Monday, February 29, 2016

A Touch of Humor - Criteria

Do we tend to judge people more on externals than things of substance? How can we avoid this?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Old Erich Proverb - Change

Only God has the power to truly change our lives.

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Voice from the Past - John Chrysostom

And again it is no gain to us, if all men approve, and the Lord be offended; neither is there any danger, though all shun and hate us, if with God we have acceptance and love. For that which is verily grace, and verily peace, cometh of God, since he who finds grace in God's sight, though he suffer ten thousand horrors, feareth no one; I say not only, no man, but not even the devil himself; but he that hath offended God suspects all men, though he seem to be in security.

John Chrysostom, 347-407 AD, Homilies on First Corinthians, Homily I, [3], (translated by Rev. Talbot W. Chambers, Nicene and Post -Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff, Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, First Series,  Vol.12, p. 4)

How can we avoid caring more about what people think than what God thinks? Why is it important to accomplish this?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Being Light in the Darkness

Christ is the light of the world (John 1:4,5; 8:12; Isaiah 9:2). And He has called us to be lights reflecting Him (Matthew 5:14-16; Ephesians 5:8; Philippians 2:15). But what does that mean? Light is the revelation of God’s truth (2 Corinthians 4:4-6; Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47). This light not only enlightens, but it opens the eyes of the blind and sets the prisoners free and gives life (Isaiah 42:6,7; John 9:5-7; Isaiah 58:8-10). It also reveals evil and guides us into righteousness (John 3:19-21; Ephesians 5:11-13; 1 John 1:5-10). This is rooted in the fact that Jesus paid the price for our forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13,14; 1 Peter 2:24,25).

One of the implications of this is that being light reaches beyond personal uprightness, though that is certainly part of it. It goes beyond that to reaching out to those who are in need and who need to hear God’s truth. We have the example of Jesus reaching  out to those who were in need of God’s truth (Matthew 9:10-13; Luke 19:1-10; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). He reached out to women of questionable character, tax gatherers, and other undesirables (John 4:7-26; Luke 7:36-50; Matthew 9:9). Now there is a real danger of being conformed to the world (Romans 12:2; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). But we cannot use that as an excuse to stay in our comfortable Christian ghetto and not reach out to people. There must be a careful balance here of being in fellowship with those who can encourage and support us (Hebrews 10:24,25; 12:12,13; Colossians 2:19) and being witnesses to those who need to know God’s truth (Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15; Matthew 28:18-20). But we must not completely neglect either.

Now one of the problems I think people have here is that they have a stereotype of what they have to be in order to witness for Christ. I am convinced that as there are different gifts in the body (1 Corinthians 12:12-26; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11-16), so there are different ways to use them to reach people for Christ. Some may reach people by exhorting them to turn to Christ. Others may do so by serving them. But everything has its place. In this context letting your light shine does not seem to be principally reaching some level of spiritual perfection (though we do not want our life to undercut our witness). But it is reaching out into the darkness to help those who are trapped there. Now to do this we need God’s power  working in us (Colossians 1:28,29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10). But we do need to ask, “What can I do to reach out to those who need to know Christ?” And we need to find what God wants us to do.      

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Bearing Others Burdens

Christians are not expected to live the Christian life alone. Rather, we are to live it in community. This is meant to be an aid for growing in Christ. But there are many hindrances in the way of living in Christian community. Now living in community will never be perfect as long as we are sinful people living in a sinful world. But it helps to have guidelines.

We need to properly correct those who are in error (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-18; 2 Thessalonians 3:14,15). Now we need to do this, and not just ignore the problem and try to sweep it under the rug like the Corinthians did (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). We need to approach it with gentleness, with an effort to restore the person (2 Timothy 2:24-26; Hebrews 12:12,13; Jude 22,23). Our goal should not be condemnation and exclusion, but bringing them back to the right track. And we need to avoid allowing them to pull us down with them. This implies a real involvement in their lives to try to help them. 

We also need to help those who are burdened and in trouble (Galatians 6:2; Romans 12:15; 1 Corinthians 12:26). We should not be interested just in our own good, but also in the good of others (Galatians 6:9,10; Romans 15:1,2; Philippians 2:3,4). This can mean helping people out at the physical level (1 John 3:16-18; James 2:15,16; Romans 12:13). But more often it means being an encouragement to those in need (Hebrews 10:24-25; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Philippians 2:1,2). However, we need to be mindful of those in need in order to help them.

This does not mean that every person should not do their own part, whether in the Christian (Galatians 6:3-5; Romans 12:3-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-25) or the secular realm (2 Thessalonians 3:10-13; Ephesians 4:28; Proverbs 6:6-11). Now there is a delicate balance here. We do need to help out people in need. But we also need to encourage everyone to do their own work. The picture of a body means that every part is important and we need to help each other out. But it also means every part is necessary and should be required to make their unique contribution. We need to avoid letting one get in the way of the other. Part of this balance is that we need to provide for the financial needs of ministers, that they may be freed up to perform their function in the body (Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17,18; 1 Corinthians 9:7-11). But in everything we need to work together to accomplish God’s purposes in the world (Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 2:19; Matthew 16:18). 

In all these things, the basis for our living together is grace (Romans 5:1,2; 8:33,34; Galatians 2:20). For it is only by accepting grace and offering grace to others that we can live together. For it is only in grace that we are truly set free to serve others (Galatians 5:13,14; Romans 12:1,2; Titus 2:11-14).

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Incorporating Doctrine

There are often two sides to a problem. And it is easy to avoid one danger, only to fall into the other. C. S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, explains one of Satan’s strategies as getting people to run as fast as possible from the error they are least likely to commit. The church at Ephesus had their act together externally, but they were just going through the motions and lacked real love for God and others (Revelation 2:1-7). The church at Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) was strong in love and service and good deeds. But they were tolerating false teaching and its attendant moral corruption. They had fallen hard into the opposite error.

There are many today who would advocate that we ignore questions of doctrine and just love one another. And in defense of this, they point out people who are rigid and self-righteous and fight over every detail of doctrine. And they run as fast possible from the error they are least likely to commit. But why should we worry about this doctrine stuff, anyway? 

First of all, God said to (Jude 3; Romans 16:17-20; Colossians 2:8). Now it must be noted here that the things we are admonished to contend for are the basic things, the nature of God and Christ and the nature of the gospel (Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 1 John 4:1-6; Galatians 1:8,9). I am convinced that to divide over minor things is to fall into the error of the Corinthians, who were dividing over details (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:18-23; 11:18,19). But being fully equipped to live as a Christian involves an understanding of God’s teaching (2 Timothy 3:16,17; 2:15; Acts 20:27). It is one thing to admit we may not have all the details correct; it is another to not even try. 

Also, what you believe makes a difference in how you live. Would you hire an electrician who was honest and hard working but knew nothing about electricity? If we do not understand who God is, what His plan is, and how the world really works, with the best intentions in the world we will make serious errors. If you approach the world with the idea people are basically good, you will act differently than if you think they are sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6). This can even result in blatant moral  errors. The Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:14,15)were probably one of the Gnostic sects. These held that the physical world was evil and therefore anything you did with your body (sexual immorality, eating things sacrificed to idols) was all right.

But on the most basic level, if you eliminate doctrine, you eliminate grace. The fundamental Christian message is that God became a man (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18) to save us from our sins (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). And we can be saved by Him through putting our faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). This is doctrine. And it is what Christianity is about.