Blameless? That’s Impossible!

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’” (Genesis 17:1-2)

By Emily Armstrong

God is renewing his covenant with Abraham that the promise of a great nation would come from Abraham and Sarah.  Verse 1 says that Abraham is 99 years old when God has this conversation with him.  I can only imagine that he was thinking, “OK, God, I’ll be a first time dad, but only with your help.”  As long as we are talking about doing the impossible, did we miss the small but significant phrase in verse 1 that says, “Walk before me and be blameless”? Again, Abraham has to be thinking, “OK, God, but only with your help.”

Does God really expect Abraham to be a dad at age 99? Yep.  Does God really expect Abraham to walk before him and be blameless? You bet.  And God expects the same from us.  Is it a fair expectation? Yes, but only because we have the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The Holy Spirit helps us to make the right choices, and helps us continually walk before God and be blameless.  It’s not to say that the Holy Spirit makes our decisions for us, but he’s continually guiding us in the correct paths, if we allow him to.

pexels-photo-808466.jpeg

I remember when I was in college that I really started struggling with the concept of being blameless.  I had been a Christian since I was a little girl, but the Holy Spirit started speaking to me about the kind of music that I listened to.  It wasn’t BAD music, but it certainly wasn’t the best.  I had to really wrestle with the Lord and see if what I was listening to was helping my relationship grow stronger with Him.  I’m sure you aren’t surprised to learn that I realized that the Holy Spirit was right, and I made some changes in my music.  It was hard, and it was a process, but I know that it’s helped me even to this day to walk blamelessly before God.

So, are you up to it?  Have you been feeling like the Holy Spirit’s been talking to you about some of the habits that you have that are keeping you from walking blamelessly before God?  If so, then start evaluating the changes that you need to make, and start making them. You’ll soon learn like I did, that walking blamelessly is possible, with God’s help.

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.  

 

Advertisements

How the Holy Spirit and Fire Overcome the Negative Winds in your Life

By Rev. Rob Prince

This Little Light of Mine is a beloved children’s song that is known around the world. The anonymous song is an old negro spiritual that has been sung in Sunday schools and in cathedrals. The lyrics simply sing the truth that while we may only have a little candle light, when we don’t hide it, letting it shine and not allowing Satan to blow it out, then the darkness flees!  I can appreciate that truth. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.

Don’t throw stones at me (or hide me under a bushel? No!), but there’s a problem with little lights. The little candle’s flickering flame is easily blown out. It doesn’t take Satan to “poof” it out.  Any nasty wind will do. I’ve seen enough funniest home videos to know that everyone from grandmas losing their dentures to babies covered in frosting can blow out the little candle lights on a birthday cake. Little candle lights are fragile. They blow out easily.

A booming campfire, on the other hand, the type of campfire that has lots of wood, lots of flames and perfect for s’mores can’t be blown out by grandmas, babies or any other windy happening. In fact, wildfire experts know that forest fires are not reduced by the wind, they actually grow stronger by wind. Wind extinguishes a candle, but it energizes a fire.

pexels-photo-167701.jpeg

Throughout the Bible, fire represents the power and presence of God. Moses encountered God at the burning bush, and later God appeared in a pillar of fire to lead his people in the wilderness (Exodus 3:2; 13:21). On Pentecost, following the sound of rushing wind, Luke tells that something like tongues of flame rested on each of the disciples gathered. They were immediately filled with the Holy Spirit, and their lives and the world were changed forever. All of this fulfilled John the Baptist’s prophecy that the Messiah would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11-12). That’s what we need too—to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire.

When we are empowered by the Holy Spirit and fire, even the hardiest winds can’t blow us out. Winds are going to come to everyone. Winds of discouragement. Winds of negativity. Winds of temptation. Winds of heartbreak. Winds of grief. Those winds are generated in some cases by the stuff of life, but other times those cold gusts come via the blowhards in our way. Difficult circumstances and negative, carnal people can try to extinguish your little light. But people who are consumed with the Holy Spirit and fire aren’t frail and failing like a little candle when the winds are blowing.  Instead blazing Holy Spirit filled believers look at the wind and those people in our life who are full of hot air and quote Paul, “We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15).

