Christianity 201

October 5, 2015

An All or Nothing Commitment

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Matthew 8:18-22 (NIV)

18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Today’s devotional appeared a few days ago at Episcopal Café; click the title below to read at source — we join this in progress — and look around the site.

Speaking to the Soul: An All or Nothing World

by Linda Ryan

…Laurie Gudim, a friend and one of my co-mentors,  posted on our discussion board about learning new things about the culture and times of the New Testament, such as that there was no middle class in Palestine at the time of Jesus. The rich young man who wanted to follow Jesus but would have to give up everything was told to do a very traumatic thing. Laurie commented, “…I’ve always kind of thought poorly of him. But what if he was looking at was a poverty so severe it might have killed him?”* That got me thinking.

The story in Matthew is a bit more abbreviated and had a young man wanting to go bury his father. Both stories involved giving up something important. For a son not to bury a father was a sign of ultimate disrespect and rejection; to give up one’s wealth threatened his life, his well-being, his position, even potentially his family. Remember– there was no middle class. It was all or nothing.

Imagine an all or nothing world. People either had more than they needed but never as much is they wanted, or they struggled every day just to provide the absolute necessities for themselves and their family. The rich young man was told to give up everything he had ever known, including the security he had always had, in order to follow Jesus. The same with the man in today’s reading; not burying his father and coming to follow Jesus would have meant giving up absolutely everything he had ever known in the hope of finding something better. I have a feeling that most of us would probably fail that same test if it were given to us directly by Jesus standing in front of us. It’s easier to do it at a distance.

It makes us able to ignore poverty around us and to think that somebody else will take care of the problem. In the world of Jesus, that just doesn’t fly. We have a middle class, a place where people are comfortable but not rich, and where their basic needs and a bit more are met. There are many who have never really experienced what it means to truly be in want, or, in a better word, need. It’s one thing to want a BMW two-seater convertible and only receive a sedan than it is to want to provide needed extensive medical care for a loved one and not be able to do it. It isn’t unheard of in our world to have some catastrophe rob us of just about everything we had and knew; thirty seconds or so in the path of a tornado does that. If we’re lucky and have good insurance, we can come back from the disaster, but our lives are forever changed.

It occurs to me that Jesus made that a condition of following him, not just giving things up but using them to help others as a test of faith and of desire. It is like a person standing on the high diving platform and looking down at the water below, realizing there was an awful lot of space between the two and where there was no changing their mind about what was going to happen next. The person has the choice of either turning back and going down the ladder or taking the plunge and launching themselves into the air, hoping that they enter the water painlessly and not flat on either belly or back. Life puts us on that platform every day, and we have to choose which way to go.

Jesus’ message is not that it is necessary to live in abject poverty or live the itinerant life that he and his disciples did. It is to choose what and why it is truly important. That is not to say that some who are wealthy are not good Christians because they have more than perhaps they actually need. Many of these share generously and willingly to those who are less fortunate. There are some who have just what they need but still choose to share to help others. There are some impoverished who perhaps cannot give from the treasure they don’t really possess but who give generously of their time and talent to help others. It is a form of trickle down economics and service, and if more people contributed, more would benefit. But there is always the dead father to bury or the security to be maintained that gets in the way.

We are not all called to be a Mother Theresa or Francis of Assisi. We see the good that they have done and we admire those who follow them closely enough to try live the lives they did. Still, we are called to follow Jesus, and that means to take risks and to lose the fear of life without total comfort and total security. We are called to help others to find lives with more comfort and more security. Giving away some of our own does not mean we are in want, it means that we want others to have what we have. In a way, it’s the same as what the early Christians demonstrated to outsiders. The outsiders saw the love the Christians had for each other and wanted some of that love. It’s really that simple.

But the only problem was simplicity is that sometimes it is too simple. It asks us to take a small risk that can point to a large one, but we’re not even comfortable taking the small one. I know I am.

