heaven.  Since we are human we must rely heavily upon what we do physically for our spiritual maturity and advancement.  We must physically, mentally, and emotionally work on becoming the best Christian we can, gaining the deepest relationship with God that we can, and trying to live our lives like Jesus Christ Himself.

In the book The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, Dallas Willard states: “My central claim is that we can become like Christ by doing one thing – by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself.”  (Preface ix)

Living our lives trying to follow the teachings and overall actions of Jesus will help us to become strong, mature Christians.  Willard goes on to state: “If we are to participate in the reign of God, it can only be by our actions.  And our actions are physical – we live only in the processes of our bodies.  To withhold our bodies from religion is to exclude religion from our lives.” (31)

Simply put, we cannot practice Christianity in our minds alone, for what we set our minds to should also be reflected in our daily actions.

The individual practices that we work on in our daily Christian walk are considered our spiritual disciplines, for they help us become stronger in the Lord, growing in spirituality and relationship.  “What then is the specific role of spiritual disciplines?  Their role rests upon the nature of the embodied human self – they are to mold and shape it.” (Willard, 92)  These spiritual disciplines are the physical things that we can practice to try to become more like Jesus in our thoughts, emotions, and overall actions.

In the Christian life there are many different disciplines that we have the opportunity to practice.  There are some more popular and more expected than others, but depending on the needs of the individual Christian there can be many various spiritual areas to work on and improve in discipline.  “Disciplines of Abstinence: solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice.  Disciplines of Engagement: study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, submission.” (Willard, 158)

The most practiced and common discipline of Christians in prayer.  Prayer can be explained simply as loving communication with God.  It is an act of love for a number of reasons: it is natural and not forced, it is honest and not deceptive, it is simple and not complicated, it is continual and not sporadic, and it is personal and not mechanical.  It is communication for two reasons which are we are talking to God and God is talking to us.  Just as it is important for people to continually keep some communication open between those who they want to have relationships with, one must also keep open the communication with God.

James 5:13-16 (ESV) says:

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

Along with prayer comes the discipline of fasting.  Fasting has not been seen as very important in modern day society as much as it was in Biblical times.  Prayer and fasting were almost always intertwined together, as a way to focus on the Lord and show one’s reliance upon Him alone.

Fasting does not have to be days without food or water, but can be expressed in many different ways, such as skipping a meal to focus on prayer and meditation with God.  Adding aspects of fasting to one’s spiritual life with promote growth, for one’s thanksgiving towards the Lord as well as overall trust and reliance will surely improve and strengthen.

Solitude and meditation are two incredible disciplines which promote being alone with the Lord in an individual, quiet, personal, intimate setting.  There were many times throughout Jesus’ life, as seen in the Gospel, where He would go off alone and spend time with our Father in Heaven.  This was Jesus’ time to spend in quiet mediation with the Lord in order to receive wisdom, gain insight, intimately pray, and many other spiritually richening practices.

Intimate time spend with God creates an intimate relationship with the Lord, therefore strengthening one’s spiritual life.  Not only will a believe be able to listen to God, this time of quiet can be used to reflect on one’s Christian life, and possibly think of things that they might need to improve or work on further.  Setting aside time meant specifically for the Lord is a very important spiritual practice, especially in the fast paced, on-the-go, modern society.

The spiritual discipline and practice of simply reading the Word of God is one of the most important and beneficial ways to grow spiritually.  Diving into the Word can be one of the easiest ways to gain simple knowledge of the Lord and His teachings.  When one is familiar with the Word of God, then they will naturally begin to apply some of the teachings and concepts they learn into their daily lives.  The Word of God can be used as a guide in life situations, as well as a weapon against evil and temptation.

Being able to read, comprehend, and apply the Word of God to one’s life in a purposeful and disciplined manner will help a Christian grow spiritually, and gain a deeper more intimate relationship and understanding of the Lord.

In the large pool of spiritual practices and discipline, one can find solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice, study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, submission, and many more.  All of these physical practices can be used to directly improve and strengthen the spiritual lives and overall relationship one has with Jesus Christ.

