Christianity 201

July 3, 2014

When Less is More

Today’s blog post was discovered at the site, Christian Devotions where it appeared in May.  The author is Nate Stevens, and to read this at source, click on the title below.

Less Can Be More

The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’” (Judges 7:2 / NIV)

It sounds crazy, but less can be more.

While preparing for a speaking conference, I created a seventy-page PowerPoint presentation. Comprised of wondrous wisdom and awesome animations, I felt certain it would blow the audience away. Then God whispered, “Cut some of it out.”

“But, God, there’s a wealth of wisdom in it!” My response was met with a firm confirmation of His initial request. So I painstakingly began removing sections based on a process of de-prioritized importance.

Reduced to thirty pages, I had a momentary feeling of satisfaction – until I sensed God’s call for further reduction. So I whittled it down to twenty pages, down to fifteen, fourteen … finally condensing my initial treatise to twelve pages. Knowing full well I had cut too much “great stuff,” I was subsequently blown away with what God did at the conference for those surviving twelve pages. In hindsight, I would never have gotten through all seventy pages. God allowed the right content that fit within the scheduled timeframe, to touch people’s hearts and serve His purpose. He received the glory; I received a lesson in less.

When God appointed Gideon as the leader who would free the Israelites from Midianite tyranny, Gideon summoned all who would help him fight against this heathen rule and its vast army. When thirty-two thousand men showed up, God told Gideon, “That’s too many men – send some of them home.” After the “fearful and afraid” left, Gideon’s army numbered ten thousand men. Still, God told him to reduce it further. With a surviving army of three hundred men, human reasoning would lean toward a resounding defeat. But God did much with less. He not only delivered His people from the Midianites, He received all the glory for the victory.

Today’s commercialized culture encourages many of us to maintain a mindset of wanting more. Bigger houses, vacation homes, boats, newer cars, state-of-the-art techno-gadgets – whatever is the latest and greatest, we want it. So we work harder, work longer hours, and make more money to buy more status symbols reflective of what the world deems successful. However, have we considered God may want us to have less – so He can have more of us?

If something crowds out your time with God or lessens your dependence on Him, He may ask that you remove it from your life. Rest assured – with less, you’ll end up with so much more.


 

As a missionary kid who grew up in a Christian home and church, Nate Stevens has enjoyed a thirty-year banking career in a variety of leadership roles. Recently, God made it clear Nate should use his writing talents for God’s kingdom. He has written online devotionals for his home church (Calvary Church in Charlotte, NC) for the past two years. His first book, Matched 4 Marriage – Meant 4 Life, was recently published and released (www.natestevens.net).

July 1, 2014

Lay Your Burdens Down

With a few exceptions, we try not to “borrow” devotions from the same source more than every six months, but Stephen and Brooksyne Weber at DailyEncouragement.net are an exception. This is my personal “go to” devotional blog, and I try to make it the first click when my computer boots up in the morning, but sometimes email interrupts!  When I read this, I thought of the video I wanted to include with it, Chuck Girard’s Lay Your Burdens Down, and then realized a few days later that they had the same idea. There’s also a great illustration in the middle of this that I hope to remember. To read today’s devotion at source, including pictures and other suggested videos, click this link.

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens” (Psalm 68:19). “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). “Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

In our final session at the chaplaincy training conference this week we heard Doug Clay share a message on coming to Jesus for our needs. He based his message on the story of the blind man in Mark 8 who came to Jesus to be healed and then came back a second time because he saw men as “trees walking”. Doug shared that this illustrated a persistence in coming to Jesus concerning our needs. One of the lines I really liked from his message was, “Starve your doubts and feed your hope”.

Following his message he asked the various leaders on our chaplain team to come to the front and then extended an altar call for any who may have come to the conference with a special need for which they wanted prayer. I think he was only expecting a few but long lines formed. As I observed the lines I thought of the burdens these people were bearing. For some it was a physical need, for others perhaps a matter in their marriage and family. For others it might have been a financial burden. Perhaps it was a special challenge or hard time for some in their ministry. Brooksyne and I sure recall going to meetings with a heavy heart due to ministry matters in past years.

As I observed the line I considered the burdens those we minister to are enduring. Encounters we have in the course of our chaplaincy, notes and prayer requests we receive from Daily Encouragement readers and those in our church and churches we have served. It was a long line in my mind as I considered specific situations people have and are experiencing.

One of our favorite writers is Robert J. Morgan, a pastor in Tennessee who shared an interesting illustration: he had been on a long trip and was travel weary as he walked through the airport. He was physically relieved when he spotted a long moving sidewalk and headed in that direction. It was here that the Lord spoke to his heart.

He had a bag in each hand but in his fatigue he didn’t even think to set them down. “I was still carrying my load while the moving sidewalk was carrying me. Not until halfway down the hall did I have the presence of mind to release my bags and let the moving sidewalk carry them for me.”

Can you can identify with Morgan’s illustration? In regard to my burdens I tend to set them down (trust) and then pick them back up again (doubt).

As we write this message today I consider several I know who face heavy burdens, part of the long line of people who need God’s tender touch.

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” In Scripture God often emphasizes the unit of time we call the day.  In fact it’s the very first unit of time that is referred to in the Bible and the most frequently mentioned starting with Genesis 1:14.