Don’t simply be a fragile, little light in a dark, dark world; instead be empowered by the all-consuming Holy Spirit and fire! Even tornadoes are no match for the Spirit’s fire. Maybe a change of lyrics is in order. “This BIG light of mine is Jesus and “even the wind and waves obey him.” (Matthew 8:27). It’s not a catchy tune, but it’s true!

This article was originally published at: robprinceblog.wordpress.com.

Wisdom in Contextualization: How Far is too Far?

By Ed Stetzer

How does the word “contextualization” make you feel? Free or fearful?

The $64-million dollar question about innovation and change is this: How far is too far? I can’t think of any question in the church much more controversial than this one. We’ve been asking it for two thousand years and rarely ever seem to agree.

Most of our discussions on these issues center around contextualization. We should change our methodology to better proclaim the unchanging message to a consistently changing world. But not all change is good, even when it is promoted under the guise of contextualization.

I am all for innovation. But it should be used as means to better contextualize the gospel, not simply for its own sake. We need to evaluate where that line is, so that we do not cross it and lose the very reason God has placed us here.

Encajar.jpg

Measuring contextualization

Contextualization is, obviously enough, all about the context. Walking with my nose in the air could mean I think I’m better than you. Or it might mean I’m trying to protect you from my nosebleed. Context provides meaning to your interpretation.

Gospel contextualization began the moment Christ came teaching in synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23). Christ presented words and deeds to His audiences in ways that were meaningful in their language and culture.

The language was Aramaic. The culture was Jewish (with a bit of Roman and Greek tossed in). The reaction of the crowds, especially the religious leaders, makes it clear that Christ’s words and actions were meaningful in His cultural context.

Changing in order to contextualize is not watering down the message of the good news of Jesus. The opposite is true. To contextualize the gospel means removing cultural and linguistic impediments to the gospel presentation so that only the offense of the cross remains.

But when we think about changes and contextualization today, it is easy to think you are the only one who has it right. Everyone to the left of has changed too much and lost the gospel. Everyone to the right is a bunch of legalists who haven’t changed enough and can no longer have a conversation with culture. To overcome this temptation, we need to establish what is unchanging and look for signals that our changes have gone too far.

More art than science

God designed it so the unchanging message of Jesus can fit into changing “cultural containers” in order to reach people where they are, and to take them where they need to go. Contextualization is a skill the missional church in the U.S., like international missionaries, must learn and use.

Contextualization, however, is more of an art form than a science. Clear lines that provide hard and fast boundaries for every language and culture don’t exist, especially as it relates to our orthopraxy (the way we live out the gospel). But there are certain gospel lines that we cannot cross.

What are the signs we’ve crossed un-crossable lines? If we have lost the clear proclamation of the gospel—Jesus’ death on the cross for our sin and in our place—or we downplay repentance and forgiveness, I think we’ve removed the intentional stumbling block of the cross. That would be a first warning sign.

If we teach the message in such a way that excludes or de-emphasizes the Bible, I think that’s a difficulty as well. If I find myself underplaying the role of Jesus in salvation or the necessity to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, that’s another red flag.

What works today

Some segments of our evangelical churches have adopted some changes and are doing anything they can through advertising, media, social media, coffee houses, movie theaters, music, the arts, and other venues to have a meaningful conversation with the world. Some Christians feel that giving any ground toward what they perceive (often rightly) as compromise with the culture will eventually cross the line into a heresy and pluralism slide.

Obviously, we don’t want to be syncretists with the gospel message. But contextualization means change will occur. We will be looking for new ways to translate the gospel that help others grasp its message. This is not accommodating the culture; it’s building meaningful relationships with people and speaking with them about the gospel (on the gospel’s own terms) in ways that make sense to them.

