Christianity 201

July 15, 2019

Communicating with God is Different

We’re back once again with Joanna Pierce who writes for the blog of Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Bloomington, Illinois. There is a longer set-up to this piece, so be sure to click the link below to read everything. (We decided with this piece to embed the scriptures, since many of you don’t click through!)

No Email Required

Then said the LORD unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12, KJV).

Getting answers, completing work, and building relationships in the business world is vastly different than the supernatural world. I’ve learned business tactics don’t translate well with God. Why? Because He doesn’t like constant check-ins to make sure He’s working. He’s God: He’s not a man that He should lie. Therefore, God will do what He said He will do (Numbers 23:19)! Even when it doesn’t look (or feel like) He’s working, He is—trust me!

Num.23.19 God is not human, that he should lie,
    not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
    Does he promise and not fulfill?

This key Scripture is a great reminder that God will complete His will (assignments). Another translation says God is actively watching over His Word so He can complete it. God’s not like a bothersome coworker that tells you s/he will get something completed and then drags his/her feet to get it done or has no idea as to the project status. The Lord’s watching, working, and moving things along more closely and perfectly than any of us could ever do (Philippians 1:6).

Phil.1.6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

The best part is that God will achieve His work according to His project timeline (Acts 1:7).

Acts1.7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

He’s never going to let a deadline pass or create a scramble-work emergency on our part to fill in the gaps. God’s literally got it all covered, and we don’t need to worry or do a thing. He will do what He’s planned, and He won’t delay fulfilling it (Ezekiel 12:28).

Ezek.12.28 “Therefore say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: None of my words will be delayed any longer; whatever I say will be fulfilled, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”

God’s really the best work-partner as He creates a stress-free working environment. When I get on my knees in prayer and send up those “knee-mails” I don’t need to set reminders for follow-ups. Once I pray a prayer, God will never lose track of it (Revelation 5:8). Realistically, once God answers our prayer, He’s the One reminding us that He’s answered them (it’s not the other way around)!

Rev.5.8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.

Let’s pray God helps us realize He’s actively watching and fulfilling His Word in our lives, our loved ones, and the church. We don’t need to (and can’t) micro-manage the Lord of glory who is the greatest project manager, organizer, and Way-Maker of all time. We serve a mighty God who hears us, sees our needs, and will fulfill them in His time—no email required.

 

July 14, 2019

Seven Days to Connect With Your Creator

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. – John 1:1 NASB

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I Am !”  – John 8:58 NLT

Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. – John 17:24 NRSV

We kicked off today with some verses from John’s gospel, but our focus for the day is on Genesis 1 and 2. I post many different types of articles for our Sunday Worship feature, but today’s is a guided 7-day study on creation. Your schedule may not permit you to do everything listed here, but consider the possibilities of engaging in this type of study.

This appeared at the blog of Air1, a multi-location Christian radio station in the United States. The author is Scott Savage. Use the link in the title below to click through to the site and then enjoy some additional articles.

God creates…

As we step away from the busy pace of our lives and step into a vacation this summer, many of us will spend time outdoors. Being present in creation can often lead us deeper into the presence of our Creator.

When you step into the beautiful world around us, do you ever think about reading the account of God’s creation activity in Genesis 1-2? Often, these chapters are reduced to the creation vs. evolution argument, which keeps us from experiencing the full value of these verses to teach us about God and ourselves.

Over the next seven days, we encourage you to take a few moments each day to do three things:

First, read a short passage of Scripture which describes one day in the creation account. Second, reflect on a single question or thought related to the passage at meal time with your family or a friend. Third, engage in a practice which broadens your understanding and appreciation of God’s handiwork in one particular way.

Day 1: God Creates Day and Night
Passage: Genesis 1:1-5

Reflection Prompt: “What was the best sunset or sunrise you’ve ever seen? Why was that particular one so meaningful for you?”

Practice: Instead of waking by your smart phone alarm clock and staying up late to the glow of your TV, take one day this week where you wake up and go to bed according to the sun.

Day 2: God Creates the Sky
Passage: Genesis 1:6-8

Reflection Prompt: “What are your favorite days – sunny without clouds, sunny with clouds, stormy, rainy or snowy? Why is that your favorite and why do you think God gave us that kind of day?”

Practice: On a day when there are great clouds in the sky, grab a blanket and head to a park where you can lay down and watch the clouds go by for 15-20 minutes. In the silence, reflect on the imagination of God to create each unique cloud.

Day 3: God Creates The Land and the Seas, Fruits and Vegetables
Passage: Genesis 1:9-13

Reflection Prompt: “God created plants and trees with the ability to reproduce via seeds. In your circle of influence, what have you seen the seeds of your life reproducing?”

Practice: If your health and dietary restriction allow for it, take one day this week and only eat fruits and vegetables. At each meal or snack, pause and thank God for creating food to sustain your body.

Day 4: God Creates the Sun, Moon, and Stars
Passage: Genesis 1:14-19

Reflection Prompt: “God created the sun, moon, and stars to govern days and seasons. What does it say about God’s nature and character that He created a world where it isn’t always day (or night)? Where it isn’t always summer (or winter)?”

Practice: Drive to a quiet place one night this week and spend at least 30 minutes in quiet reflection on the majesty and magnitude of God’s creation in the universe.

Day 5: God Creates Birds and Sea Creatures
Passage: Genesis 1:20-23

Reflection Prompt: “What’s your favorite animal and why?”

Practice: Pick a nature documentary to watch and reflect on the wonder of God’s creativity and imagination.

Day 6: God Creates Land Creatures and Humans
Passage: Genesis 1:24-31

Reflection Prompt: Genesis 1:28 says that we were created in the image of God. What does that term ‘image of God’ mean to you? Why is it significant.

Practice: Many of us battle insecurity and unhealthy thoughts about our bodies. Each morning this week, begin the day by standing in front of the mirror and read Genesis 1:27. Say out loud, “I was made in the image of God.”

Day 7: God Rests
Passage: Genesis 2:1-4

Reflection Prompt: “A pastor once said Scripture calls those who will not work lazy, but those who will not rest disobedient. Which is harder for you – getting motivated to work or being disciplined to rest?”

Practice: Experience Sabbath. Pick a day when you won’t go to work (or check email or talk about work) and instead fill your schedule with experiences which renew and refresh you. (For more on how 21st-century Christians can practice Sabbath, check out Mark Buchanan’s book, The Rest of God.)

 

July 13, 2019

God’s Answers Arrive God’s Way

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Mark.11.24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Rom.4.17b …the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.


Is.55.9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.