As a Christian one is expected to transform their lives and begin living as Jesus Himself as taught.  Doing so is not always easy in the world we live in, however, practicing spiritual disciplines can help us hone in on our spiritual qualities and attributes and develop them to maturity.  Just as a child must progress through the various levels of schooling in order to mature in their knowledge, a Christian must continually practice and progress in their walk with Christ and knowledge of the will of God.

Letters from Paul

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The apostle Paul, Christianity’s first and utmost theologian, was most likely born in Tarsus, what is now modern day Turkey, likely around the year 5 A.D.  Though Saul, as he was originally named, was clearly born outside of Rome, he inherited Roman citizenship from his family.  As Paul states, he was a Hebrew of Hebrews, meaning that he was circumcised on the eighth day.  From early on in his life, Paul was associated with higher learning and strict Jewish laws and teachings.  Paul knew more than one language, including Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and possibly others.  Pursuing education fervently he gained knowledge from Gamaliel, and other such sources to gain a better overall education with a wide range of perspectives and viewpoints.

Paul states that he was zealous for ancestral traditions, meaning that he was extremely strict in his views and lifestyle towards the Jewish law and customs.  Paul’s life was dedicated to the point that he was to be a Pharisee, as to the Law, Shammai, being the strictest of all the sects.  He was so extreme in his ways that as he advanced in his education, he began to persecute those who were not aligned with proper Judaism, focusing intently on Christianity, known as the Way.

Paul grew to violently oppose all who followed a criminal who people would call the Messiah, for to Paul at that time, such a thing was surely blasphemy against the Lord.  Paul’s intense passion and dedication to upholding the Law to perfection led him to campaign against those who believed in Jesus, killing them.

Paul’s violent actions against Christians would not last forever, for on the road to Damascus Jesus personally confronted him and changed his life eternally.  Paul discovered that his dedication and zeal towards the Jewish Law had led him to killing and persecuting the very God whom he thought he was serving and obeying.  The people he thought were committing the crime of blaspheming were actually worshipping and following the true Messiah.  Surely, at this moment in time Paul thought he was going to be struck down and killed by the Lord for the horrible acts he committed against Jesus and the true Kingdom of God.  However, that same Jesus who he persecuted was the same God who accepted him and forgave him.  The Lord looked past his wrongdoing and called and converted Paul to become an apostle of Jesus, and a prophet of the Lord Himself.

Paul, being the educated man that he was, knew that simply adding Jesus and the concepts of His death to his thought processes and beliefs, after living his life as a dedicated Jew and Pharisee, would be complicated and difficult.  Surely distraught and confused, for his whole world had been turned upside down, Paul spent years of time in the desert thinking, praying, and pondering God and the Scriptures, educating and reeducating Himself on how this could all fit together.  This is the point in time where theology practically began, for the greatest theologian and Christian thinker reshaped what we know today as Christian theology and doctrine.  Paul used this time in the desert to understand and piece together how it all fit as one, and make it presentable and understandable for mankind.

It’s my belief that there never was a day in Paul’s life, after his call and conversion, where he did not dwell or think about the road to Damascus.  Paul experienced grace beyond all measure, something completely incomprehensible, amazing, and almost haunting.  Surely Paul thought that he deserved condemnation and judgment for the actions he committed against the Messiah Jesus, but the unexplainable grace that only God could give was the only reason he was not turned immediately into dust.  These occurrences and fact has shaped and molded Paul into the apostle and man we have come to know and love in the epistles.

Each letter Paul wrote had different purposes and interests, always with intent to teach, inform, and share the message, love, and grace of Jesus Christ.

His interest in Romans is to show that faith, by either Jews or Gentiles, in the death and resurrection of Jesus is the only means to gain acceptance by God the Father.  Paul wants followers to stop focusing so strictly to the Laws, as to their means of salvation, but rather their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul’s interest in 1 Corinthians is to address and answer various questions for the church in Corinth, upon hearing about negative aspects going on within the congregation and receiving questions from the church itself.  His overall interest is to realign the church in love to promote love, unity, and proper worship of the Lord.