So when has change gone too far? When the gospel no longer looks or sounds like good news and Jesus no longer looks or sounds like the Jesus found in the pages of Scripture. But if the feet of those who bring the gospel are beautiful upon the hills, it is at least partly because those who hear the gospel are able to understand meaningfully the wonderful person and work of Jesus. The feet can still be beautiful even after you change shoes.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today.

What is Legalism?

By Edgar Hernandez

Imagine you are in an enormous house.  Some of the people who live there hear well and others are deaf. Everyone is together, and it is not obvious which is which at first glance.  In one room there is a man sitting down, and you notice he is tapping a rhythm with his feet and his fingers.  You know what is happening.  He is listening to music and obviously enjoying it.  His whole body is reacting to what his ears perceive.

pexels-photo-145707.jpeg

Soon, one of the deaf men opens the door and comes into the room.  When he sees the other man, he greets him and thinks, “This guy is really enjoying life. I will try to do the same thing.” The deaf man sits by the first man and begins to imitate him.  With a little practice, the deaf man keeps nearly the same rhythm.  He smiles and thinks, “This isn’t very fun, but I guess it’s fine.”

Then a third man enters the room and sees the two men apparently doing the same thing. Is there any difference between them? Of course there is!  The actions of the first man are a natural response to the music he hears, but the deaf man is merely imitating the outside behavior even though he cannot hear a single note. This is the difference between true Christianity and legalism.

When we understand the Christian life in the way God desires, our attitudes and actions are a response to the “music” of love we hear. The music is the relationship of trust we have with God who lives in us, and who we are learning to love more and more each day.   Nevertheless, legalists do not care if you are deaf to the grace and love of God.  What they value most is if you snap your fingers and move your feet just like everyone else.

The Most Convincing Evidence

We have all come in contact with someone who has rejected Christianity primarily because of the unconvincing actions or even blatant hypocrisy of Christians. Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” That sentiment pains me, and it should sicken any of us who wear the name of Christ and claim to worship him.

At the same time, if lack of spiritual fruit in believers can turn away people from the Church, the opposite is also true: a contagious, authentic faith can prove compelling and irresistible to nonbelievers.

Take the following story as an example:

“One Sunday evening a drunk woman came to our church and was converted.  The co-pastor of the church went to visit her husband the following day and saw he was a very intelligent mechanic, but opposed to religion and very skeptical.  He was disgusted by his wife’s conversion and said he had no doubt that she would soon return to her old life.  

Six months later, the same man came to see the minister of the gospel, and was greatly perplexed by his own spiritual situation. He said, ‘I have read every book about the evidence of Christianity, and I’ve been able to resist every argument.  But in the last six months I’ve had an open book in my home that was impossible to refute in the person of my wife. I’ve come to the conclusion I must be wrong, and there must be a holy and divine power in this religion if it could take a drunk woman and change her into a holy, singing, friendly, patient and pious person like my wife is now.’”

Glory to God! Truly, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: The old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17)

Jean David Larochelle wrote about this reality in his book The Natural Development of Faith:

“Truly the best books about Christianity have stories of the transformed lives of men and women in communion with Christ.  If we all gave our testimony of the work God has done in our lives, other people near us would also have many simple and some amazing stories of the power of God. More than that, if believers or those of us who profess to be disciples of Jesus would live integrated, transformed lives, it’s very possible there would be fewer doubters” (p. 56).

shutterstock_49961977.jpg

It all brings us to the well-known question: If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? In other words, would your colleagues, family members and neighbors say, without a doubt, you live like Jesus Christ?

 

Attuning Ourselves to the Life of Jesus

Reflections on the Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

As I mentioned in the previous article, I have recently been reading a book that has proven impactful in my understanding of the Christian calendar. It’s written by Joan Chittister and entitled, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life.  As we near Ash Wednesday, I think it will be helpful to allow some excerpts from that book to challenge us to view the entire Christian calendar through new eyes…

“The liturgical year is an adventure in bringing the Christian life to fullness, the heart to alert, the soul to focus.  It does not concern itself with the questions of how to make a living. It concerns itself with the questions of how to make a life.”