Read the full story on which today’s devotional is based at this link, of which the following is an excerpt.

Acts.12.5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.


The site Awakened to Grace, is a relatively recent find for us. The author of today’s piece again is Joy Bollinger. Please read this content at the original source by clicking the header below.

Unexpected Answers

Have you prayed for an answer, but the answer has not yet arrived? Will you recognize the answer when it comes?

The story of Peter’s supernatural rescue from prison gives us a glimpse into the heart of God and how His ways and thoughts are so much higher than our ways and thoughts. He answers prayer, but not always according to our timing and expectations.

We learn in Acts 12 that Peter was arrested and delivered to four squads of soldiers. Typically, a squad included eight soldiers. So, it took thirty-two soldiers to guard one non-violent man. Meanwhile, the Church was earnestly praying for Peter’s release.

Peter was bound with two chains and asleep between two soldiers with sentries posted at the door of the prison. An angel of the Lord stood next to Peter, struck him on the side, and woke him saying, “Get up quickly.” His chains fell off and the angel ordered him to dress, wrap a cloak around himself, and follow him past the two guards. As they approached an iron gate, it opened of its own accord and they went out along a street, and the angel left.

Peter quickly went to the house of Mary, the mother of John where they were all gathered together praying for Peter. When he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. She recognized Peter’s voice and instead of opening the door ran to tell the others that Peter was at the door. They responded, “You are out of your mind.” Despite her insistence that Peter was at the door, they argued, “It is his angel!” Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking on the door. When they finally opened the door, they were shocked to see him standing before them.

How often do we pray and either we do not fully expect our prayer to be answered, or we have our own ideas of how that prayer should be answered? So, when the answer comes, we, like those who prayed for Peter, fail to recognize it.

We have the blessed assurance that if we abide in Him and His Words abide in us, we can ask whatever we wish, and it will be done for us (John 15:7). God tells us that before we even call to Him, He will answer. While we are yet speaking, He will hear us (Isaiah 65:24). And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him (I John 5:14-15).

Jesus said, “…whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  For God calls into existence the things that do not exist (Mark 11:24; Romans 4:17).

BELIEF is the key to faith. To believe means to be convinced, to trust, and have total confidence in God. Paul had such great confidence in God that he was able to sleep peacefully, in chains, between two soldiers!

Like Peter, are you caught in a prison of circumstances that you have no control over?

If you have been praying and waiting, yet you have not seen an answer, keep believing and trusting God, so that when the answer arrives, you will recognize its appearing.

PRAYER: FATHER, Jesus said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Help me to trust and focus on You and not my circumstances. Prepare me to recognize and receive Your answer. Thank you for Your unwavering love and the fulfillment of Your promises. In Jesus’ name, amen.

July 12, 2019

God Is Not Playing Us

Today we return to Gary Henry at WordPoints. Pray for Gary as he deals with what he calls a “trifecta” of health problems right now. Click the title below to read at source:

God Has Never Trifled with Us

“. . . I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jeremiah 31:3).

WHEN WE SEEK GOD, WE CAN BE SURE THAT HE HAS ALWAYS BEEN SEEKING US, AND IT IS WITH DILIGENCE THAT HE HAS DONE SO.

Knowing of God’s earnestness toward us, we should turn toward Him with all the more gratitude and carefulness. “If God is diligent, surely we ought to be diligent in doing our duty to him. Think how patient and how diligent God has been with us!” (Oswald Chambers).

Lest there be any misunderstanding, it needs to be emphasized that we can never reciprocate God’s love in any way that would be complete or even adequate. Our best efforts to respond to God’s diligence are broken and marred. Even if we were sinless, as creatures we would still not be able to attend to our Creator in the same way that He attends to us. And having sinned, we surely cannot deserve the earnestness of the love He has shown to us. In one sense, all of our human deeds are trifles.

Yet the frailty of our condition should not keep us from doing what we can do, and that is to be moved by God’s love. We can choose to be responsive rather than unresponsive. We can hear His voice. We can answer His call. And knowing that God has never trifled with us ought to make us determine, out of sheer gratitude, to take Him seriously. Knowing what our atonement cost Him, how can we simply dabble in religion? Trifling with God is the most horrible form of ingratitude.

Words are interesting things, and we can often be enlightened by their history. Originally the word “trifle” meant trickery or deceit. To trifle was to say or do something that one did not really mean, pretending to be serious. Today the verb “trifle” means

(1) to deal with something as if it were of little significance or value,
(2) to speak or act with little seriousness or purpose, or
(3) to play or toy with something.

When we trifle with God, is there not a bit of the old meaning of the word in our actions? When we pretend to love Him dearly but give Him no more than our leftovers, is it some trick we are trying to play on God? Do we think He does not notice our lack of seriousness?

“God is earnest with you. Why are you not so with Him? Why trifle with God?” (Oswald Chambers).


Because that was shorter one, here’s a bonus article by the same author…


You’ll Have to Let Go

Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33).

TO FOLLOW JESUS IN THIS LIFE, WE MAY HAVE TO FORSAKE SOME THINGS, BUT TO FOLLOW HIM ALL THE WAY TO HEAVEN, WE’LL HAVE TO FORSAKE EVERYTHING.

Nothing is ours to keep. There is nothing — nothing — we won’t have to let go of, except God.

Most people would say the rich, wonderful love that can exist between a husband and a wife is the highest of the temporal blessings available to us. In the midst of enjoying a good marriage, most people would say, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” But without denigrating the joys of marriage, it must be said that marriage is earthly. It won’t be in heaven. It must be let go of.

I want to share with you one of the starkest statements that I have ever come across, considering who made it. This is James Dobson talking, the man who, for many folks, is the foremost family authority in America:

“Nothing is really important in [this] life, not even the relationships that blossom in a healthy home. In time, we must release our grip on everything we hold dear.”

I suggest that if James Dobson, a man who has devoted his life to the importance of the home, sees that marriage and family life are not “really important,” the rest of us had better sit up and take notice.

Most of us, I suppose, would say that we love the Lord more than anything else and that heaven is going to be better than anything we have here. But do you really believe that? Do you love God more than you love your spouse? Would you give up marriage for the Lord? Is the spiritual life better than sex? If the Lord gave you a choice between going to heaven right now and staying in the world with your grandchildren for ten more years, which would you choose? Now certainly, we may enjoy these things right now and then have the Lord in heaven later on. But even now, the Lord had better be more important to us than these things. And the main measure of whether we have a proper attitude toward temporal joys is how ready we are to let go of them. And I don’t mean “someday” — I mean today, if the need should arise.

