Christianity 201

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)

January 15, 2014

Just Ask It

When Jesus told his disciples, “Ask anything in my name and it will be done…” scholars might wonder what type of blanket prayer requesting he was authorizing. Can I ask God for a new car? The one we have is getting old, and I think it’s a fairly valid request.

If you believe that repetition solidifies and establishes doctrine, then you’re in good shape here because the offer of an answered prayer appears three times in Jesus’ Olivet discourse:

  1. John 14:13 & 14

    And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

    Other Translations

  2. John 16:23
    In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

    Other Translations

  3. John 16:24
    Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

    Other Translations

Couple this with other faith-building verses like “With God nothing will be impossible,” and my new car is practically driving up my driveway on its own.

Despite this, there is another passage entirely that theologians refer to sometimes as “the prayer God will always answer” and that is found in James 1:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

In a way, asking God for wisdom is a form of surrender. It’s saying that he is greater than I. It’s saying that I don’t know everything I need to know. It acknowledges that we are utterly lost in certain arenas of life.

Years ago, a popular worship chorus was the “Cares Chorus.” In our church, we sang it a little different from the lyrics in the video that follows.

I cast all my cares upon you
I lay all my burdens down at your feet
And anytime I don’t know what I should do
I will cast all my cares upon you.

I pointed out to our congregation that the melody in the line “I don’t know what to do” goes up really high musically. I just picture a little kid throwing up their hands in utter helplessness, and it’s not surprising that the song was also popular in Children’s ministry.

What got me thinking about this is the current #AskIt series of sermons running at North Point Community Church. (As messages are posted, you can view them at justaskit.org) The theme of the series is this prayer:

Ask It

Across the North Point viewing audience, people are making their own graphics of the prayer, and you might see these on Facebook or blogs:

In light of my past experiences, current circumstances and future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for me to do?

I believe that just as the Lost Son’s father came running down the road to meet him, so also does our heavenly father want to run to us with the wisdom we’re requesting.

I’m not saying the other prayers, prayed in sincerity, in faith and in right motives won’t get answered, but I believe that the best place to learn to exercise the John 14 and John 16 kind of faith is with a James 1 kind of request.

January 3, 2014

Devotions for a New Year

Today, two devotions from the Presbyterian Church in Canada devotional page. Click each title to read at source.  (Devotions at the site are archived going back to 1996.)

The first, by Lisa McLaughlin-Kent is titled Rituals.

Ephesians 3:20 – Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us. (KJV)

Exceeding abundantly? Above all that I ask? Beyond what I can even imagine? How can that be? These are questions I asked.

Each year end, I used to take some time to reflect on the closing year, to take stock of accomplishments, review my goals and objectives, and put a check in the box for complete items and perhaps bring forward some items into the following year. It was like an annual report card for myself, by myself. But my rituals became stale and stunk. My goals and objectives took on the appearance of some corporate document, rigid in form, impersonal, and lacking in any real worth.

A few years ago, while praying for some guidance, I was compelled to re-think this calendar-like event. If I were on track, would my goals and objectives change every January first? How important were my goals and objectives if I reviewed them only on an annual basis? How could I grow in my relationships with Christ, my husband, my children, friends, and co-workers if my goals and objectives didn’t even include them?

Feeling very hesitant and skeptical, I prayed that God would take the lead role and help me craft my plans for the year ahead. With great trepidation, I abandoned my old format and procedure and replaced it with opening my heart to the daily devotional and a commitment to memorize Psalm 8. Surprisingly, the insights I gathered from the daily devotionals were sometimes put to immediate use within the same day. At other times, it was later in the week or month, when I least expected it. Psalm 8 took a bit longer. To start, I read the psalm daily; each day I let it sink deeper into my heart, then I wrote it out daily, until writing was no longer required. I put words to music and sang it out to the Lord on my way to work each morning. Soon, I was singing it out in my mind throughout the day. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1 NIV) God was closer to me and I to Him than ever before in my life.