His interest in 2 Corinthians is to explain himself to the church at Corinth and rebuild a relationship which seemed to be a bit rocky after his second visit to the church.  Paul shows great care and love for all the churches wanting to regain respect, unity, and love amongst his fellow Christian brothers and sisters at the church in Corinth.

Paul’s interest in Galatians is to change the wrong teachings and thoughts of the church in Galatia.  The letter is largely concerned with the problem of Gentile Christians being told they had to be circumcised and to keep the Jewish Law in order to stay true to the Lord.  This is an instance where Paul focuses on faith in Jesus over the actions of the Law, in which one gain salvation.

His interest in Ephesians is to promote Christian unity amongst all believers of Jesus.  It is through unity and love in their relationships with others in Christ that they truly demonstrate Christian behavior.

Paul’s interest in Philippians is to spread joy and to thank the church for the generous gift that they gave to him.  Paul is writing from house arrest, so though his personal situation was not the best, he wrote to the church at Philippi with words of encouragement and love.

His interest in Colossians is to realign and refocus the church at Colossae to continue to believe in Jesus Christ alone, and to not acquire other belief systems or distorted viewpoints.  Paul did not found the church at Colossae nor had he ever visited them.  However, he heard about the mixed views spreading through the church, and wanted to make sure that Jesus was the only topic being taught, and not other philosophies.

Paul’s interest in 1 Thessalonians was to answer questions and continue to teach the church at Thessalonica.  The church needed some further guidance to help them grow deeper in Jesus, perform better as a church, and understand Jesus’ return.  His interest in 2 Thessalonians is similar to the first letter, continuing to teach on various topics, again focusing a lot on the return of Jesus.

His interest in 1 Timothy is to teach and build a good leadership within the church.  The topics of correct doctrine and how to appoint headship all revolve around the theme of church guidance and leadership.  His interest in 2 Timothy is to personally give advice and encouragement to Timothy so that he may mature and grow as a great leader and man in Jesus Christ.

Paul’s interest in Titus is to give instruction and encouragement to Titus so that he may shape, mold, teach, and discipline the Christians located in Crete.  His interest in Philemon is to give advice and teaching to Philemon concerning his slave Onesimus.  It is a letter focusing on Onesimus’ actions and eventual conversion to Christianity, and Paul’s response and explanation to Philemon about the whole situation, promoting grace.

Though Paul is not alive today, churches and individual Christians can use his letters as framework for correct Christian behavior and proper doctrine.  It would be interesting to see what Paul would have written to our modern day churches concerning the actions and behavior that go on in today’s congregations.

I believe that the typical framework in which Paul would follow for writing a letter to a contemporary church would remain similar to those which he wrote to the first century churches, with minor changes.  Paul would surely begin all contemporary letters with a greeting, a thanksgiving, and praises for all that the church is doing in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The body of Paul’s contemporary letters would definitely include discussions and teachings on the topic of love and unity, how all churches must strive for both qualities.  As well, his letters would include many church specific issues, and how the individual church could tackle and issue or improve in certain areas.

Paul would surely also include a section of answered questions that the church possibly would have asked him, or had obviously been in need of hearing.  Then finally, I believe that Paul would end with practical applications, personal advice, more encouragement, and prayers.  I could see each letter fitting a similar Pauline style format, but being perfectly tailored to the needs and concerns of each individual church.

A letter from Paul to my church or your church, would surely be a great blessing.  Though such a letter could never occur, I believe searching and studying the Scriptures and applying Pauline principles to current church issues can give great insight to possible improvements and changes that might need to be addressed or worked on.  Using correct knowledge of context and application with Paul’s teachings and concepts properly, should guide and improve the modern church as well as individual Christians.

Paul is the greatest Christian theologian and missionary of not only his time, but of all time.  Understanding who he is, what he believed, the concepts and ideas he created and explained in our terms, and all that he wrote, is essential to any Christian’s belief system and overall faith in God.