What it comes down to is this: anything we can’t let go of is an idol that will destroy our souls, however good that thing may be.

“Learn to hold loosely all that is not eternal” (Agnes Maude Royden).

 

July 11, 2019

In a Precarious Position

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever felt a sense of desperation? Like you are having, not just a bad day, but a bad year, or even a rotten season of life? You will be able to relate to Ruth and Naomi, who at the beginning of Ruth, chapter two, are in a precarious position.

Naomi is a widow, who not only lost her husband and sons, but therefore also lost the rights to the family land. Ruth is a foreigner, and a Moabite at that! The Moabites did not a great reputation among the Israelites. Neither Naomi nor Ruth had a livelihood. These were desperate times for them.

Despite their precarious position, Ruth chapter two is all about hope. Where we can find hope when we are in a precarious position?

Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech. Ruth 2:1 (NLT)

This book is full of hints, and chapter two begins with one; though Naomi and Ruth are destitute, there is a rich man in the family! Now, back to poverty:

One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”
Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.”Ruth 2:2 (NLT)

Poverty was the reality for Naomi and Ruth. Picking up the leftovers from the harvesting was what the poor did in ancient Israel. In fact the Old Testament law instructed that leftovers ought to always be left over for the relief of the poor. We should also note the danger that Ruth is in. She planned on sticking close enough to the women labourers for the sake of safety.

So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech. Ruth 2:3 (NLT)

The keys words here are “as it happened.” Remember the well-off family member from verse 1? Ruth unknowingly just happened to pick his field.

Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you! ”
“The Lord bless you! ” they answered. Ruth 2:4 (NIV)

Remember that well-off family member from verse 1? He just happened to be drop by. Talk about Ruth being in the right place at the right time! But what kind of man is he? Is he kind, or blind to the needs of the poor? We will soon find out.

Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?”
 And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.”
 Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field.  See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.”
Ruth 2:5-9 (NLT)

As it turns out, Boaz is a kind man, a godly man. Talk about Ruth being in the right place, a the right time, with the right kind of person! Coincidence? No, the reader is to clue in that God is working unseen in the background on behalf of Ruth and Naomi. Despite their precarious position, there is hope!

God is working, unseen, in the background of your life in surprising ways. God is caring for you, even when you are not aware. 

Let us take a moment to see things from the perspective of Boaz. First, consider the blessing Boaz speaks over Ruth:

May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” Ruth 2:12 (NLT emphasis added)

Keep that in mind as we continue on with the story.

Ruth heads back to Naomi at the end of the day with a good haul of food, and the happy news that the owner of the field was a very kind man. Naomi asks for his name and upon hearing the name, Boaz, says,

“The Lord bless him! ” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers. ” Ruth 2:20 (NIV)

Here is another hint. Help will come! Boaz is not just a kind man, he is a ‘guardian-redeemer’ to Naomi, and therefore, Ruth. An NIV footnote describes the Hebrew word behind ‘guardian-redeemer’ as “a legal term for one who has the obligation to redeem a relative in serious difficulty.”

Talk about Ruth being in the right place, at the right time, with the right kind of man, with the right kind of relationship to her. He is one who has a potential obligation to help. In fact, he may have an obligation to marry Ruth in order to restore the land to the family. Let us skip ahead to the next chapter where Ruth carries out instructions from Naomi on how to approach Boaz with a marriage request.

 When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet!
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.” Ruth 3:7-9 (NIV)

Most translations focus in on a request to be covered by Boaz’s cloak. However, there is something profound about the Hebrew word that gets lost in translation. The English Standard Version brings out well that a word we have seen earlier is used again:

He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” Ruth 3:9 (ESV emphasis added)

Boaz spoke in verse 12 of Ruth seeking refuge under the wing of God, not knowing that Boaz himself would be asked to take Naomi and Ruth under his wing. God was working through Boaz on behalf of Ruth and Naomi. God may care for someone through us. You may be the person God uses to bring hope to someone in a desperate situation, you may become the answer to someone’s prayer for refuge.

There is something bigger hinted at here in Ruth, chapter 2. This is the first we hear of Boaz being a ‘guardian-redeemer,’ the one who can help family members in desperate situations. There is a desperate situation that we all face. We experience separation from God, an incredible loss of relationship with God due to sin. As Naomi had lost the rights to the land, land that was originally a gift from God, so we have lost our right to eternal life, life that was originally a gift from God. We need a redeemer, to restore what has been lost. There is a story of redemption in the Book of Ruth that hints at a bigger story of redemption. In the Book of Ruth we learn how God cared for Naomi and Ruth through Boaz. In the Bible, in its entirety, we learn how God cares for us through Christ. There is a redeemer, and his name is Jesus.

God cared for Ruth and Naomi. God cares for us. God cared for Ruth and Naomi through Boaz. God cares for others through us. God is our refuge when we find ourselves in a desperate and precarious situation. He is our redeemer.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario; a small(er) town about an hour east of Toronto, Canada whose writings appear at C201 most Thursdays. Read more here or at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

 

 

July 10, 2019

A Theology of Hospitality and Recovery

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

Several months back we introduced the devotional blog, Partners in Hope Today. You can also listen to today’s devotional.

I’d like to add something to the first paragraph below. It could easily be applied to introverts. I have a few of these in my family and I am only beginning to understand how that can limit some types of fellowship.

When you think about it, what other factors could limit someone’s approach to hospitality?

Click the header below to read at source.

Hospitality and Recovery

Some of us in recovery lack the quality of being hospitable.  We do not care to be around others.  We give our attention to our own needs and have forgotten, or perhaps never learned, the social skill of thoughtfulness towards others.  Our loving God created us to be in relationship with Him and with one another and we are out of sync with our humanness when we behave in other ways.

Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him.  He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. (Acts 17:26-27 MSG)

Although we may not vocalize it, some of us tend to think this way, “Why should God and others care about me when I really don’t care about them?”  However, we are made to be hospitable and care for one another.  Jesus gave us a commandment to love one another.  This is not a suggestion.  God knows what is best for us and He made us to live in community with one another.

This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you.  This is the very best way to love.  Put your life on the line for your friends.  (John 15:12-13 MSG)

Going to a recovery meeting for the first time can be intimidating, but if we are warmly greeted by others we will be encouraged to stay.  When attendees share their experience, strength, and hope with us, they are being hospitable, and desire that what they share will be of help to us.