With joy and excitement, I began to share with family and friends how God had provided answers to everyday situations and prayers, because of insights that He had planted in my heart from a devotional I had read in the morning or the previous week, and which had stuck with me.

Since this change in my initial ritual, the memory work has changed several times, and each change is not tied to a calendar, nor do I give myself a check in the box. I praise God for His faithfulness and wait on Him.

Do you have rituals that need revisiting? Are you tied to a calendar, or to our amazing Lord?

Psalm 27:14 – Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord. (KJV)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray and trust that You will show us if we have rituals and habits that we need to change. Draw near to us and fill us with Your holy presence. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Our second reading is by Parise Arakelian titled A New Beginning

Proverbs 16:3 – Depend on the Lord in whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. (NCV)

The table is set in the dining room of the seniors’ assisted care facility where I reside. Three of us ladies share this table each day. After the meal one day, we got into a conversation noting that there were several in our community who present themselves with a downcast countenance. “I could see where they could be depressed, especially if they were limited in what they can do,” one of the ladies offered. “Maybe they might even want to die,” was another response.

As I considered these comments, the realization came to me that seniors need to be encouraged to lead productive lives. Why not take advantage of the clean slate the new year provides and set some goals to work toward?

  • Physical: Start a walking routine. Add a brisk walk to encourage the function of the brain. Decrease eating tasty morsels which can add pounds.
  • Mental: Increase activities like word search, word play, and crossword puzzles.
  • Spiritual: Draw strength by reading the Scriptures and/or study with others in a structured setting. Pray — it is a source of power. Take time to relax.
  • Emotional/relationship: Decide to give the gift of forgiveness for an old hurt. Practice patience where historically we have been impatient.

Each of us can live a life of fulfillment. Look at the life of Job. When the book opens, he was probably seventy years old. The book ends on a note of contentment and peace:

Job 42:16-17 – Job lived on another 140 years, living to see his children and grandchildren — four generations of them! Then he died — an old man, a full life. (MSG)

How do we plan to live out our days?

Prayer: Lord, thank You for this new year. We depend on and trust You as You guide and strengthen us each day. Thank You for the many blessings You will give us as we lead meaningful lives for You. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

January 1, 2014

Your Best Year, Spiritually

This is from Clay Smith at the website of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter, South Carolina and appeared there as This Could Be Your Best Year Ever, If…:

blank calendarHow will you make [this] your best year ever?

Maybe you will make an impressive list of resolutions, detailing plans for self improvement in finances, health, and relationships. Reality check: how did those resolutions work for you last year? The truth is about 92% of those resolutions won’t be kept. Why?

We don’t keep resolutions because we assume we have enough will-power to overcome our problems. We think if we just try harder we can do it. We make our problems harder because we try to tackle all our troubles at once. By the second week of January (sometimes the second day) our will power is overloaded. In a moment of stress we make an exception. That exception becomes a breach in the dike of resolve. We’re back to the same old patterns with the same old results in a matter of days – or hours.

There is a different way. Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Another translation would be, “Put God in charge and follow His way of thinking, and He will take care of everything else.”

Stovall Weems expresses it like this: “This can be your best year ever if it is your best year spiritually.”

Decide to make this your best year spiritually. Talk to God about what this year could look like. Ask God for His input.

God might tell you to read the Bible through in a year – it’s a doable challenge. God might tell you go on an adventure – it may be a mission trip or it might to lead the group next door. God might tell you to experience true generosity for the first time – giving not out of guilt but out of joy!

Here’s the challenge to you and to me: Let’s make 2012 our best year spiritually – and it will be our best year ever.