Certainly each of us knows about burdens and we can readily identify with the Lord’s statement that “each day has enough trouble [burdens] of its own” (Matthew 6:34b). A commentary considers the meaning of the daily text in this way: “God daily carries us as a manifestation of His protective and sustaining care.” Such an interpretation brings to mind “Footprints in the Sand” written by Mary Stevenson during her teen years in 1936 as she endured major obstacles in her young life.*

What assurance His Word brings. Believing friend, God is bearing your burdens today, and wants to lighten your load. He loves you, and the trial you are presently enduring does matter to Him. He is faithful and He will see you through to the other side! Don’t try to shoulder your burdens for the heavy load will surely break you.  Instead lay your burdens down at the foot of the cross. Jesus will meet you there.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

*I didn’t want to edit the devotional, but I’ve always heard “Footprints” credited to Margaret Fishback Powers. Either way, the illustration applies. (At least a half-dozen people have claimed the poem was ‘theirs,’ Powers is widely considered to be the author of record.)

June 16, 2014

Trusting God While Running For Your Life

Be merciful to me, my God,
    for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
    all day long they press their attack. (Ps. 56:1)

Trusting God 3

We’re always looking for ways we can promote the work of new authors, and today we’re introducing you to Scott James whose first book is coming out in October from Broadman and Holman. Scott is a doctor and attends the church where David Platt teaches; we discovered this at David’s blog where you’re encouraged to read it at source; just click the title below. You may also want to have your Bible open in a separate browser to Psalm 56.

Trusting God in the Mire: Reflections on Psalm 56

By Scott James

“In God we trust” may be a familiar idiom, but what does it look like when the rubber meets the road? Let’s take a look at a biblical example of what it means to trust in God in a practical sense. In Psalm 56, David gives some substance to the nature of trust.

Running for Your Life

Look first at the extraordinary situation from which David pens these words. The introduction of this Psalm says that it was written when the Philistines had seized David in Gath. Here’s the backstory: David is a young man whom God has anointed to become the next king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1, 12 13); the current king, Saul, is obviously not in favor of this, so Saul turns against David (1 Samuel 18:10ff) and sets out to kill him (1 Samuel 19:1). David is therefore running for his life and unfortunately ends up in the hands of his greatest enemy, the Philistines—carrying their slain hero’s sword, no less (1 Samuel 21:9–10). This is clearly not a good situation for David. The people of Gath immediately recognize David and, with a mixture of cowardice and cunning, David feigns madness to escape the deadly situation (vv. 12–15).

David wrote Psalm 56 in the midst of this terrifying situation. In it, David admits that when faced with a dire circumstance his initial reaction was marked by fear and panic. However, more important than his gut reaction, David asserts that steadfast trust in the Lord is the only solution to a troubling scenario like this. Easy to say, but what does that kind of trust actually look like?

In order for us to understand the testing that David’s faith is undergoing, a large portion of Psalm 56 is spent cataloging how his enemies are bent on destroying him: vv. 1, 2, 5, and 6 all detail the unceasing assaults from which David is running. He is trampled, oppressed, attacked, and his cause is injured. He is the subject of evil thoughts and is the target of a strife-inducing manhunt that is ultimately aimed at ending his very life.

Trembling and Believing

In the middle of this catalogue of doom, verse 3 shows us that David is no Stoic—he openly admits fear. But the great thing about this honest confession is that he immediately follows it up with an affirmation of his trust in God. It’s important to see from this that, in some sense, it is possible for fear and faith to occupy the same mind at the same moment.

So that’s what David was up against, but what does his assertion of trust amount to? David tells us three times in vv. 4 and 10 that he puts his trust in God, “whose word I praise.” To trust in God is to rightly value His word. David trusted God by believing that God would actually do what He had promised to do. Specifically for David, the word he was trusting was likely God’s promise to give him the kingdom and make him the head of a royal dynasty (1 Samuel 16). At this point in the story—hiding out from the murderous Saul in desert caves, acting insane to escape the Philistines—this promise seems laughable. Despite present appearances, however, David still believes God’s word, so much so that it causes him to praise God (vv. 4 and 10) even while he is still neck deep in dire circumstances.

With this trust, David confidently speaks out: “I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (v. 4). In v. 9 he states that his “enemies will turn back” because he calls on the Lord as his deliverer. In vv. 12 and 13, David offers up a thank offering, saying to God, “you have delivered my soul from death.” David is so confident of his deliverance that he speaks of it in the past tense. That confidence is not based on guesswork, sketchy prophecy, or bravado; it is appropriate only because God has already told David what He has in store for him. David actually takes God at His word and acts upon it, even when the circumstances don’t seem to match. For David, this meant that he stepped out of the cave while the odds still seemed stacked against him. He continued the fight that eventually culminated in his ascension to the throne of Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-3). That is trust in God.

Not Just for David

We too are called to trust God in a way that is every bit as real as David’s trust. Just as David heard God’s word through the prophet Samuel, so too we have a sure word, for the Bible is God’s very word to us. It is the vehicle through which He reveals His will and in it He makes countless promises to us. Our trust is firmly founded in this God who speaks.

We trust in God by believing in what He has said and, no less importantly, by believing that He actually intends to fulfill His word. Hebrews 10:23 tells us that our hope is well founded because “He who promised is faithful.” Just like David, our hope is based on God’s faithfulness, not our present circumstances. So let’s step out in faith like David, praising God for who He is and living lives that show we believe He will accomplish all his good purposes, just as He said He would.