Love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  (1 Peter 4:8-9 NIV)

Hospitality is the human way of caring for one another.  It begins with one person helping another to find their way out of the maze of self-centeredness.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Sometimes I want to hide from others because of the guilt I feel about my past life.  Help me to accept Your forgiveness and live in the dignity of being Your child.  Help me to put Your Word and Your ways into practice.  Help me to be hospitable as I share the experience, strength, and hope I experience in belonging to You.  Amen


Related articles:


Go Deeper: 21 Bible Passages on Hospitality.

July 9, 2019

With You There is Light

Today’s piece represents a return visit to the website ThinkTheology.org which contains a broad assortment of approaches to Biblical, theological and practical study. This one is by . Click the title below to read at source.

Life Sucks

Philippians 4:11-13 I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Yesterday morning at our church staff meeting, the senior pastor asked all of us how we’re all doing. I answered pretty honestly by saying that I’m doing okay, and he answered back, “You know? Life sucks right now.” It’s funny, in hindsight, because later that afternoon a FedEx came barreling through our parking lot and hit our church building’s awning. “Hit” might be a little euphemistic; the entire building shook when she hit the awning.

All of us in the building went out to see what had happened, and we see the driver panicking, looking at the damage to her vehicle and to the church building.

It was bad.

The funny thing is that we had literally fixed this awning a couple weeks ago because another delivery truck had ran into the awning (and then another hit it in the same day.) As I’m writing this, I can’t help but just laugh at the whole situation. I mean, it definitely sucks, but it’s okay. The company will take care of the damages, and we don’t need to really worry about it.

It’ll be taken care of.

It’s a little annoying, but it’ll be okay.

And I don’t want to sound too spiritual, but I definitely think it was God trying to catch all of our attentions. It’s so easy to stick to the script of the day, to do things as they’re supposed to be done, and it becomes somewhat monotonous. Sometimes God uses sucky things to jolt us, to draw attention to what God’s doing, and to remind us that it’s okay.

I’ve been in a long season of trying to find contentment. And if all of us are honest, we’re all trying to find that sweet spot of contentment. We’re constantly going through ups and downs, highs and lows, mountains and valleys, crests and troughs, and we’re trying to figure out how to be stable. In an attempt to remind myself of this, I’ve gotten this idea tattooed on my body, so that I can see it on a daily basis. Life goes up and down, and it sometimes sucks.

Those of you that have read my little posts may tire of my references to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but he’s a spiritual mentor of sorts. The more I read him, the more I appreciate him. The more I study his life, the more in awe I become. This was not a man that said and wrote pretty things. Bonhoeffer lived out his faith in the real world. The things that he said in the classroom, teaching young students, he then had to live it out as he suffered in prison. In a way, his writing and reading became practice as he lived out his faith, a journey from the head to the heart.

“In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
But You know the way for me.”

“Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man’s troubles;
You abide with me
When all men fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is Your will that I should know You
And turn to You.
Lord, I hear Your call and follow;
Help me.”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison.

Bonhoeffer was just like Paul in this regard. Paul wrote a beautiful letter to the church in Philippi, not as an abstract description of being content, but Paul was actually content because he had communion with Christ. Philippians 4:13 is an often quoted verse about our capability to endure hardship and do what needs to be done. But what it actually is saying is that we can only do things through Christ. It’s a lovely little preposition, isn’t it? It qualifies the sentence. And what I love is that this preposition, ἐν, can say more than just “through.” Bill Mounce defines it “spatially: in, inside, at, among, with; logically: by means of, with, because of; of time: during, while.”

It’s more than just a simple preposition.

It speaks to the kind of Savior Jesus is. He is able to do all things, and we are in him. Life is always going to suck, but we serve a Lord that has accomplished all things in life, and death, and he is our rock and salvation. We find contentment in all the messiness and craziness when we remember Christ. When we go through circumstances, maybe it’s God trying to get our attention.

Let life suck. Let it be an opportunity to abide in the loving arms of God.

July 8, 2019

Worry

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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For the past three days, pastor, author and evangelist Greg Laurie has been doing a series of devotions on worry at Harvest.org. Here are some excerpts with links to the individual pieces.

What Jesus Said about Worry

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.  Matthew 6:34

…There are so many things happening in our world today that could cause us to worry. The war on terrorism is far from over. There is a terrorist army that calls itself ISIS, the likes of which we have never seen before. Then there are rogue nations like North Korea and Iran arming themselves with nuclear capabilities.Then we have our personal problems too. There are problems with work . . . problems with our families . . . problems with our health.

How can we overcome fear and worry? The Bible has something to say about this. Jesus Himself addressed it in the Sermon on the Mount:

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:31–33 NKJV).

Believers should not worry. Jesus is not saying that Christians shouldn’t be concerned about the necessities of life. He is not saying that we shouldn’t think about them or plan for the future. The Bible encourages us to work hard, to save our money, and so forth. But what Jesus is saying is that we shouldn’t worry about these things.

Worry doesn’t make your life longer; it just makes it more miserable.

Pray and Let God Worry

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?  Matthew 6:27

Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount in the region of Galilee, where all around Him were birds chirping away and beautiful wildflowers growing. He drew on that backdrop to make a point:

“Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Matthew 6:26–27).

In other words, look at what is before your eyes. Have you ever seen a stressed-out bird? Birds wake up every morning and sing away. They’re simply happy. No bird has ever been promised eternal life. No bird has ever been given the hope of Heaven. Yet they sing away, every day. Jesus wasn’t saying that birds sit by idly and wait for the food to come to them. They take action.

I like what Martin Luther said: “Pray and let God worry.” That is really the secret. Philippians 4:6–7 says,

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

The next time you are gripped by fear and worry, the next time you start thinking, “What if this happens? What if that happens?” turn it into a prayer. Look to the Lord and let Him give you His peace.

The Secret to a Worry-Free Life

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:33

There are many things you can seek to live for in life. You can live for a lot of things. You can live for your physical appearance. You can live for a successful career. You can live for pleasure. But here is what Jesus said:

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33 NLT).

With those words, Jesus gave us the secret to living a worry-free life: Instead of worry, put God and His will first in your life. Among a number of options, put God in the number one position.

Let’s take your career for example. Is your career choice, your line of work, really for God’s glory? Are you seeking Him first in what you’re doing?

You might say, “Greg, you’re a pastor. It’s easy for you to seek God first. I work in the real world with real people.”

I understand. But here is what your goal should be: to honor God in everything you do. Here is what you need to ask yourself: “As I’m doing this thing, what is my goal?” If your goal is just to make money no matter what it takes, you have the wrong goal. Your goal should be to honor God, give honest work, and have personal integrity and a good testimony in the workplace.

When the day is done, you want to have a good name and a good reputation. Proverbs 22:1 says,

“Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold” (NLT).