Grace and Happy New Year

Go deeper with an article by Jack Wellman at Christian Crier, 5 Christian New Year’s Resolutions for 2014. The article will encourage you to:

  1. Set the Alarm Clock 10 Minutes Earlier
  2. Memorize One Bible Verse per Week
  3. Create a Prayer Journal
  4. Share the Gospel Daily With at Least One Person
  5. End Each Day with Prayer and Bible Reading

November 26, 2013

Dependence on God for Daily Sustinence

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
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God Provides

Today we introduce you to a new voice here, Pastor Jesus Figueroa, who was born in Tijuana, Mexico and today pastors a 700 member church in Los Angeles. I really like the format he uses, beginning (as we do here sometimes) with a variety of translations, then some devotional thoughts, and then related verses.  I strongly encourage you to read this at his blog, Word for Today,  and then take some time to look at other articles.  Click here to read: Give Me Only My Daily Bread.

Two things I request of You (Deprive me not before I die):Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches— Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, And say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:7-9 (NKJV)

3rd Devotional Most Read; (Origanally posted 11/25/12)

Daily Reading Plan

Dan 7:1–8:27, 2 Thess 1:1– 12, Job 41:21–34

Bible Versions:

Proverbs 30:7-9 (MSG) 7-9 And then he prayed, “God, I’m asking for two things before I die; don’t refuse me— Banish lies from my lips and liars from my presence. Give me enough food to live on, neither too much nor too little. If I’m too full, I might get independent, saying, ‘God? Who needs him?’ If I’m poor, I might steal and dishonor the name of my God.”

Proverbs 30:7-9 (NIV) “Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:7-9 (NLT) O God, I beg two favors from you; let me have them before I die. First, help me never to tell a lie. Second, give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.

Thoughts of Devotion:

As we read this portion of Proverbs we see a great example of a model prayer. The psalmist asks the Lord to guard him from the extremes in life. His request is that the Lord only gives him his portion of daily provision. No more, no less! Imagine for a moment, praying to God to not give you more. This sounds a bit irrational, someone might ask, “Why pray those prayers?” Even if we begin to meditate closely on our prayers, I’m scared to say that very few follow this prayer. But I firmly believe that these prayers are the ones that will free us from greed. At the root of it all, the psalmist understood the danger in falling blindly into one of these extremes of life. The two extremes, abundance and famine. We must understand this morning that God has his set and balance provision for us, so we may be protected from covetousness in our life.

The prayer of the psalmist reminds me of the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples saying, “Give us this day, our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Understand a clear truth, when one prays as Jesus taught, this frees us from coveting what we don’t have. On the contrary, we can give thanks to God for always faithfully providing what we need. In other words, our needs not wants!! In my opinion this is praying without covetousness in our hearts.

We must decide this morning to trust in God. Psalms 37:25 says, “I have been young, and now am old;

Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread.” God never forsakes you, HE can surely, without a doubt supply all your needs. There’s no need for us to have to worry, or even fall into covetousness just to desire more things, we really don’t need. On the contrary, the danger is in having so much that we might fall into the pride of auto-sufficiency and sadly forget about God.

Let us pray to the Lord today that we may see life with the eyes of Jesus. A perspective where we live with contentment. The abundant life that Jesus offers us on a daily basis. Not dominated by obtaining more, or complaining for not having enough. A life where we are grateful for what we have today. I invite you this morning to raise praise to God in gratitude for his daily provision in your life. Thank you Lord!

Foundational Scriptures:

Matthew 6:11 (NKJV) 11 Give us this day our daily bread.

Job 1:21 (NKJV) 21 And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

2 Corinthians 6:10 (NKJV) 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

Ecclesiastes 5:10 (NKJV) 10 He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver;Nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity.

Mark 4:19 (NKJV) 19 and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

Deuteronomy 8:12-14 (NKJV) 12 lest—when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them;13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; 14 when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage

November 10, 2013

Dear God: I’d Like to Order a Medium Pizza

So I pick up the phone and I call the number of the Chinese Food restaurant around the block, and I tell them I’d like to order:

  • dinner for four
  • two extra egg rolls
  • an order of chicken fried rice

I give my name and tell them I’ll come by to pick it up in 30 minutes. And then I hang up.

