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Showing posts from November, 2010

"Okay" Doesn't Cut It

"...our prayer is for your perfection" –2 Corinthians 13:9, NIV.

I pray a lot of things for a lot of people but I'm not sure I have ever prayed for someone to be perfect. Perhaps I'm a casualty of the popular adage, "nobody's perfect" which might make a prayer for perfection seem like a silly thing for which to petition the Lord. Perhaps I am too aware (or not aware enough) of my own imperfections, making it feel a little hypocritical to pray for someone else to be perfect when I'm not. Oddly, (or not) Paul must have been thinking the same thing. The complete sentence is: "We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection." The whole context follows the same line. He hoped that he would not fail the test (vs. 6) but his primary concern, and prayer, was that they not do anything wrong (vs. 7). He ends this letter with an admonition to: "Aim for perfection..." (13:11, NIV).

Paul isn't na…

Jars of Clay

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The clay jar from Venezuela arrived in Canada slightly the worse for wear. A chunk of the spout didn't survive the trip. As I read this morning's reading from 2 Corinthians, I remembered the jug.

As what we know as 2 Corinthians 3 closes, the Apostle Paul writes: "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (3:18, NIV)

Paul is adamant throughout his writings that we, as believers must cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the renovation process that began at the moment we came to faith in Christ. Being declared holy because of Christ's redemptive work in us, now demands that old habits be laid aside to make room for the characteristics of Christ.

However, in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul acknowledges that believers are very much like my clay pot and that being so is not entirely a bad thing. He writes: "But we have this treasure in jars…

Putting Up

Since personality profiles hadn't been invented yet, the Apostle Paul missed out on being analyzed and catalogued according to one of the multitude of tools that we have at our disposal today. My guess is that Paul was a choleric (if you follow one system of measurement) or a High D (if you follow a different system of measurement). According to Florence Littauer (Personality Plus, Revell, 1992) a choleric is: "...a dynamic person who dreams the impossible dream and aims to reach the unreachable star...Powerful Choleric is always aiming, reaching, teaching, succeeding...He is the easiest temperament to understand and get along with, as long as you live by his golden rule: 'Do it my way NOW!'" According to the Institute for Motivational Living, a High D personality is characterized this way: "dominant, determined, driven...good problem solver, risk taker, strong ego, self-starter, goal-oriented...good motivator, good at organizing events, values time, result-…

Bodies in the Hallway

Our pastor is working through the book of Acts with us on Sunday evenings. Last night we looked at Acts 5 and the not-so-pleasant experience of Ananias and Sapphira. This couple lied to the church and tried to lie to God. Their judgment was swift–they both fell dead at the feet of those they were trying to deceive.

Normally a study of this incident ends with verse 11 (NIV): "Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events." However, our pastor kept going until the end of verse 16. The disciples continued to preach and perform miracles throughout the community in spite of the nasty experience with Ananias and Sapphira. But this fear of God associated with their deaths held back some other people from getting too close to the believers. "No one else dared joined them, even though they were highly regarded by the people" –Acts 5:13, NIV. We speculated that perhaps Ananias and Sapphira weren't true believers at all, only hangers-on who liked…

Being Holy: The Impossible Dream?

"Nobody's perfect!" comes the cry of the masses. And we all know just how true that is. Even if we didn't tend to take frequent critical looks at others, an honest look at ourselves would soon reveal the painfully, yet truthful, tale. Nobody is perfect.

Facing this painful truth can led to discouragement and even to thoughts of throwing in the "holiness" towel and resigning ourselves to mediocrity. Perhaps that was why Paul adds this note to his letter to the Thessalonian church: "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" —1 Thessalonians 5:23, NIV.

This little book is dotted with tidbits about holy living and it's easy to forget in the midst of the instructions to be holy that such a project isn't fueled by our own efforts. A car without gas doesn't go far. In the spiritual realm, the fuel that provides the impetus for …

Dead, But Very Much Alive

The Galatian church was having "issues." People had crept into the church and were trying to persuade the believers to retain some of the old beliefs from which the Gospel of Jesus Christ had freed them. Paul called them on their drift back into the old and unproductive paths of believing that obedience to the law could save them. He even went so far as to call them "foolish" (Galatians 3:1).

He recalled the uneasy meeting that took place between himself and the apostles in Jerusalem. The leaders of the early church were uneasy because in those early days after Paul's conversion, the believers were not entirely convinced that this "conversion" was another more than an elaborate hoax to trap them. Some of the Jews were still struggling with the entrance of the Gentiles into the Kingdom. Paul's claim to be an apostle to those Gentiles made him even more suspect to some.

Paul was equally uneasy, uncertain about the reception he would receive from th…

Bite Your Tongue

I knew what would happen but I did it anyway.

I mentioned that a certain person had called the office. The name prompted a discussion where information was shared that might have been true, but it certainly wasn't kind. I should have kept my mouth shut.