Seek first the kingdom of God. If you want a life free of worry, anxiety, and fear, then put God’s kingdom before everything else. Seek Him first, and He will take care of you.

 

 

July 7, 2019

Worshiping God vs. Worshiping Government

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Last Sunday, my wife, myself, and each of our two sons were at four different worship services; four different churches. Though the following day was Canada Day, the national anthem was not sung at any of them this year, which is especially interesting when you consider that the Canadian national anthem is a prayer. (“God keep our land, glorious and free…”)

In the U.S., where statistically, most of the people will be reading this, it’s highly probable that your Sunday morning worship service contained some mention of the 4th of July or some other element involving nation, government, the President, etc. You probably have a U.S. flag at the front of your worship space. I’m not here to say whether that’s right or wrong, it simply is.

So this week I was especially struck by this verse:

“So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours”
~ 1 Corinthians 3:21

I might be reading something into the verse that readers even a few decades ago would not recognize. Still, let’s look at the larger principles.

At the web forum ebible.com the answer given juxtaposes different spiritual leaders; not the conflict between spiritual and civic/federal leaders:

This is not an easy passage to understand simply by looking at v. 21 alone. We need to look at the context of Paul’s argument and how “all things are yours” fit in it.

The larger context is Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthian church’s division between those who claim to follow Paul or Apollos (v. 4-6). This is natural considering the prominent roles both men play in the life of the Corinthian church. Paul uses the building analogy, more specifically temple, to remind the believers that the foundation is Christ and they are the temple. Paul reminds them of the futility of the worldly wisdom in v. 18 and the foolishness of men’s wisdom since the division is the result of boasting on certain man’s wisdom. So Paul writes, “Let no one boast in men.” The underlying reason is “All things are yours.” Starting with teachers, Paul, Apollos, and Cephas. They are “yours.” They are in the ministry to help the believers to grow in Christ. The believers do not belong to these teachers but rather they do. Paul then goes on to include everything in all sense (world, life, death, present and future) ringing with the truths in Romans 8 where all things work together for our good. The crux of the argument is that all these are ours because we belong to Christ who belongs to the Father. All this to say, therefore, there is no boasting anything but in Christ with whom we are co-heirs. Their ownership of everything should quiet all boasting based on to whom they owe their allegiance.

At VerseByVerseCommentary.com, the emphasis is the similar, but could be read in terms of different people in the same congregation having different opinions politically. (But of course that would never happen, would it?)

No Christian should put ultimate truth in the authority of man. This always causes divisions in the local church. All of God’s revelation is at our disposal so why should we get caught up in the wisdom of men?

Human wisdom is not permanent but temporal. There are two essential approaches to truth today: the natural and the supernatural. The one believes that all that one can know is bound within nature; the other believes that there is a God and that He has spoken. The person who believes that the natural is all that there is can never come to an ultimate certainty about anything, for he has delimited himself to finiteness. The believer who knows this can claim his status and assets to live the Christian life.

At Ellicott’s Bible Commentary at BibleHub.com, the emphasis is also on the danger of following spiritual teacher “A” or spiritual teacher “B”, but again, look at the language used in the first sentence:

Let party-spirit cease. Do not degrade yourselves by calling yourselves after the names of any man, for everything is yours—then teachers only exist for you. The enthusiasm of the Apostle, as he speaks of the privileges of Christians, leads him on beyond the bare assertion necessary to the logical conclusion of the argument, and enlarging the idea he dwells, in a few brief and impressive utterances, on the limitless possessions—in life and in death, in the present life and that which is future—which belong to those who are united with Christ. But they must remember that all this is theirs because they “are Christ’s.” They are possessors because possessed by Him.

Matthew Henry’s commentary on this passage, at Christianity.com, shows a different emphasis.

All this should teach us to be humble, and make us willing to be taught of God, so as not to be led away, by pretenses to human wisdom and skill, from the simple truths revealed by Christ. Mankind are very apt to oppose the design of the mercies of God.

But where Henry expresses the key in terms of humility, the Reformation Study Bible at BibleGateway.com looks at the phrase “all things are yours” in terms of jealousy:

This principle demonstrates the pettiness and absurdity of the Corinthians’ quarreling. If we belong to Christ, then because of Him all things belong to us (Rom. 8:17, 38, 39; Heb. 1:2), and jealousy can have no place in our lives.

Conclusion

Commentators over the years have found different applications in this verse, even looking contextually at the larger passage.

  • worldly vs. human wisdom
  • quarreling vs. peace
  • unity vs. division
  • identification with a “party” vs. identification “in Christ”
  • humility vs. reliance on human skills and abilities

They could not have anticipated political discussions and divisions in the church lobby, or coming from the pulpit. Those writers could not have anticipated the climate of our day, especially in the United States, where political opinion overshadows everything including our fellowship at church.

Is it time for a spiritual reset in our local churches and denominations in terms of how everything is polarized and everything is either black or white?

 

 

July 6, 2019

A Personal Study and Service Outline on Favoritism

A year ago we introduced you to a site containing liturgical readings with an unusual name, The Peanut Gallery. Art Chartier is a retired pastor who lives in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Although we usually post at 5:30 PM, EST, I know many of you read this in the morning, for which it was written.

You are strongly encouraged to read the posts here at C201 on their original sites. For this, click the header below.

James 2:1-13 ~ Faith and Favoritism

Saturday Morning

+ In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Opening:  (A Collect for Sabbath Rest – Saturday)

Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and set aside a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared to meet you in worship, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
__________

Reading from the Book of James 2:1-13 (NLT)

A Warning against Prejudice

My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.

For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. For the same God who said, “You must not commit adultery,” also said, “You must not murder.” So if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law.

So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.
__________

Morning Reflection:

Faith and Favoritism

My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ
if you favor some people over others?

–  James 2:1 –

In today’s reading, James comes right to the point: Showing personal favoritism is inconsistent for Christians who worship the glorious Lord Jesus Christ. The example offered is preferential seating of the rich and powerful at Christian gatherings.

In regard to the poor:

+ God has chosen the believing poor to be rich in faith.
+ The believing poor will inherit the Kingdom of God.

In regard to the rich:

+ The unbelieving rich oppress the poor.
+ The unbelieving rich slander Jesus Christ.

The problem of showing favoritism in Christian assemblies is that it treats people exactly opposite to the way God treats them.