I have no idea who took my order. I have no idea if they’re busy or if I’m the first customer of the day. I don’t really know if the person who I will be served by is even the same person I just talked to. And honestly, in a busy world, I usually don’t care.

Are our prayers to God any different? People talk about having a “laundry list” of prayer requests, but I prefer to think in terms of ordering Chinese food or a pizza.

Phil 4:19 (NLT) And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

God wants us to bring our needs to Him. He loves it when we ask. He wants us to keep the conversation going. He wants us to be in relationship with Him. He promises to meet us in the area of provision.

But in the model prayer Jesus gave The Twelve, this type of request was only a small part of a bigger prayer picture. The prayer consists of three requests toward God Himself:

  • that His name be honored and reverenced
  • that His will be accomplished
  • the bringing about of His kingdom to earth

And then toward ourselves:

  • for our basic provisions
  • for us to live in, practice, and be agents of grace and mercy
  • for us to be protected from evil, and the temptation to evil

Now, you could say that if each of these is equal that mean each should form 1/6th of our prayer time, or that each one constitutes 17%. (I don’t think we need to be that literal.) Others might argue that in the Hebrew mindset, where there is a list, things are presented in an order of importance. (Some might say the first thing is doubly important.) In a proportionate percentage guide, that might look like this:

  • 28%
  • 24%
  • 18%
  • 14%
  • 10%
  • 6%

The point is, that we don’t spend 70% on concerns that would fit the patter of prayer toward God, in fact we don’t even spend 51% (using the 17% figure above). We tend to spend all our prayer time on ourselves. That a lot more than the 17% that would put things in proportion.

And we often want our order ready for pickup in 30 minutes.

But interestingly enough, God promises us that if we put him first we might need to spend so much time concerned with health and material provision requests.  You find that in a familiar verse in Matthew 6, provided you incorporate the context of a previous verse:

Matt 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [i.e. 31..What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’] will be given to you as well.

Do people who honor God in their prayer life get everything they feel they need? I have two answers for that. First of all, if they spend less time preoccupied with provision for needs, it is less of a priority, less of an obsession for them. This in itself will give them greater contentment with what they have. Second, I’ve always believed that ‘the desires of the righteous are righteous desires.” So in a way, the answer is ‘yes.’

Now for the hard part:  Lately we’ve had a number of people voice prayer requests that are not prayers for ourselves. We have friends who need a healing touch. We have friends who need jobs. We have friends whose marriage is in trouble. We’ve sensed — and commented to others — that our prayer list has gotten very long lately.

So surely, this does not apply to altruistic prayers like we’ve been praying, right?

Wrong!

I think the principle still applies. I need to be challenged to spend more time working on the part of the model prayer that concerns thoughts toward God. I need to begin my prayer in worship and reverence. I need to pray for the extension and raising of God’s Kingdom. I need to spend more time praying for God’s will to be done on the earth.

A ‘laundry list’ is a ‘laundry list’ no matter how you frame it. God wants my prayer life to be so much more, even when I feel that bringing needs on behalf of others.

If it looks like a take-out order, and it sounds like a take-out order, it’s probably a take-out order.

God, help me to spend more time letting you know that I love you, and that I am in awe of your greatness and majesty and dominion. Help me to be more concerned that Your Will be carried out on the earth. Make my desire that You build your kingdom.

 

 

October 20, 2013

Full Commitment

Entrusting My Life To God

Today’s thoughts were prepared exclusively with resources available at BibleGateway.com

As Jesus is hanging on the cross he breathes out what is the last of what is commonly referred to as “Seven Last Words of Christ.”

Luke 23:46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[a] When he had said this, he breathed his last. (NIV)

The Message renders this as “Father, I place my life in your hands!” while the CEB has “Father, into your hands I entrust my life!”

This represents Jesus statement of absolute surrender to the Father’s will. The request, “Let this cup pass from me;” appears unanswered.

Several times in the last few days, I prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” as I faced a number of concerns. The wording represents the best of the hope and trust we desire to place in the Father’s hands; but being human, we tend to hold on to our anxieties and fears; whereas Jesus’ statement of surrender seems so full and complete.

