Christianity 201

August 28, 2014

Trust in the Lord with all your Heart

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:29 pm
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The summer camp where my wife and I met and where our boys attended and later worked on staff is named Camp IAWAH, an acronym for “In All Ways Acknowledge Him.” So it’s no surprise that Proverbs 3:5-6 is a verse we all know by heart. My son Aaron wrote this on his blog last week; it’s short, but I wanted to share it here…


Proverbs 3:5,6

In the Bible, this passage reads “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and rely not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your path straight.”

1 IAWAHI used to work at a summer camp that had a beautiful forest on its property. It has kilometers of trails with stunning vistas overlooking lakes and groves of tall trees that stretch into a cathedral-like canopy. I wandered around in this forest during my time off to unwind. Eventually, I had the beaten paths memorized. I got bored. I started to deviate from the paths and I learned how the trails ran relative to each other.

I found cool ancient dead trees with branches that stretched up like flames. I found skulls, rivers, new vistas, and other things that had always been a couple meters or a half-kilometer off the path. So long as I remembered where the sun was, I always made it back to camp in one piece and on time.

If we rely on our own understanding of the world, we only re-walk a path that we’ve been on a thousand times before and we miss out on the whole. We understand only a fraction of what there is to understand in the world. We need to reach out and challenge ourselves from time to time. I like doing abstract thought exercises because they help me to explore. Sometimes I find something worth coming back to and other times not. I try to understand things that it seems a lot of people reject on principle. I play devil’s advocate and wonder ‘what if’?

Some would call it dangerous. To them I say, life is. There are no guarantees in life except for that those that walk the beaten path will remain eternally blissfully ignorant. Sometimes we get lost. Sometimes we ask ‘who am I, what am I doing, and where am I going?’ As long as we stay focused on the source of our direction, we won’t stay lost. When I feel depressed or worried, sometimes I simply pray ‘God, you’re here.’ Christians often say that God doesn’t promise life will be easy, but he promises that he’ll stay with us through the hard times.

This is my first rule. Don’t trust your limited perspective. Get the larger picture. Follow the light that guides you and you’ll always find your way home.

~Aaron Wilkinson

August 12, 2014

God’s Will for Your Life

decision making in God's willIf you’re at a crossroads in life, but hesitate to make a move because you’re afraid of doing something that not “God’s perfect will” for your life, consider this quotation:

A whole boatload of anxieties is tied up with this notion of “finding God’s will.”

The good news is that the will of God is not really like that. It’s not the kind of thing you have to look for and find, and therefore it’s not the kind of thing you can miss. What you can do is disobey God’s will. That’s easy to do – it’s called sin. But in another sense (quite a different sense) you can never miss God’s will, no matter how badly you sin or disobey God. For in addition to God’s will revealed in his word, there’s also his hidden will, as it’s called, which means his providence governing the universe and all of history. His word we can disobey, but his providence is sovereign over heaven and earth and we cannot overcome it or even escape it. It’s not something we are capable of disobeying, much less missing.

So the “will of God” that my students are trying to find is some third thing: not God’s revealed will (because it’s something they have to “find”) and not his providential will (because it’s something they might “miss”). It’s an extra kind of “will of God” that is not found in the Bible. That is to say, it doesn’t really exist. And that’s good news. It means – if they only knew it – that they are allowed to make their own decisions like responsible moral agents – like adults seeking to grow in wisdom and understanding or stewards learning how to invest their talents. They don’t have to find what God has hidden.

~ Cary, Phillip (2010-10-01). Good News for Anxious Christians: Ten Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do (Kindle Locations 1188-1200). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition; as sourced at Strengthened By Grace blog.  (I’ve added emphasis.)

So when the Psalmist writes,

 I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”  (40:8 ESV)

he is saying that he wants to do the thing that pleases God, the thing God wants; but not some specific direction that one must spend days, weeks, or months seeking. He is simply saying that he wants what God wants.

An earlier Psalm (37:4) talks about the thing you want, as opposed to the thing you think God might want. You probably know it by heart in the KJV, here’s the NKJV:

Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

I remember being taught that the desires of the righteous are righteous desires. If you’re following closely after Jesus, if you’re moving toward the cross, then the thing you want won’t be in conflict with the thing that is his best for you.

Perhaps the key if you’re at a crossroads is to simply take great joy in (Voice Bible) or keep company with (Message) and enjoy serving (NCV) your savior and Lord.


We have a bonus item today at Thinking out Loud; if you have 32-minutes, enjoy an excellent video teaching by David Platt.