Questions for consideration:

  • Can you think of examples where the rich and powerful have been given preferential treatment at Christian gatherings? Please explain.
  • Can you think of examples of people who expect preferential treatment at Christian assemblies? Please explain.
  • Does focusing a church’s ministry on one segment of the population, e.g. youth, or community leaders, amount to showing them preferential treatment? Please explain.
  • Can you think of people in your Christian assembly who are marginalized, e.g. poor, sick, or elderly? How can you show them courtesy and compassion? Please explain.

__________

Morning Prayer:

Prayer for the Poor and Powerless:

Heavenly Father: We pray especially today for the poor and powerless whom you hold close to your heart. Open our hearts to receive them as you do – rich in faith, though poor in worldly status. Fill us with compassion for the very young, the old, the disabled, the stranger – that we might honor them with our friendship and express our concern for them with acts of kindness and love. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

__________

“All the Poor and Powerless” – All Sons & Daughters

__________

Closing:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever He may send you. May He guide you through the wilderness, and protect you through the storm. May He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you. May He bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors.

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

July 5, 2019

Was Jesus Caucasian?

NIV.Gal.3.8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”

I thought we’d end the work week with a topic which may seem trivial to many of you, but often arises unforseen in discussions. This is one of many interesting topics at GotQuestions.org. and I try to highlight them here every six months. This is a great site to know about if you’ve… got questions. Here’s a link to their archive page which categorizes their different topics covered. Click the header below to read this one at source.

Was Jesus White?

In much of Western art, Jesus is portrayed as having white skin and light hair. Is that what Jesus really looked like? If not, why is He so often portrayed that way?

First, it is important to remember that the Bible nowhere gives a physical description of Jesus. The Bible does not say anything about Jesus’ height, weight, skin color, hair color, or eye color. Such things are not important to understanding who Jesus is. The closest the Bible comes to describing what Jesus looked like is a non-detailed sketch of what Jesus was not like in Isaiah 53:2: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (ESV). Essentially, Isaiah 53:2 is saying that Jesus was ordinary-looking. The description of the glorified Jesus having white hair and bronze skin in Revelation 1:14–15 should not be understood literally unless you also believe Jesus has seven stars in his right hand, a sword in His mouth, and a face as bright as the sun (Revelation 1:16).

According to the Bible, Jesus was a Jew, a.k.a., a Hebrew or Israelite. Jesus lived in the Middle East and was of Semitic descent. As a result, He very likely would have had light- to medium-brown skin, brown eyes, and dark-brown to black hair. While Middle Easterners occasionally have light skin, comparable to that of Europeans, such skin tones are rare in that part of the world. Was Jesus white? The answer is that He was very likely not white.

So, if Jesus likely was not white, why is He so often portrayed that way? If you examine artists’ portrayals of Jesus from around the world, you find that they often portray Jesus in a way similar to what people look like in that particular culture. Europeans portray Jesus as a European. Africans paint Jesus as an African. Asians illustrate Jesus in a way that makes Him look Asian. People prefer to picture Jesus as looking somewhat like them, or at least like people they are familiar with.

Is it wrong to do this? Not necessarily. As long as we do not allow our preferred image of Jesus to become an idol, there is nothing in the Bible that speaks against imagining Jesus looking a certain way. Jesus is the Savior for “all nations” (Matthew 28:19; Galatians 3:8). No matter a person’s skin color, race, ethnicity, or nationality, he or she can experience forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God through the crucified and risen Christ. The love of Jesus transcends skin color. Having no physical description of Jesus, people naturally imagine the Son of Man to be like themselves.

So, we should not be dogmatic in our preferred image of Jesus. The fact that the Bible nowhere gives a physical description should serve as a caution against arrogance and presumption on this subject. What Jesus looked like does not really matter. His physical appearance has absolutely nothing to do with His being the Savior of the world (John 3:16).

Please also read our article on “Was Jesus black?
 

July 4, 2019

A Bitter Beginning, A Bitter Woman: Senseless Suffering and the Book of Ruth

  • Listen to the 34-minute sermon on which this devotional is based at this link.

by Clarke Dixon

19 So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked.
20 “Don’t call me Naomi, [which means ‘pleasant’]” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara [which means ‘bitter’], for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” Ruth 1:19-21 (NLT)

The Book of Ruth begins horribly. Naomi and their family flee their homeland to escape famine. Then Naomi’s husband and children died. Naomi’s story begins with grief upon grief. It may have helped Naomi if there were some reason for the deaths. A chain-smoking husband, a dedicated older son dying in the line of duty, a reckless younger son dying in a motorcycle accident. Naomi might then have at least made some sense of their deaths. She could connect the dots. However, there is no reason Naomi can give. All she can say is “the Lord caused me to suffer.” The dots cannot be connected. This is senseless suffering.

Perhaps you have experienced loss and grief that cannot be explained. Perhaps you have experienced senseless suffering yourself, or watched a loved one go through it. The Book of Ruth can help.

Notice first, that in the Book of Ruth, no effort is made to explain Naomi’s suffering.

The townspeople make no attempt to make sense of her loss. There are no platitudes. The writer of the book offers no theological insights at this point. We may need to the resist the desire to explain away senseless suffering.

This is true when we see others suffering. Job’s friends could not resist explaining why Job was suffering. After pages and pages of argument, we eventually discover that they were wrong. Words and arguments can lead, not to a healed heart, but to a hurting head. Our presence can be of greater comfort to someone living though senseless suffering than our words. We may need to accept that our suffering makes no sense, and may never do so.

Notice second, that Naomi holds nothing back in her lament.

Let us read it again:

20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” Ruth 1:20-21 (NLT)

Naomi is honest in her assessment of God. She may not be correct, but she is honest. She may not be in touch with good theology, but she is in touch with her feelings. There is no effort to correct her assessment of God, or her theology. The writer of the book sees no need to defend God at this point. There is no explanation of the fallenness of humanity, the corresponding fallenness of creation, and that sometimes bad things happen. God’s goodness will be seen later, but for now, God gets the blame. For now, Naomi expresses how she really feels. We do well to make space for honest sharing. We do well to be honest in our sharing, and in our prayers. Sometimes it is best to sit with someone in their emotions, than try to correct their thinking. Sometimes we need the space to lament and experience the depths of our souls, even when our heads can’t figure it all out.

Notice third, that suffering is at the beginning of Naomi’s story.

Let us jump to the end of the book to see how it turns out:

14 Then the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. 15 May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!” 16 Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own. 17 The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David. Ruth 4:14-17 (NLT)

In the book of Ruth, suffering is at the beginning of Naomi’s story. There are better days ahead. We can put suffering and loss at the beginning of a new chapter in our lives, rather than the end of our stories. Better days are ahead. When we think of suffering and loss as “where we have ended up,” we can get stuck. Our lives become for us a road that has led to tragedy. When we think of suffering as the beginning of a new chapter of our lives, we put ourselves on a road which includes tragedy, but does not end there. Tragedy is part of our experience, but is not our destination.