This morning's rebuke from James added to the mental "kick in the pants" I had already given myself that had the force of the Holy Spirit behind it. The tongue is a small but deadly instrument. It cuts, and it kills. So James warns his readers: "When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts…

Looking Beyond the Devil

I cringe every time I hear someone headline Satan. He craves attention, feeds on our focus, delights when we make him bigger than life.

That's why I like what James has to say about the struggles that we all face. Rather than making "good press" for the devil, James calls us to look beyond the minor players in the great drama of life to the One who gives us good gifts even when they come wrapped in dirty rags.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything. . .Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him" –James 1:2-4, 12, NIV.

Our tendency is to give Satan credit for what God is doing in our lives. We don't usually look on difficulties as "God-thi…

Sign On For Suffering

I love those curious little phrases in Scripture that pique my interest simply because they are unexpected. I found another one in my journey through the Book of Acts this morning.

The context? Saul has been carrying his religious zeal a whole lot too far by persecuting the followers of Jesus Christ. On his way to Damascus in search of believers to throw into jail he has an encounter with the Lord which is recorded for us in Acts 9. Saul's not slow and he immediately recognizes who he is talking to and how huge his mistake has been.

Blinded by the light of the Lord, he is led to Damascus. Instead of chasing down Christians, the seriously repentant Pharisee spends three days praying and fasting. In the Scriptures fasting is part of the act of repentance and without doubt Saul had a whole lot to repent of.

While Saul and the Lord are dealing with the dirt, the Lord appeared to a disciple in Damascus by the name of Ananias. He instructs Ananias to find Saul and restore his sight. The…

Whatever Happened to. . .?

He only appears once on the pages of biblical history. Whatever happened to Matthias?

Jesus had returned to heaven after his resurrection. His followers were shut up in an upstairs room praying, and waiting for. . . well, they weren't entirely sure what it was they were waiting for. All they knew was that their Messiah had promised to send his Spirit to empower them for ministry.

While they waited and prayed, Peter addressed the group, quoting what is now known as Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8. Based on the prophecy, the apostle suggested that it was time to choose a replacement for Judas. He said: "Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection" –Acts1:21, 22, NIV. Two men met the criteria: Barsabbas and Matthias. After they prayed, they drew lots …

Proclaim the Name

I went to my very first Santa Claus parade last night. It felt strange. After all, I grew up in this town and don't remember going to a parade either here or anywhere else. It was quite enjoyable. Moms and dads were out with their kids all bundled up against the cold. Some people had brought their dogs and insulated mugs of coffee or hot chocolate. As the floats went by I looked for a sign of Christ in Christmas. I confess I didn't see all of the fifty floats in the parade, I saw most of them, and with the exception of one, there was no mention of the real reason we celebrate the season. That I could see, not a single church was represented in the parade though I know our church has participated in years past.

Whatever you believe about Santa Claus and the mega-shift that a Christian celebration has taken away from its roots, it seems to me that believers aren't making much of an effort to take a stand for the Christ of Christmas.

John records that the Jewish leaders came…

What Does Salvation Look Like?

Three lessons about salvation back to back.

THE STORY OF THE PHARISEE AND THE TAX COLLECTOR (Luke 18:9-14)

The Pharisee counted on his works to get him through the door to the kingdom. He was totally unconscious of the inadequacy of his self-righteousness. But the tax collector knew what he was: "God, have mercy on me, a sinner" – Luke 18:13b, NIV.

Lesson: Salvation comes to the sincerely repentant heart who sees himself as God sees him.

THE STORY OF THE LITTLE CHILDREN AND JESUS (Luke 18:15-17)

The disciples didn't see in the children what Jesus saw. He rebuked his followers for denying access to those who most showed the attitude that we all need to demonstrate. ". . .anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" –Luke 18:17. Some people believe that Jesus is referring to the innocence of a child but the Scriptures clearly state that no one is innocent and no one is justified by his own "goodness." But a child …

Review: The Strategically Small Church

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The Strategically Small Church Brandon J. O’Brien Bethany House 2010 168 pages
At last, someone who understands that the small church isn’t necessarily dead or dying; that, at the risk of being branded for using and abusing a cliché, “good things DO sometimes come in small packages.”
Brandon O’Brien presents a solid case for that self-aware, self-confident small church that recognizes the advantages of its size and is not intimidated by the mega-church mystique. This book is balm to the soul of the majority of pastors who have come away from conferences led by their mega-church brothers, feeling like failures even when souls are coming to Christ and lives are being changed as a result of their ministries. As O’Brien says: “Mega-churches (regular attendance over 2000) make up less than one half of one percent of churches in America…we have allowed the ministry experience of 6 percent of pastors to become the standard by which the remaining 94 percent of us judge ourselves” (pg. 25).
O’Brien d…