 

 

June 3, 2014

Devotional Potpourri

From the blog, Deeper Christian:

I have found over these last two months, that even despite incredible busyness, intimacy with Jesus and time in the Word does NOT have to wane. It doesn’t need to be diminished. Granted, it may look different than it normally does, but intimacy with Jesus does not need to be an up-and-down roller coaster experience – it truly can be consistent, steady, and ever-increasing!

I came across a tremendous quote by T. Austin-Sparks the other day, which I want to leave you with. May Jesus ever be the centrality of your life!

The mark of a life governed by the Holy Spirit is that such a life is continually and ever more and more occupied with Christ, that Christ is becoming greater and greater as time goes on. The effect of the Holy Spirit’s work in us is to bring us to the shore of a mighty ocean which reaches far, far beyond our range, and concerning which we feel—Oh, the depths, the fulness, of Christ! If we live as long as ever man lived, we shall still be only on the fringe of this vast fulness that Christ is.

Now, that at once becomes a challenge to us … These are not just words. This is not just rhetoric; this is truth. Let us ask our hearts at once, Is this true in our case? Is this the kind of life that we know? … Is that true in your experience? That is the mark of a life governed by the Holy Spirit. Christ becomes greater and greater as we go on. If that is true, well, that is the way of life.


From  a review of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity at the blog Stray Thoughts:

From the chapter “The Practical Conclusion”:

[The Christian] does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because he loves us.

From the chapter “The Great Sin”:

Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well, the woman whose beauty is praised by her lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says, “Well done,” are all pleased and ought to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted (and rightly wanted) to please. The trouble begins when you pass from thinking, “I have pleased him; all is well,” to thinking, “What a fine person I must be to have done it.”

That was immensely helpful to me. I don’t know if anyone else experiences this, but sometimes when you receive a compliment, then you feel a rush of pleasure, that feel guilty for that pleasure and feel you need to redirect the attention to the Lord, and in trying to do so sound awkward and overly pious. For that reason, when someone, say, sings a solo in church that I enjoyed, I try to tell them it blessed my heart rather than just “I enjoyed your song this morning.” Though I mean the same thing by both sentences, the second one makes people feel awkward and self-conscious. This thought did help me to understand it’s not wrong to feel pleasure in pleasing someone else or accepting a compliment.

From the same chapter:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is a nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who tool a real interest in what you said to him….He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.


From the blog, Cindy By The Sea:

The weather is finally warming up here in Northern New Mexico and I had the opportunity to go out walking along the river yesterday afternoon…

I have a favorite spot where the water spills over some rocks creating a mini rapids of sorts. I sat for a while yesterday watching a trio of ducks and a piece of wood that was caught up in the fast-moving water. It made an interesting contrast and brought several thoughts to mind as I watched.  The wood  circling round and round in a never-ending cycle — bobbing into the current and back out again – unable to release itself permanently from the currents strong grasp – this in contrast to the ducks, who smart enough to stay out of the faster moving water paddled freely and placidly about.

It occurred to me as I watched from my position along the bank how like that piece of  wood I often am. They don’t call it drift wood for nothing. Without arms to swim or feet to paddle, the wood is completely at the mercy of the current. And without a change in water speed or depth, the wood would continue in that same cycle perhaps forever – or until the summer runoff subsides and the water level drops leaving the wood exactly where it was but this time stuck – stuck in the mud and going nowhere.

As I was doing my Bible reading this morning, I thought of these words from the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:17  -

 “…. where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom”. 

Yes, freedom!  And, as trite as that may sound it is exactly true.  For in and of ourselves, we are powerless to change much about our lives and the situations we find ourselves in. We can try this and try that but, it is only by God that we will find permanent release and change that will last. A thought I hope that will stay with me the next time I find my self “caught in the current” of life.  Less reliance on me and more on the one who has the power to effect a permanent change – after all, it is he who controls the water does he not?

I love how God speaks to us through the simple things, don’t you? It has made a difference in my day today – I hope it has in yours.


 

From 2003, the final newsletter of Elizabeth Elliot:

I bid you farewell with words from a hymn written by Anna L. Waring in 1850:

Father, I know that all my life
Is portioned out for me,
And the changes that are sure to come
I do not fear to see;
I ask Thee for a present mind,
Intent on pleasing Thee.

I would not have the restless will
That hurries to and fro,
Seeking for some great thing to do
Or secret thing to know;
I would be treated as a child
And guided where I go.

Wherever in the world I am,
In whatsoever estate,
I have a fellowship with hearts
To keep and cultivate .

May 9, 2014

Your Own Understanding

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Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;

Today’s key verse may seem a little tame for a blog that specializes in digging deep, but the nature of scripture is such that the simple things are often the most profound. Earlier this week, I got thinking about what it means to “lean on your own understanding.”