“The liturgical year is the year that sets us out to attune the life of the Christian to the life of Jesus, the Christ.  It proposes, year after year, to immerse us over and over again into the sense and substance of the Christian life until, eventually, we become what we say we are – followers of Jesus all the way to the heart of God.  The liturgical year is an adventure in human growth, an exercise in spiritual ripening.”

kiwihug-266154.jpg

“It is in the liturgy that we meet the Jesus of history and come to understand the Christ of faith who is with us still…It is, in fact, the life of Jesus that really guides the church through time.  It is the life of Jesus that judges the conduct of the time.  It is the life of Jesus that is the standard of the souls who call themselves Christian in every age, however seductive the errors of the age itself.”

“In the liturgical year we walk with Jesus through all the details of His life – and He walks with us in ours…Early Christians knew without doubt that all facets of the life of Christ stemmed from one reality, were related to one reality, led to one reality, were aspects of one central reality: the cross.  Jesus was born to confront the cross; Jesus died on the cross to bring us to fullness of life; Jesus rose to defeat the cross; Jesus embodied what the role of the cross was to be in the life of us all. Clearly it was the reality of the cross that defined the life of Jesus, the Christ. And it is the reality of the cross that defines the life of the individual Christian, both then and now.”

“Like the voices of loved ones gone before us, the liturgical year is the voice of Jesus calling to us every day of our lives to wake our sleeping selves from the drowsing effects of purposelessness and meaninglessness, materialism and hedonism, rationalism and indifference, to attend to the life of the Jesus who cries within us for fulfillment.”

Joan Chittister: Reflections on The Christian Calendar

The season of Lent is almost upon us, and every year there are at least some Evangelical Christians in different countries who contact me out of their concern or confusion with this period in the Christian calendar, or the concept of a liturgical year in general.

Phyllis Tickle explains that the Christian calendar has been an extremely important aspect of spiritual formation down through the centuries:

“The ancient practices of the faith are sevenin number, have come into Christianity out of Judaism, and inform all of the Abrahamic faiths.  Three of them – tithing, fasting, and the sacred meal– have to do with the physical body, its work and its needs.  Three of them have to do with the monitoring of time.  Fixed-hour prayer regulates the hours of the day, and Sabbath-keeping monitors the days of the week.  The liturgical year monitors or paces those same days and the weeks into the cohesive whole of basic human timekeeping, the year itself.  The seventh of them, pilgrimage, engages both the physical space of the body and the dimension of time, requiring that we go at least once in a lifetime with holy intention to a place made sacred by the faith and encounters of other believers.” (italics added)

pexels-photo-1342343.jpeg

Those words of Tickle are penned in the foreword of Joan Chittister’s book, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life. Chittister, too, has fielded questions from people wondering why we celebrate Advent or Lent or any of the liturgical year’s dates when we do:

“The real answer to the question of the various dates of the liturgical year,” she asserts, “is that the liturgical year is not, for the most part, about a series of events at all.  It is about the import of those defining events.  It is about the relationship of those events, one to another.  It is about the real meaning, not the historical dating, of the events which, to this very day, shape our spiritual lives.”

In a world that rotates around school and work calendars and secular holidays, Chittister happily proclaims her need for something deeper: “I know that it is possible to grow physically older by the day but, at the same time, stay spiritually juvenile, if our lives are not directed by a schema far beyond the march of our planet around the sun.”

And to those who wonder if observing the Christian calendar would ever get monotonous, Chittister has a wonderful answer: “The liturgical year is the process of coming back year after year to look at what we already know, on one level, but are newly surprised by again and again.”

There is renewal in the ritual!  There is surprise in the “same”!

I will be offering more thoughts on this topic in the coming days, and more observations from this wonderful book as well.  For the meantime, I pray that you would begin to embrace the rhythm of the liturgical year.  And may observing and remembering these events open doors of refreshment and deeper knowledge in your walk with Christ.