Putting suffering at the beginning is something we can do as Christians, because all suffering, indeed your entire life, is the beginning chapter of a really long book:

18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. Romans 8:18 (NLT)

Sometimes we need to jump to the end to see how it all turns out. In Christ and by the grace of God, in being reconciled to God, it turns out well.

Notice fourth, that baby steps are taken.

Naomi returns home. Ruth, in a beautiful step of commitment and care, goes with her. There is connection. If we read ahead into chapters two and three, we will find Ruth doing what the poor people of the land did in that time and place. She followed along the reapers and gleaned the leftovers. There is connection, and there is survival. Naomi and Ruth take steps to make life work. When faced with senseless suffering, we can take the next step. We can take the next best step, however small a step that might be. We can turn the page. We can get further into this new chapter. Is there a step you need to take today?

The Book of Ruth begins with horrible and senseless suffering for Naomi and her daughter-in-laws. If you are a human being, chances are good that senseless suffering will happen in your life at some point. When it does, don’t dwell on explanations, make, or take space for honest sharing, put the suffering at the beginning a new chapter, and turn the page, taking your next best step into the future. With God, whom we may blame for the time being, the story will go on.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario; a small(er) town about an hour east of Toronto, Canada whose writings appear at C201 most Thursdays. Read more here or at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

July 3, 2019

Paul’s Noble List of Qualities and Characteristics

The Voice.I Cor.6.9-10 Do you need reminding that the unjust have no share in the blessings of the kingdom of God? Do not be misled. A lot of people stand to inherit nothing of God’s coming kingdom, including those whose lives are defined by sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, sexual deviancy, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander, and swindling. 11 Some of you used to live in these ways, but you are different now; you have been washed clean, set apart, restored, and set on the right path in the name of the Lord Jesus, the Anointed, by the Spirit of our living God.

The Voice.Gal.5.19 It’s clear that our flesh entices us into practicing some of its most heinous acts: participating in corrupt sexual relationships, impurity, unbridled lust, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, arguing, jealousy, anger, selfishness, contentiousness, division, 21 envy of others’ good fortune, drunkenness, drunken revelry, and other shameful vices that plague humankind. I told you this clearly before, and I only tell you again so there is no room for confusion: those who give in to these ways will not inherit the kingdom of God.

This article has been shortened from its original form at the blog Jesus Unboxed, which we’re featuring here for the second time. Rev. David Eck is the pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, Fairview, North Carolina, and Chaplain PRN at Mission Hospital, Asheville, North Carolina. You are strongly encouraged to click the header below and read the article in its entirety.

Fruits of the Spirit

…Paul says that those of us who exhibit these behaviors [in the above verses] “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This is a sobering statement, indeed… So, what’s a poor sinner to do? What’s a hostile, argumentative, jealous, angry, fractured world to do?

Thankfully, St.Paul does not leave us hanging. He gives us a list of fruits, of qualities those who wish to be citizens of the kingdom of God, ought to possess. This is one of the most beautiful lists in all of scripture. It’s right up there with Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthains 13. It’s right up there with Jesus’ dual commands to love God, and love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves…

First of all, if we’re going to contribute to the healing of the world instead of it’s destruction, LOVE is at the top of the list. But this kind of LOVE is not mushy or sentimental. It is not camouflage for lustful intentions. This kind of LOVE is described in 1 Corinthians 13 as “patient and kind. It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude…

Next on the list is JOY which begs us to answer the question: “When was the last time you truly felt JOY in your life?” Some of us might find it hard to recall a time when we felt pure joy. And this is a sad state of affairs. JOY is an essential part of life. If we have no joy, it’s easy to slip into all the awful behaviors I read to you at the beginning of the sermon.

     Psalm 30 reminds us that “Weeping may linger for the night, but JOY comes with the morning.” In other words, sorrow should not last forever, Just in case we think this notion is an isolated incident in Scripture, Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.  [Ecc 3:4] …

Third on the list is PEACE. People pay good money to have PEACE in their lives. They take classes on meditation, yoga, and how to live a healthier lifestyle. They go on retreats in nature, to escape the stresses of day to day living.

PEACE is a precious commodity that, to be honest, is hard to obtain if you’re poor, if you’re trangendered, if you’re hungry and homeless. Peace is hard to obtain if you live in a place where war and violence are an every day occurrence.

If we have the first three present in our lives it’s easier to exhibit the rest.

Starting with PATIENT ENDURANCE, which the NRSV translates as simply “patience.” However, I think PATIENT ENDURANCE is closer to the truth. Patience is a lot tougher than some of us think. I scream inside when the person in front of me is driving too slow, or is ringing up 20 items in a “10 items or less line” at the grocery store. I would not consider myself to be a patient person. It is an endurance test for me because my natural instinct is to be less than patient. That being said, if I have enough love, joy and peace in my life, it makes it a lot easier to keep the screaming inside of my head instead of letting it spill out all over the place. This is the fruit I think I need to work on the most! I suspect some of you feel the same way as I do!

Then there’s KINDNESS which is something that takes little effort on our part. Yet, it’s something that in danger of becoming instinct in a world where mortal outrage is the default button when it comes to speaking with other people. Perhaps, we can set a goal of doing one kind thing for someone every day. Surely, we can pull this off.

GENEROSITY is next on the list. I believe we are generous when we are thankful for the blessings we already have in life. We are generous when we see that there are those around us who have far, far less than we do. We are generous when we are content with who we are and where we are in life.

FAITHFULNESS is a beautiful fruit of the Spirit. I don’t know if its the Ares in me or not, but I’m faithful to those who are faithful to me. It is a sacred, protective instinct. Perhaps you possess this fruit of the Spirit as well.

That being said, the good news is that God is more faithful to us, than we are to God. The aspect of FAITHFULNESS we all need to work on is when people disappoint or betray us. When they ask us for forgiveness, can we be faithful enough to them to accept it?

GENTLENESS goes hand in hand with kindness. I don’t believe we can have one without the other. If we are kind to others, we do so with gentleness. If we are gentle with others, we are being kind to them.

Then, the list comes to a screeching halt when we arrive at SELF-CONTROL. It’s not as glamorous as love, peace and joy, but we cannot grow any of these fruits in our lives if we do not possess a certain amount of self-control. Self-control keeps us from doing all the things I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon. Self-control is that little voice inside our head that quietly tell us, “You know, I don’t think you should be doing that. I don’t think you should be saying that.”