First, here are how several translations interpret this phrase:

  • your own insight (AMP)
  • your own intelligence (CEB)
  • your own judgment (CEV)
  • your own knowledge (ERV)
  • what you think you know (GNT)
  • yourself (LB)
  • your own ideas and inventions (The Voice)

As I consider my own life, and the worries and anxieties that often beset me, I can think of other phrases that belong here:

  • the part of the story you can see
  • the advice of well meaning friends
  • past history with regard to this situation
  • what a negative attitude is saying to you
  • thinking that God isn’t pleased with you
  • someone else’s experience
  • an assessment that is not fully informed
  • a view that doesn’t see all the possibilities

It’s that last one that I think is most significant. If scripture teaches us anything, it teaches us that “eye has not seen,” “his ways are higher than ours,” and he is able to answer us “in ways that we do not know.”  The incarnation itself is something beyond any human to invent. If you read the scriptures, you find yourself saying, “You can’t make this stuff up!”

The verse I alluded to last in the preceding paragraph is in many ways so similar and is worthy of a similar translation test:

NIV Jeremiah 33:3 ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’

The last phrase(s) can be:

  • you do not know (do not distinguish and recognize, have knowledge of and understand) (AMP)
  • you haven’t known (CEB)
  • of which you are unaware (CJB*)
  • you don’t know and can’t find out (CEV)
  • You have never heard these things before (ERV)
  • you know nothing about (GNT)
  • which thou knowest not (KJV)
  • great things and inaccessible things that you have not known (LEB*)
  • some remarkable secrets (LB)
  • marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own (Message)
  • hidden things that you have not known (NRSV)
  • great and mysterious things which you still do not know about (NET)

I know this will seem repetitive to some of you, but are you seeing the pattern here? Should this not increase our faith? Doesn’t this become a game-changer for our prayer life? How about, “Call to me and I will tell you…”

  • things that you won’t be able to process
  • things that will stretch your faith
  • things that go beyond your imagination
  • things that no one has ever considered possible
  • things that will leave you totally awed

That’s the God we serve. If only we could see that and believe that and put that before us in every minute of the day.


*CJB and LEB are being used here for the first time today, and refer to Complete Jewish Bible and Lexham English Bible. More info available at Bible Gateway.


 

Here’s a song that reminds us of the wealth of resources The Father has at his disposal. For a devotional based on this song, I’m a Child of the King, visit this link at Daily Encouragement.

May 6, 2014

When You’re Surrounded by Darkness

Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. (PS 112.4)

I know how it feels to be in the darkness. Literally and spiritually. I remember touring Onandaga Cave in Missouri as a kid. At one point the tour guide turned out the lights. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I also remember when I walked in spiritual darkness and the Lord shone his light into my darkened heart. And I remember many times since believing that Jesus has taken me through dark and dismal valleys where all I could do is trust him until his light broke through.

When we’re in the darkness of affliction, our temptation is to circle the wagons and turn inward. We’re tempted to self-pity and self-focus. To withdraw. We don’t feel like being around others. But God tells us to do the opposite. When we’re in the darkness we should seek his grace to be others-oriented. To be gracious, merciful, generous. And Psalm 112 emphasizes being generous to the poor.

While we wait for God’s light to dawn in our darkness, we should:

Fear the Lord and delight in his commands (PS 112:1)
Be gracious and merciful (4)
“Deal generously” and lend (5)
Continue to steadfastly trust the Lord (7-8)
“Distribute freely” and give to the poor (9)

So as you pray and wait for God to save a loved one or break through in your own night, keep trusting in the Lord. Give to the poor. Give to Compassion or Samaritan’s Purse. Wire some money to a pastor in a poor nation. Bless someone in need in your church.

And remember, Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, hung in the darkness of God’s wrath for 3 hours for you, so that his light could pierce the darkness of your sin and lostness. If he did the greater thing – opening your blind eyes and bringing you into his glorious light – then surely he will do the lesser thing now that you are his beloved child – to answer your prayers for your loved one or meet your need.

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. (PR 4:18)

Trust in the LORD, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday. PS 37:3-6

Keep trusting Jesus. He has not abandoned you. He is just waiting for the perfect moment for his light to dawn in your darkness.

April 17, 2014

Credit Where Credit Is Due

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Today at Thinking Out Loud, I looked at a particular phrase which I always find spiritually jarring, namely when Bible-believing Christ-followers speak of “Mother Nature” sending bad weather or hoping that “Mother Nature” is going to be kind toward them:

…It seems contradictory that we would be monotheistic and yet invoke the possibility of a weather god, or weather goddess, even if in jest…

I do think that much if not all of the weather phenomena we experience is the natural consequence of living in a fallen world. When we speak questions like, “How could a loving God allow so much evil to exist?” we are usually talking about genuine evil, and not snow or drought; but it all comes under the same category. This world is broken, and we are continually adding to that brokenness through our disregard for the environment.

Is God powerless in all this? Not for a moment. I believe that God is positively disposed and favorably inclined to intervene each time someone prays, but that sometimes he holds back his hand and allows things to proceed naturally. A miracle is a miracle because it doesn’t happen every day. I don’t know if Pat Robertson really “prayed a hurricane back” from the Virginia coast in the ’70s, but I do believe that God is intervening in our planet more times than we realize. I don’t subscribe to the “clockmaker” theory that God simply “wound up” the planet and left it “ticking.”