Lens Crafter

lens

Jesus, being God Himself, humbled Himself completely, so much so that, as we are told in the Bible, He took on the form of a human man and came to this earth.  Jesus, the human being, obviously was forced to therefore live His humanly life on this earth.  This fact forced Jesus to acquire a worldview.  A person’s worldview is the “lens” by which someone views the world around them.  The “lens” that Jesus used was composed of fulfilling the will of God according to prayer, the Word, direct revelation, and through His intimate relationship with the Father.

In a book that I had to read back in Bible college, Think Like Jesus, George Barna writes that Jesus had a foundation, focus, filter, and faith in His life.  Jesus’ worldview foundation was the Word of God, in which He used to guide His entire life in all situations.  Jesus’ worldview focus was knowing, doing, and fulfilling the will of God the Father.  Jesus’ filter in relation to His worldview was spiritual in nature, allowing for the thoughts and actions of everything one did to be a spiritual matter in some form or another.  Jesus’ faith was firmly and solely in God the Father alone, which influenced His worldview in every aspect.

Jesus was able to view the world around Him unlike anyone else in the world ever has, or ever will be able to do.  Jesus knew directly the will of the Father in Heaven, and could see what the world around Him needed in order to help fulfill it completely.  Jesus died to fulfill the will of the Father, as well as to keep the worldview in which He so deeply had faith.  Keeping His mind on the will of God, the Word of God, the spiritual welfare of others, and always in love, helped to make Jesus’ worldview what we see in the New Testament.

Think Like Jesus also lays out the ten Biblical admonitions to “think like” Jesus.  This aspect of thinking like Jesus relate directly to Jesus’ worldview, which included: Seek God’s wisdom, Don’t be fooled, Commit to what’s important, Be transformed, Fight appropriately, Rely on God’s guidance, Get fit spiritually, Pay attention, Fear God, and Trust God alone.

Modern Christians can learn to “think like Jesus” by gaining a deep and intimate relationship with Him, by learning from the Word of God, by trying to let their life be guided by the Holy Spirit, and by trying to live like Him according to some of the attributes that are listed above in Barna’s list of Biblical admonitions.  When we seek the wisdom of God, we are directly looking for perfect guidance and perfect knowledge from above.  God knows what is right and needed in our lives, and seeking His wisdom will help us act in the correct ways.

Transformation is another vital aspect which is completely needed for modern Christians to begin living and thinking like Jesus.  The transformation of the heart, mind, and soul is necessary for a worldly person to become a spiritual person in Christ.  Becoming a Christian takes more than simply making a decision; it takes an entire life change.  Giving one’s life over to Christ means to completely change the humanly way of thought process, and to try one’s best to acquire Jesus’ view of the world and of the spiritual.  Focusing on the kingdom of God, and on one’s relationship with God Himself, will help to make the change.

Relying on and trusting God alone in one’s life will help to mold someone into a thought process that could be like that of Jesus.  Jesus did nothing on His own accord, for He referenced God the Father in everything He did.  It was not Jesus’ will, but Jesus carrying out the will of the Father who sent Him.  A modern Christian who treats their life the same way will become much closer to thinking like that of Jesus, if they put the Father first in every aspect of their lives.

Jesus’ worldview was that of fulfilling the will of His Father in Heaven, building up the Kingdom of God, and making all decisions with love in mind.  Jesus had a foundation, focus, filter, and faith which completely molded His worldview.  Though we are not perfect like Jesus, we are surely strive to acquire such a worldview, which puts the Kingdom of God first, trying our best to view the world in the spiritual since, and always with love.

N.T. Wright’s Lenten Prayer

pray

Yesterday, I was reading N.T. Wright’s Lent for Everyone devotional on the YouVersion Bible App.  For those of you who know me, I love Tom Wright.  Since discovering him during college, his works have shaped and molded me as a Christian.  I still have not had the pleasure of meeting him face to face, but one can hope.

Like many times previous, Wright’s words make me stop and think, and consider the amazing wonder of God.  This section on prayer did just that, so I thought I would share it with you.