So what about that earlier prayer of Jesus?

The Reformation Study Bible states:

Jesus is horrified at the prospect of enduring His Father’s wrath. Jesus had to face death knowing that His Father would not be with Him, but against Him in wrath of judgment.

and notes that the ‘cup’ here is a reference to an earlier verse:

In the Old Testament the “cup” normally signifies the outpouring of God’s wrath (Ps. 75:8; Is. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15, 16). That the disciples would drink this cup means they would experience suffering, but note that Jesus calls it “my cup.” Because Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath for His own, believers do not drink the wrath they deserve. In and through Christ’s suffering they have already undergone judgment. They are now justified in Christ and heirs of His glory (Rom. 8:17). Yet their privilege is to be identified with Christ in His sufferings (1 Pet. 2:21).

Matthew Henry looks closer at the cup imagery:

He calls his sufferings a cup; not a river, not a sea, but a cup, which we shall soon see the bottom of. When we are under troubles, we should make the best, the least, of them, and not aggravate them. His sufferings might be called a cup, because allotted him, as at feasts a cup was set to every mess. He begs that this cup might pass from him, that is, that he might avoid the sufferings now at hand; or, at least, that they might be shortened. This intimates no more than that he was really and truly Man, and as a Man he could not but be averse to pain and suffering. This is the first and simple act of man’s will—to start back from that which is sensibly grievous to us, and to desire the prevention and removal of it. The law of self-preservation is impressed upon the innocent nature of man, and rules there till overruled by some other law; therefore Christ admitted and expressed a reluctance to suffer, to show that he was taken from among men (Heb. 5:1), was touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15), and tempted as we are; yet without sin.

Note, A prayer of faith against an affliction, may very well consist with the patience of hope under affliction. When David had said, I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it; his very next words were, Remove thy stroke away from me, Ps. 39:9, 10. But observe the proviso; If it be possible. If God may be glorified, man saved, and the ends of his undertaking answered, without his drinking of this bitter cup, he desires to be excused; otherwise not. What we cannot do with the securing of our great end, we must reckon to be in effect impossible; Christ did so. Id possumus quod jure possumus—We can do that which we can do lawfully. We can do nothing, not only we may do nothing, against the truth.

This is important to understand in light of what follows. In the KJV, the request is followed by the clause that begins “Nevertheless…”

His entire submission to, and acquiescence in, the will of God; Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. Not that the human will of Christ was adverse or averse to the divine will; it was only, in its first act, diverse from it; to which, in the second act of the will, which compares and chooses, he freely submits himself.

Note,

  1. Our Lord Jesus, though he had a quick sense of the extreme bitterness of the sufferings he was to undergo, yet was freely willing to submit to them for our redemption and salvation, and offered himself, and gave himself, for us.
  2. The reason of Christ’s submission to his sufferings, was, his Father’s will; as thou wilt, Matt. 26:39. He grounds his own willingness upon the Father’s will, and resolves the matter wholly into that; therefore he did what he did, and did it with delight, because it was the will of God, Ps. 40:8. This he had often referred to, as that which put him upon, and carried him through, his whole undertaking; This is the Father’s will, John 6:39, 40. This he sought (John 5:30); it was his meat and drink to do it, John 4:34.
  3. In conformity to this example of Christ, we must drink of the bitter cup which God puts into our hands, be it ever so bitter; though nature struggle, grace must submit. We then are disposed as Christ was, when our wills are in every thing melted into the will of God, though ever so displeasing to flesh and blood; The will of the Lord be done, Acts 21:14.

The Message renders this passage as:

“My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want? (emphasis added)

This prayer is not part of the “Seven Last Words…” though perhaps it ought to be considered along with those words spoken from the cross.  Because when we add it, we see that Jesus begins with

  • “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (NLT)

and ends with

  • “Father, I put my life in your hands!” (ERV)
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