I think this gives a balanced look at the subject, but this is in many ways a delicate issue. If we agree to forgo references to Mother Nature, we might want to also delete “God sends the rain;” but this is just a breath away from deleting the prayer petition ” We’re asking God to send rain.” We can believe that God is not necessarily individually orchestrating each occurrence of what my local TV weatherperson calls, “…scattered showers over most of the area this morning with a chance of clearing late in the day;” but we can’t dismiss the possibility of earnestly praying for God to send rain to a drought-stricken area, or in His Mercy to grant an area relief from the tornadoes they’ve been plagued with over the last several summer seasons.

So we live in the tension between saying that the weather and the forces of nature are part of the consequences of the fall (as quoted above from Genesis 3) and saying that God controls each and every aspect of our daily weather forecast.

But ultimately, God is in control of everything. So where I want to land today is with a series of scriptures that affirm God’s ultimate control over life as we experience it on this planet.  This is a 2007 article at the website Hatchcreek.com

God is to be praised and worshipped.  Not other gods.  We in our nation are getting very careless in this area.  When we hear the phrase, “Mother Nature”,  used over and over it becomes common.  We use it without thinking of the true meaning behind it.  Most of us wouldn’t intentionally praise another god.

Did you know that God is in control of the weather not Mother Nature?

The Bible has a lot to say about God and how He controls the weather.

(Psalms 78:26 NASB) He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens And by His power He directed the south wind.

(Psalms 107:25 NASB) For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, Which lifted up the waves of the sea.

(Psalms 135:7 NASB) He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; Who makes lightnings for the rain, Who brings forth the wind from His treasuries.

(Psalms 148:8 NASB) Fire and hail, snow and clouds; Stormy wind, fulfilling His word;

(Proverbs 30:4 NASB) Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son’s name? Surely you know!

(Mark 4:39 NASB) And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.

When faced with an environmental calamity, our first response should be to turn to the One who rebuked the wind and the sea and ask for help and mercy.

The weather is never out of His control.

April 8, 2014

Overcoming Temptation

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James 1:13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Ben Stuart is part of Breakaway Ministries a non-denominational student outreach on the campus of Texas A&M University. The video runs 4.5 minutes.

“Do I believe God really loves me?”

This was an interesting quote at the end: “I dislodge a beautiful thing from the human heart by replacing it with a more beautiful thing.”

 

March 29, 2014

Are Your Prayers Charismatic or Contemplative?

Mark O. Wilson tweeted a link to this 2013 article yesterday, and while it’s not a typical item for this page, the more I considered it, the more I had to include it. To read it at source, click through; it appeared under the title Believe Like a Charismatic, Trust Like A Monk.

In Bible believing circles, there are two influential schools of thought regarding prayer.

1) The Charismatic Claim it Boldly in Faith Circle
2) The Contemplative Listen in Childlike Trust Circle.

Christians pray differently, when facing a challenging circumstance, physical illness, financial adversity, or perplexing dilemma, depending on which circle they’re in.

The “Charismatic Claim it Boldly in Faith Circle” people pray something like this:

“Lord, you said a grain of faith can move the mighty mountain! You said a prayer of faith will heal the sick! We take you at your Word and claim your promise! Mountain, MOVE in Jesus’ name! By His stripes we are healed! Your faith has made you whole!”

The “Contemplative Listen in Childlike Trust Circle” people pray along these lines:

“Abba Father, I come to you as a hurting child. I am broken, poor and needy. Yet, I know your love and grace flow freely to the darkest place. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Please be near me as I walk this difficult valley, and help me not to struggle against it. Teach me, from this experience, that I may be more like Jesus.”

So — which way should we pray?

I propose that we approach the throne of grace with a blend of both! Pray with the boldness of a pentecostal preacher and the trust of a contemplative monk! Both perspectives are valid, yet both can lead to error. Jesus blended the two approaches in the prayer he taught to his disciples: “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done.”

We must pray with forceful strength: Thy Kingdom come!
We pray in faithful surrender: Thy will be done.

Pray with Forceful Strength.
God is bigger than any problem, and we need to pray in light of this greatness. God is big enough for anything! People who fail to pray boldly will see few miracles. When we refuse to engage in the spiritual battle, we won’t experience the victory. As Jesus said, “the Kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men take hold of it” (Matthew 11:12).

Yet, the “claim the promise” people can easily fall into arrogance, judging those suffering adversity as “lacking in faith”, and promoting their own agenda rather than Christ’s. When prayers are not answered according to expectation, the great faith often evaporates into despair and disillusionment. Genuine faith runs much deeper than bluster.

Pray in Faithful Surrender:
Our prayers should share the spirit of Jesus in Gethsemane, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42 KJV). Step out in faith to pray boldly — and then, in simple trust, leave the results to God.

He might work a mind blowing miracle and change the entire situation. Or, he might perform a hidden work of the heart, and grow us in grace. The way He chooses is always best, and it’s not our job to second guess Him.

March 25, 2014

A Time to be Tender, A Time to be Strong

Today’s reading is in two parts. The first is an introduction to Phil McCallum who is a pastor in Washington State.  The second one, you’ll have to click through for; it’s an explanation of how Phil starts his day in prayer.  The first reading for today can be seen at Phil’s blog, Deeper Still, where it appeared under the title Follow, Don’t Wallow.

Scripture

Joshua 7
7Then Joshua cried out, “Oh, Sovereign Lord, why did you bring us across the Jordan River if you are going to let the Amorites kill us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side!

9For when the Canaanites and all the other people living in the land hear about it, they will surround us and wipe our name off the face of the earth. And then what will happen to the honor of your great name?”