“Prayer is a mystery. I’ve often heard people saying, with a sneer, ‘It doesn’t go beyond the ceiling, you know.’ But the point of prayer, at least the way Jesus saw it, is that it doesn’t have to. Your father, he says, is there in the secret place with you. He sees and knows your deepest thoughts and hopes and fears. He hears the words you say. He hears, too, the things you can’t put into words but want to lay before him anyway. Prayer, in fact, isn’t a mystery in the sense of ‘a puzzle we can’t understand’. Prayer is a symptom, a sign, of the mystery: the fact that heaven and earth actually mingle together. There are times when they interlock; there are places where they overlap. To pray, in this sense, is to claim a time and place — it can be anywhere, any time — as one of those times, one of those places.

If prayer is about heaven and earth overlapping in time and space, it’s also about them coming together in matter, in the stuff of this world, the clay from which we are made. To pray, in this sense, is to claim — think about it and realize just how daring this is! — that the living God, enthroned in heaven, can make his home with you, within you. To make this point vividly, go into your room in secret and pray there. Take God seriously.

But, when you do so, realize one more thing. If prayer is about heaven and earth coming together at one time, in one place, within the lump of clay we call ‘me’, then it’s going to change this person called ‘me’. In particular, it’s going to make me a forgiver. Jesus was quite clear about this. All of us have been hurt, wounded, slighted, annoyed by other people. How much more have we ourselves done that to God! Yet we want him to be with us, to hear us, and — yes! — to forgive us. How can we not be forgivers too?

So the great prayer comes together. Utterly simple, utterly profound. A child can learn it; an old, wise saint will still be going deeper into it. Heaven is not far away, and it’s where we meet the God who, with breathtaking confidence, we can call ‘Father’. Familiarity must not imply contempt. His very name is holy, and we must honour it as such. And what we most want — the strange phenomenon of which prayer itself is a supreme example! — is that his kingdom should come and his will be done on earth as in heaven. When we pray, we pray for that goal but we also pray within that promise.

We then place our needs, whether simple or complex, within that framework. Bread for the day ahead. Forgiveness of debt — the debts we owe to God, the debts too (this may surprise some) we owe one another. And then, importantly, rescue: rescue from the time of testing, of trial, whether that be personal temptation, frequently repeated, or the ‘tribulation’ which Jesus, like many others of his day, believed would come upon the world before God’s deliverance finally dawned.

And rescue, too, from the evil one. Much of Jesus’ public career was a battle with the powers of darkness. That isn’t surprising, since he was announcing that God was taking back control of the world from those powers. When we pray this prayer, we are caught up in that battle, too. But we don’t face the danger alone. We claim his victory, his rescue, rather than face danger alone, his deliverance. The mystery of prayer. This prayer lies at the very centre of the ‘sermon on the mount’. It should be at the centre of our life, our own kingdom-obedience.

PRAYER
Lord, teach us to pray; teach us to forgive; make us your people. Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory.”

If you don’t have the YouVersion Bible App, please consider downloading it.  It has multiple translations of the Bible to read, along with a massive selection of daily devotionals.  And it’s free!

And if you’re not yet familiar with N.T. Wright, I recommend starting with his books Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope.  When you’re done with those, there are many more to dive into!

The Heart of the Matter

heart

The Sermon on the Mount is probably the most well-known and most read sermon in the history of Christianity.  Jesus teaches many important and ground-breaking spiritual concepts which the world had never heard before the Sermon on the Mount.  One of the most important aspects of the sermon was Jesus’ concept and view of the heart of the individual.  Jesus states in Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

The late Dallas Willard speaks about the heart in his book, The Divine Conspiracy, when he states: “It is the “will” aspect of personal/spiritual reality that is its innermost core.  In biblical language the will is usually referred to as “heart.”  This it is that organizes all the dimensions of personal reality to form a life or a person.  The will, or heart, is the executive center of the self.” (Willard, 80)  The heart is not simply an organ, or a symbol of love, rather the heart is a representation of one’s entire spiritual core and focus.