August 8, 2014

Knowing the Answers versus Believing the Answers

II Timothy 1:12b

For I know the one in whom I have placed my confidence, and I am perfectly certain that the work he has committed to me is safe in his hands until that day.  (Phillips)

I know Him and I have put my trust in Him. And I am fully certain that He has the ability to protect what I have placed in His care until that day.  (The Voice)

I know the One I have believed in. I am sure he is able to take care of what I have given him. I can trust him with it until the day he returns as judge. (NIrV)

For I know him in whom I have trusted and I am fully convinced that he is able to guard my deposit until that day. (Mounce)

I couldn’t be more sure of my ground—the One I’ve trusted in can take care of what he’s trusted me to do right to the end.  (Message)

I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. (KJV)


I Corinthians 2:2

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (ESV)

For I resolved to know nothing (to be acquainted with nothing, to make a display of the knowledge of nothing, and to be conscious of nothing) among you except Jesus Christ (the Messiah) and Him crucified.  (AMP)


I’m currently reading The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity by Barnabas Piper. Although I’m not a PK myself, many of his words resonate; especially in terms of the expectations often placed on a kid to be something spiritually that he or she is not. It can be easy to pretend. It can be easy to act the part — the background meaning to the word hypocrite, and fool the people in your spiritual community, or even though the broader community, though the latter may in fact be more likely to see through the facade.

I think a portion of scripture that should horrify all of us, even those who “know that they know that they know”  is Matthew 7: 21-23:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

I mean, doesn’t that just make you go “Yikes!” And yet, The Twelve, after spending three years in Jesus had no assurance of themselves spiritually and so in Matthew 26: 21-22 we read the account:

And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” (NIV)

Barnabas Piper writes about hiding his true self under layers; he compares it to the layers of an onion:

The Pastor's Kid - Barnabas PiperI spent all those years knowing all the right answers about everything, convincing everyone I was all good.  But at no point did I know what I believed.  I knew answers, but not reality.  I knew cognitive truth, but not experiential truth.  I was an internal mess.  I knew right and wrong.  I knew Jesus and His saving work.  I knew my need for a savior and grace.  But I didn’t believe these things.  I didn’t know them like I know my wife or my children – real, experiential, proven.  And so, after twenty years as a Christian, sin took over my heart and then my life.  It nearly cost me my marriage.  It did cost me that job.  I was broken.  All because I knew answers about everything but didn’t truly know what I believed.  All because what I showed the world was ‘right’ but inside me was a whole lot of wrong.

It is only grace that has restored me.  It was the awful power of God’s grace that peeled back layer after layer of hypocrisy, my onion self, to expose my heart to what I knew answers about but truly needed to believe.  It wasn’t the first time I had fallen, and it wasn’t the first time God had exposed my sin and His grace, but the other times I had moved on, lesson unlearned.  So He peeled me to save me.

More than anything I want my breaking to be the freeing of others.

Lord Jesus; help me not just to be someone who knows all the answers about you, but help me to truly be someone who is placing my trust in you, truly believing you, for everything. Amen


 

Today’s bonus item (from Twitter)

F – forwarding
A – all
I – issues
T – to
H – Heaven

 

 

 

August 7, 2014

Even in the Wilderness, God Provides

Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned or their children begging for bread.
 Psalm 37:25 NLT

Today we look at a few pages from Futureville: Discovering Your Purpose for Today by Reimagining Tomorrow by author Syke Jethani (Thomas Nelson, paperback). The book uses the 1939 New York World’s Fair as an object lesson giving us a glimpse of God’s world for tomorrow.

Futureville - Skye JethaniIn contrast to the gated kingdoms of the world driven by the fear of scarcity, the kingdom of God is marked by the faith of abundance. Its gates are never shut.  When the Lord led his people out of Egypt into the wilderness the people feared not having enough food and water, but each day God provided what they needed.  Quail fell over the camp every evening for meat, and bread from heaven covered the ground every morning.  God’s people always had enough.  Those who tried to hoard the manna discovered that whatever they kept from the previous day rotted overnight.  Unlike the kings of the world who are driven by fear to hoard and acquire, the Lord was teaching his people the truth that control is an illusion, and rather than seeking control they were to surrender in faith and trust in his abundant provision each day.  Faith rather than fear marks his kingdom.

We see this quality of Futureville in Jesus’ ministry.  On numerous occasions those gathered to hear him did not have enough to eat. Giving thanks to God, Jesus took a few fish and loaves of bread and fed thousands.  Not only was there always enough, but the disciples managed to gather an abundance of leftovers.  These miraculous feedings were signs that the kingdom of God had arrived, that scarcity would be no more, and that Futureville had broken into the world with Jesus.  The gate to the garden of abundance has been opened again.

Centuries earlier Isaiah had prophesied that abundance would accompany the Messiah’s coming:

Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
(Isaiah 55:1)

John echoes Isaiah’s words when concluding his description of the garden city: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’  And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’  And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”

The message of Scripture is unwavering – with God there is always enough.  Where he reigns we never have to fear scarcity.  We do not have to retreat in fear behind a locked gate or scramble to get as much as we can before the market tumbles.  In his kingdom of abundance the gates are never shut; bubbles never form or burst…    (pp 159-161)

 

For only $1.99 per month, you can wake up to a morning devotion with Skye Jethani on your smart phone.  Click here for details.

To read my review of the book at Thinking Out Loud, click here.

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:46 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

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.

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