10But the Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why are you lying on your face like this? 11Israel has sinned and broken my covenant! They have stolen some of the things that I commanded must be set apart for me. And they have not only stolen them but have lied about it and hidden the things among their own belongings.

13“Get up! Command the people to purify themselves in preparation for tomorrow. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Hidden among you, O Israel, are things set apart for the Lord. You will never defeat your enemies until you remove these things from among you.

Observation

Joshua was a great leader who made a wrong assessment. Here is his train of thought.
We were defeated by our enemies
It’s my fault for overreaching
I should have aimed for less
I should have been content with little
What matters is what others think
And it’s up to me to give God a good reputation with others

While he is wallowing, God slaps him across the face and calls him to follow him.

“Get up! Why are you lying on your face like this?”

God had a very different train of thought.
My leaders don’t wallow. Get off the dirt.
My leaders follow me.
Think like a man of God.
This battle is spiritual, not just physical.
There are demonic powers involved.
There is a hidden sin.
The demonic powers have used this to their advantage.
You won’t be defeated until you have a camp that pleases the Lord.
Then you will be backed by the host of heaven.
Deal with the real problem and you will win.

Application

As a leader, there are times when I am tender when I should be bullet-proof and there are times I’m Teflon when I should be tender. Toward the Lord I must have vulnerability; toward my enemies, I must be tough and clear-minded. In times of defeat, I’m not to wallow, I am to follow God. I cannot allow Satan to lead me into a pseudo-humility, that looks like tenderness, but really offends God. Instead, I am to stand tall, face the facts, and know that even my radical ambition pleases the Lord.

Prayer

Father, where I’m wallowing today, help me to stand up and follow. Amen.


Here’s a link to part two for today: Get to know the writer you just read and how he begins his day with God in prayer.  Click to read How I Start My Day in Prayer.


 

Some days I really struggle with the idea that it seems so few Christian writers are willing to try their hand at writing devotional literature.  But then, this week I discovered this page at CBN. It’s good to know that there are others out there who prioritize the gift of encouragement and the gift of teaching and are willing to take the time to write out thoughts that will strengthen and encourage others.

 

March 23, 2014

What Does a Carpenter Know About Fishing?

If you go back to the first couple of years of C201, you know we often linked to Kevin Rogers’ blog The Orphan Age. Kevin has been very faithful to his ministry in southwestern Ontario, Canada, and has updated his blog almost daily for years and years! This post was originally titled Another Option.

Our greatest answers may sometimes come from unexpected sources. Consider the seasoned fishermen taking advice from a stranger on the shore.

John 21:

“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

These first century fishermen had one lake. All of their experience came from fishing with tried and true methods. From years of successfully harvesting the lake, they knew how to recognize its seasons, currents and conditions. They knew what sort of fish swam in its depths. Perhaps, they had reached a point where they were experts and could laugh at the new, inexperienced people starting out.

Still, their nets were empty this night. As experts, they could probably explain why there was no catch tonight.

The stranger on the shore asks if they caught any. “No.” It’s a one-word answer that may reveal that they are tired and defeated. It’s time to quit and head back to land. They have nothing to show for their time spent. They are returning empty.

In the state of emptiness, is it possible that we will consider a voice that we might ignore when full?

If the story had gone that they had a full catch and the stranger suggested throwing the net on the other side; who would have listened? Emptiness and humility may be necessary for us to hear truth coming from unexpected places.

Empty Nets If a church is to hear what the Spirit is saying to it, there will need to be a condition of heart that is open to suggestion. How might Jesus speak to us expert believers and tell us to drop net on the other side?

Could it be that we sometimes pull in empty nets to prepare us for listening to unlikely counsel? In the boat, they did not recognize that God was speaking to them from the stranger on the shore. But when the nets filled on the other side, they realized that Jesus was the stranger. It is a reoccurring story in the gospels that people did not recognize Jesus until something happened. We may miss Jesus’ voice and presence many times until we awaken to Him.

The fishermen thought it was a hopeless night and did not realize that success was right under their noses. The success was waiting where they were not going on their own.

March 22, 2014

On Asking God, “Why?”

There are always new readers here, so I want to again recommend the devotional website that is regularly the place where I begin my day. I try to make it my ‘first click’ once the computer is fully booted up, but often there are distractions. The site is Daily Encouragement and the authors are Stephen and Brooksyne Weber.

Normally we don’t do a lot of stories or illustrations here. There are devotional writers who do that, but I try to either find or write pieces which go straight to exposition of the text. But sometimes a contemporary example of an individual, couple, family or church working through the principle that the text teaches us can bring the text to life. Sometimes we need to see the text being lived out. This article appeared at Daily Encouragement as Why Me Lord?

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter” (Ruth 1:20).

“See to it that …no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15).

…We all bear burdens, some large and some small. Last fall an Amish family in our area was traveling along in their horse and buggy when they heard what sounded like a firecracker. They made it home but found out the sound they thought a firecracker was a gun shot fired at their horse. Somehow they made it home but the horse died before the vet arrived. The shooter did it because he thought it was funny. I suppose since I have given a lot of consideration in the last several weeks to the Romans 1 portion of Scripture I consider the phrase, “They invent ways of doing evil” (Romans 1:30). His trial here in Lancaster County will be held in April. Of course such a reckless act could have very easily physically harmed any member of the family as well.