Willard also explains that the term “heart” is also more than just one’s spiritual core, but also one’s actual spiritual foundation, our entire Christian internal focus: “The heart, or will, simply is spirit in human beings.  It is the human spirit, and the only thing in us that God will accept as the basis of our relationship to him.  It is the spiritual plane of our natural existence, the place of truth before God, from where alone our whole lives can become eternal.” (Willard, 81)  Our heart, being our spiritual center and source of self, then becomes the source of motivation and desire for the Lord in our Christian lives.  Overall, spirituality does not have it’s origin in the mind or in what is physical; rather it derives from our internal core, or heart.

Jesus, in Matthew 6:19-23 (ESV), says:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Our heart follows our treasure, which means that our spirituality will follow our focus, priorities, and core concerns.  The Christian is to set their heart on the kingdom of God, therefore in every word, deed, and thought one should be promoting and advancing themselves and others in the name of Jesus Christ.  There are to never be separate times when the building up the kingdom of God is not our focus, for in everything we do, we are to live for our Father in Heaven.

Willard states: “Remember that our heart is our will, or our spirit: the center of our being from which our life flows.  It is what gives orientation to everything we do.  A heart rightly directed therefore brings health and wholeness to the entire personality.  To bring this truth home to us, Jesus compares our “heartsight” to our eyesight.  We know how our eyesight affects our body in its environment.  “The eye is the lamp of the body.”  If the eye works well, then the body easily moves about in its environment.  As Jesus puts it, “Our whole body is well directed” is “full of light.”” (Willard, 206)

The direction and focus of one’s heart will result in the same direction and focus of one’s spiritual goals, actions, and destinations.  Our physical actions do not evolve from nothing at all, for they faithfully disclose what is in our heart, and we can know what is in the heart by the way one speaks, acts, and lives.  It is the internal life that Christians must intend to transform, for then one’s behavior will naturally begin follow and mimic that of the heart.
Faith and works must compliment each other in one’s Christian lifestyle.  It is through faith that we acquire our Christianity, and it is through faith that our works derive.  Our works do not make our faith, for it is our actions that naturally come from our faith.  It is our heart that therefore controls our actions.  It is through faith that we begin to spiritually transform our heart, and through our heart that we begin to change our physical actions.

“The person who treasures what lies within the kingdom sees everything in its true worth and relationship.  The person who treasures what is “on earth,” by contrast, sees everything from a perspective that distorts it and systematically misleads in practice.  The person who is addicted to a drug or to some activity is but an extreme case.  All else is seen only in its relation to the object of the addiction and enjoyment of it – even one’s own body and soul.” (Willard, 206)

A Christian’s treasure is that of the kingdom of God.  The treasure is not just the eternal life one receives in Heaven, but also the present life one lives in Christ Jesus.  This must be so, for if we are constantly living for the future, then we cannot effectively live in the present.  Our treasure is the kingdom of God now, and into forever.  Having a present treasure in our lives, allows us to work hard and show dedication for the building up of the kingdom of God, actively spreading it around to the lost and showing it in our daily words and deeds.

Jesus also calls us to pay attention to more than just our verbal dedication and commitment to the Lord, as well as the habitual memory of doing and not doing certain religious activity.  What truly matters is one’s heart, the overall spiritual core of the human being.  It is not through what we say verbally or our works physically that God judges us.  Rather, we are judged by our internal being, which is exclusively that of our heart.

A Christian with a heart focused on the teachings of Jesus, the commitment to the kingdom of God, and a dedicated, committed, intimate relationship with our Creator is a Christian with a strong spiritual heart.  It is a heart committed to the kingdom of God which will reflect the teachings of Jesus and actions of a true Christian witness and lifestyle.

The Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls believers to begin living for more than just the physical law and what can become habitual.  Believers are called to live lives of entire purity of heart, completely focused on God in every aspect.  One should do or not do something completely, and that means much more than just doing or not doing it physically in action.  Our minds and emotions must also match that of our actions, something a focused heart does easily.  A heart transformed by Jesus Christ will resonate throughout every aspect of the believer’s existence.