Perhaps Paul got the order wrong because if we exercise self-control we are more likely to grow love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and gentleness in our lives. We are more likely to avoid some of the negative behaviors I mentioned such as hostility, arguments, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, and envy.

My dear friends, the challenge is set before us. Paul has given us a noble list of qualities and characteristics we should try to grow in our lives. If we want our world to be a better place. If we want our nation to heal its divides, these nine fruits of the Spirit seem like a fine place to start. AMEN.

July 2, 2019

Eternal Salvation Comes Through the Fullness of God’s Grace

by Russell Young

God’s grace is any act of his goodness or graciousness to humankind, especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude. It can be provision of a comfort as the Lord’s provision of the plant provided to shelter Jonah from the sun’s heat or the bread provided to Elijah by the ravens, and it can be implicit in the attainment of his eternal kingdom. His grace was seen many times in the life of the Israelites on the Exodus. The waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan were parted so they could cross on dry ground, their shoes and clothing didn’t wear out, they were provided with manna and even water from a rock. His grace was evidenced in the miraculous acts of Jesus and by his sacrificial offering on the cross for the justification of a sinful people. The provision of the Holy Spirit and of the Word that informs men of God, of his plans, and of the means of salvation are acts of grace. Any blessing of God’s goodness expressed in the life of a person is an act of grace.

When the Word says that people are saved by grace, it is presenting that God’s goodness and graciousness as expressed in the lives of people delivers them from a danger that would have brought destruction. When addressing God’s grace, it is important to identify the act that has met a particular need. What is the act and what is the outcome?

“Work” is the opposite of grace. Work is human centered and is often a person’s effort to please a holy God. The Israelites had been required to honor God through keeping the covenant law. When it is reported that salvation is by the grace of God, it means that a person’s deliverance is achieved by the God’s merciful and gracious intervention in that person’s life so that he or she can avoid danger and loss. His grace for eternal salvation is not necessarily specific to a single act but through the fullness of his provision or through many acts. In fact, a person’s eternal salvation is not accomplished by a single act of the Lord, but by the fullness of his love and mercy and that over time.

  1. The Lord’s visitation to humankind, the incarnation of God in the form of a human being, to reveal God and to appreciate the trials of the flesh were by their gracious provision.
  2. The Lord’s sacrificial death in the place of people so that they could be justified and redeemed from their death penalty and provided a better hope through the New Covenant were acts of grace.
  3. The Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit so that the sinful nature that brings death could be defeated is an act of grace.
  4. The life of Christ as Spirit to enlighten, lead, and empower for righteous living is an act of grace.
  5. The Lord’s mediation of his own blood in the role of High Priest for the forgiveness of sins is also an act of grace

Salvation is by God’s grace and it must not be considered otherwise; however, it is not achieved by a single act of his goodness. The real need of people is to be conformed to the likeness of the Son of God becoming an offering acceptable to him (Rom 15:16) and should not be limited to the forgiveness of sin in the believer’s life. The Lord’s gracious ministry and intervention in the life of believers is extravagant and goes well beyond his death on the cross. His grace and love are much more expansive.

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11−14) In this reference the grace of God is our teacher.

On leaving Ephesus, Paul committed the elders to God and to the word of his grace, which could build them up and give them an inheritance among those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32) The word of his righteous requirements was to “build them up” so that they could become “sanctified” and participate in the inheritance of the sanctified. These were the “elders.” They had made a confession of faith; however, the sacrificial offering of Christ was not enough to meet the fullness of their requirements because they still had to be built up by working out their own salvation through the sanctification that comes by the word and the Spirit. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.” (Rom 14:17−18)

The opportunity for salvation has appeared to all peoples. The grace of God that brings salvation teaches them to live properly. God’s grace comes through the Word, which is Christ himself (Rev 19:13), who has revealed God and the words of salvation, and it requires the Holy Spirit who brings God’s words to remembrance as well as empowering the obedient to live righteously, to be sanctified. The fullness of God’s grace needs to be appreciated and honored.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His first book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link

July 1, 2019

Keep Busy and Know that He Is God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In the last 12 months, I’ve noticed a spike in interest in giftware products containing Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God;” along with many people commenting on the deeper context of the verse and how all these “trendy scriptures” (such as “For I know the plans…) are taken out of context.

Still, (pun intended) there is value in stillness. One of my favorites is Isaiah 30:15b

…“Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength…” (NLT)

So why the title of today’s post?

July 1st is Canada Day and in the U.S., July 4th is… well, it’s better known simply as “The 4th of July.” (Independence Day to be precise.)

Many times people feel very lonely and even severely depressed on holidays, especially when they (a) have no one to share the time with and (b) they don’t have the distractions of their job.

If you are single and you think marriage is the cure for this, think again. For many years, my wife and I would have said that we currently do not have any other couple that we, as the kids would say, hang with.

Being in a crowd doesn’t help. Many times it simply reinforces the detachment or loneliness that some experience. Holidays simply aggravate this current state of social affairs, and as I type this, we’re actually dealing with another byproduct of having no one we call on to help with a particular need.

The Psalmist understood this; Psalm 73: 25 says

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

Some might argue that the key to this verse is “in heaven;” that Asaph is comparing the God of Israel to other gods. But I believe he is also contrasting “friends on earth” to having a “friend in heaven.”

A similar passage is in John 6:68, when Jesus has asked the disciples if they wish to leave

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Cynics would say that Peter is simply saying he has no other options, almost implying that he might leave if something better came along.

But time will prove the prophetic nature of his statement. Jesus remains faithful to Peter even when Peter doesn’t remain faithful to Jesus. Peter messes up but Jesus restores him. Truly, this is a friend who stays closer than a brother.

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. – Proverbs 18:2

Typically, people have seen a Christological element in this verse; that the friend described is the Son of God Incarnate, now seated at the right hand of God.

That’s the kind of companion you have in Christ, even on a holiday when waves of depression roll in.

So again the title of today’s post…

…I believe that times of loneliness and depression are best defeated by engagement in activity. That hand-in-hand with Christ we can avoid the over-intensive introspection that comes with idleness and the temptations that often accompany solitude.

Mental health issues are not to be taken lightly. Sometimes medical intervention is necessary in cases of depression. But the ‘holiday depression’ described here is something I believe we can remedy through a change of attitude and by getting out into the community — and away from our computer screens (ironic here I realize) — still knowing that He is God.

Have a blessed Canada Day, 4th of July, or whatever holidays present themselves where you live.
 

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