As a pastor, situations like this are among the greatest challenges we have when attempting to minister to the family and loved ones. Many of us have had situations in our lives where we have uttered a deeply felt “Why me Lord?” I’m not speaking of the many trite situations where we are inconvenienced in some manner or things just aren’t going our way. Really, these situations amount to mere grumbling if we honestly examine our hearts!

We want to draw your attention to a song…provided after our message today that speaks of God’s faithfulness in the deepest of trials. Brian Doerkson sings a stirring song he wrote after the birth of his son born with special needs. He and his wife have six children and both of his sons were born with a severe form of autism.

In our previous church in New England we had a member whose little daughter was backed over by a service truck in her own driveway and died. These are the “Why me Lord?” experiences that test the very limits of our faith in God who is good. I myself have had to deal with a few situations like this in my own life and so have many of you.

The severity of the testing may vary among Christians but the grace of God is all-sufficient to meet every affliction we have. Annie Johnson, a woman orphaned at a very young age and severely crippled by rheumatoid arthritis by the time she was a teen-ager, wrote the following poem set to music:

“He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
to added affliction He addeth His mercy,
to multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.”

Simply put, the grace of God more than matches the depth of our need.

The best step I have found in dealing with these troubling situations is to humbly acknowledge, “I don’t know why,” get my focus off the situation (which will eventually lead to bitterness), and focus on the character of God. He can turn the situation around or He may be shaping my character in ways that can only come about in times of difficulty.

Naomi had great loss. Her husband and two sons had died. She expresses her deep hurt and confusion in our daily text with these heart-felt words, “The Almighty has made my life very bitter.” But the little book of Ruth ends with a contented grandma holding an ancestor to Jesus. As people of faith we believe that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Today if you are dealing with a situation that prompts bitterness may you recall Naomi’s story and remember the powerful truth in our second daily text, “See to it that …no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

Father, when burdens increase and answers don’t come I have a choice to let a bitter root grow up or to remain firmly rooted in You. Focusing solely on my troubles is sure to germinate doubt, fear and unbelief. But when I clothe myself in the spiritual armor You provide I have a powerful defense against the enemy; I can stand firm against his evil schemes. Though he plots evil You plan my eternal good. We are cautioned repeatedly in Scripture that we will have many troubles, but that we should take heart because You help us to overcome them. Father, though You’ve proven Yourself over and over I ask for grace to trust You even more.  Amen.

March 16, 2014

Entering Into God’s Rest

A year ago we introduced you to Greg Winfield, the author and creator of FaithsMessenger.Com.  Today we pay a return visit with a piece that appeared a week ago at that site.  Click here to read at source, and then look around at other articles.

Entering into God’s rest is one of those scriptural topics that take on different meanings to different people. With me being the black and white person that I am, I take the verse that talks about entering into God’s rest literally.

Most of the time the example I use when describing the degree of rest I’m referring to is taken from Mark 4: 35-41. In this passage of scripture we find Jesus and the disciples getting into a boat and Jesus giving the command “let us go across to the other side”.

Entering into God’s rest is having more confidence in what God says than what circumstances have to say

The bible says that as they were crossing, a great storm arose to the point that the waves were breaking into the boat and filling it with water. But Jesus was in the back of the boat asleep on a cushion. In the middle of the storm, the disciples woke Him up asking Him if He cared that they were going to die.

They didn’t wake Him up to ask Him what they should do to save themselves and the boat. They didn’t wake Him up to ask Him to save them. They woke Him up only to find out if He cared that they were going to die. Their minds were made up that they were about to meet their demise based upon the storm they were facing.

Somewhere between the time Jesus said “let us go to the other side” and the point where they felt the need to wake Jesus up, the storm changed their minds and got them to move away from what Jesus said and onto thinking that they were going to die.

The story goes on the say that Jesus arose and rebuked the wind and commanded the sea to be still. The wind ceased and there was a great calm. Immediately He turned to them and asked them why they were so fearful and how it was they had no faith.

Entering into God’s Rest

The part of the story I want to focus on is the rest that Jesus was experiencing prior to being awakened by His disciples. This is the kind of rest I believe we all should be experiencing in the middle of the storms of life.

Sleep is the ultimate form of rest. When the Word of God has been issued concerning what we may be going through in life, we too can experience rest to the same degree that Jesus did in the boat that day.

What Situation or Circumstance carries more weight than God’s Word?

In the story above the disciples gave the storm more credibility than the words Jesus had spoken. They committed spiritual adultery by being enticed by what the sea and the waves had to say more so than what Jesus had to say.

On the contrary, Jesus was resting. What need was there to do anything else? His Words were more powerful than any storm. Entering into God’s rest is having more confidence in what God says than what circumstances have to say. Any circumstance that arises between the time the Word of God is received, and the fulfillment of that Word coming to pass in your life is merely an annoying inconvenience.

Entering into God’s rest is a quiet assurance that you have placed your faith in something much stronger than anything else you may be facing in life. Entering into God’s rest takes place after we have done the will of God in any given situation and are waiting to receive the promise.

When you feel overwhelmed with life, I encourage you to enter into God’s rest. Realize just how little control we have in most of the situations we face in life. Enter into God’s rest. Lift up the standard of God’s Word in your life by shouting “Peace, be still!” to the storms if your life. Then quietly find a cushion and go to sleep.

February 6, 2014

Breaking the Predictable Ministry Pattern

Luke 5:1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,  the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

Today we pay a return visit to the Living Truth website, the ministry of Charles Price, pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. You can read this at source here.  For broadcast times of Living Truth in your country, click here.

“He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” —John 21:6

Just when we think we’ve got it all figured out we have to shake our heads in awe. What is there about Jesus that will surprise us almost every time?

In Luke, Chapter 5, Jesus tells Peter to go out into the deep and let down his nets for a catch. It’d been a long night. They hadn’t caught anything, and Peter was reluctant, but followed Christ’s instructions. Then in John, Chapter 21, Jesus stood by the Sea of Tiberias, and called out to His disciples, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they replied, and He said to them, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

On both occasions, the disciples were hesitant and sceptical, but after obeying Jesus’ instructions, they were left in awe of the massive amount of fish they had caught. Why do we think the disciples were fishing out of one side of the boat? Because that’s what they always did. In the process of fishing for people, we like to work in the same way; reduce it to a predictable pattern, because that’s how we’ve learned to do it; however, it does not require the initiative of God. We often diminish the work of God by doing what we’ve done before, and then wonder why we’re not catching any fish.

We have to allow the Lord Jesus, Himself, to be the origin of how we are going to reach out to people. We can’t tie Him down to familiar methods or programs that have met with success before. We simply will not be fruitful operating in automatic mode. Jesus is original every time, and it’s when our relationship with Him is alive and fresh that He initiates, directs and enables. We should not be looking at patterns, but at the principle that lies behind them. The patterns we bury, but the principle remains the same. And that is in our obedience and dependence on Christ, we give Him freedom to operate through us in His way and His time.

Jesus said, “Whoever serves me must follow me.” That means we keep in step with Him. Then He says, “And where I am, my servant also will be” (John 12:26).The fixed point is always Jesus, and keeping in step with Him will sometimes take us to unexpected places in unexpected ways. In relationship with Jesus, we learn to discern His will, reading into it all the circumstances of divine providence and divine initiative that works out His purpose. That often means casting our nets in different ways and in different places. It’s when we wait for His direction and follow His leading, that again and again, Jesus will astound us.

Matthew Henry writes:

He from whom nothing is hid, no, not [even] the inhabitants under the waters (Job 26:5), knew on what side of the ship the shoal of fishes was, and to that side he directs them. Note, Divine providence extends itself to things most minute and contingent…

Charles Price’s devotion concludes:

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, You amaze me again and again, and I pray, Lord, that I will always be able to discern your voice and follow your leading. Thank You, Lord.

TO REFLECT UPON: How has Jesus led me in an unexpected way?

February 3, 2014

Salvation: Still Free (Last Time I Checked)

Although I don’t use eBooks, I’m always intrigued by the concept that publishers now routinely offer books completely free of charge. There are Christian bloggers who regularly advise their readers where to find the daily and weekly bargain downloads, but sometimes I’m reading an old blog post, so even though I don’t have an eReader, I’ll click through to learn more, only to find the offer is no longer in effect and there is now a price to be paid.

Fortunately, when it comes to salvation, there is currently no closing date on God’s offer. True, a day will come when that will change. Also true, you don’t know long you have to take advantage. But it’s a free offer.

Mercy there was great and grace was free
Pardon there was multiplied to me
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary

For some, this is simply too good to be true. “Surely there is a cost;” they say, and truthfully they are correct. While Salvation itself is a free gift, God offers so much for us for this life, and that is going to involve taking up your cross daily. It might mean sacrifice or it might mean being ostracized by your family, friends and co-workers.

But in our original coming to Jesus, we find the offer to “taste and see” is both easy and simple. The problem we have is putting this idea across to those outside the church, and I believe part of the challenge is that we are living in a culture that is not Biblically literate, and therefore are not, as music and literary people say, “familiar with the literature.”

The story that needs to be kept told for me is the story in Numbers:

Numbers 21:7-9

(NIV)

7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

This Old Testament story foreshadows, as do so many OT stories, what Christ is going to do. As God’s people sojourn, they are given pictures which are somewhat for our benefit. Sometimes we impute this into the text from a New Testament perspective, but sometimes Jesus spells out for us in words unmistakable:

John 3:14

(NIV)

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up…

Again, some of you are thinking, “this sounds really familiar,” and that’s because we covered this here in August, just a few months ago. But I felt directed that we need to return to this Old Testament picture, and furthermore we need to teach people how to teach people this story. While a testimony of “what God has done for us,” and a rudimentary knowledge of basic salvation scriptures are both helpful, it’s needful to be able to construct the offer of “God’s gift” in terms unrelated to the deeper, doctrinal considerations of Romans or Hebrews which the novice believer can’t fully process.

That’s why, for the fourth time, I’ve returned to this theme today. It can be explored more in each of the blog posts listed below.

But what if salvation is being commodified too much in this approach. As with all things, we need to be careful; we need to strike a balance. Tomorrow, we’re going to explore this in a way we haven’t in any of the preceding articles. Stay tuned.

The Great Exchange from Adam4d

Go deeper, read more:

Graphic: Adam4D (click graphic to source)

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