What would it take to get me past the fear? That’s something I’m going to have to think about for a while. Perhaps I can start with the love part — even if that may be among the hardest things to do.

October 4, 2015

The Certainty of a Conditional Promise: If We _____, Then God Will _____.

Just a few weeks ago we looked at this verse:

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.
 2 Corinthians 1:20 NLT

Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete. (same verse + 21 and 22, The Message)

Years ago churches would sing a hymn titled Standing On The Promises. (If you’re above a certain age, you’ll remember it like this.) The second verse begins with our trust in the promises themselves:

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
by the living Word of God I shall prevail,
standing on the promises of God.

The fourth verse begins with what that says for us in our Christian pilgrimage:

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
listening every moment to the Spirit’s call,
resting in my Savior as my all in all,
standing on the promises of God.

The promises themselves are sure and trustworthy, and by them — if I live out any conditions set forth — I am assured of spiritual victory. The Reformation Study Bible* is consistent with this interpretation:

Christ fulfills all the promises of God to us, and all our confidence in God’s promises must come from our trust in Jesus Christ as a person whom we know and can rely on.

The Dictionary of Bible Themes* has a long section about “Divine Promises” which begins:

The promises of God reveal his particular and eternal purposes to which he is unchangeably committed and upon which believers can totally depend. These promises are, however, conditional upon obedience on the part of believers.

God’s promises are irrevocable

He is absolutely trustworthy Nu 23:19 See also Tit 1:2; Heb 6:13-18

He is unchanging Ps 110:4; Mal 3:6-7; Jas 1:17-18

He has the power and will to fulfill his promises Isa 55:11 See also Ro 4:21

He is faithful in keeping all his promises Jos 21:45; Jos 23:14-15; 1Ki 8:56; Ps 145:13; Heb 10:23

His promises stem from his goodness and glory 2Pe 1:3-4

God may confirm his promises with an oath Ge 22:15-18 See also Ge 26:3; Isa 45:23; Am 6:8; Am 8:7

But what is meant by “yes and amen?” At the blog The River Walk we read the following:

2 Corinthians 1:20 (Yes And Amen)

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

Read: Job 23:1 – 27:23, 2 Corinthians 1:12 – 2:11, Psalm 41:1-13, Proverbs 22:5-6

[all of the listed passages appear at the above link]

Relate: Depending on who is counting there is roughly three thousand to thirty-five hundred promises made by God in the Bible. Granted, many of them are situational, person specific, and time limited, but that is a minority. Even if more than half were to fall into one of these categories, we have well over a thousand remaining. A significant number of God’s promises are “If… then…” promises. For example, IF we keep our mind focused on Him THEN God has promised to give us perfect peace. (Isaiah 26:3) Some might complain that all of these are conditional. Well duh. I for one am glad. I wouldn’t want to be living in perfect peace if my mind keeps wandering off in sinful directions. I would rather have a divine discontent that would force me to repent.

Even with these conditional promises, it is important to remember that all scripture, especially the Word of God, is authoritative and infallible. What we mean by that is first that scripture has the right and the power to be our authority in life. We have a responsibility to order our life based on its teachings. The second half of that, infallible, means that scripture cannot fail. When we live based on its rules of faith and conduct it will not, it cannot fail us. In other words, when we hold up our IF part of the promise, the THEN is a guarantee. You can bank on it. It is yes and amen. That is my promise to you.

React: So what are some of God’s promises? There are so many, it is hard to limit it, but here are my top 20(ish)

1. God will always be with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:9) even to the end of time. (Matthew 28:20)
2. God will never leave us or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5)
3. God cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7)
4. I am justified freely by God’s grace (Romans 3:24) that I have access to (Romans 5:2) and that is sufficient (2 Corinthains 12:9)
5. The incomprehensible peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. (Philippians 4:7)
6. If I love and am called by God, Then all things work for my good. (Romans 8:28)
7. If I ask, Then God will provide. (James 4:2)
8. If I resist the devil, Then he will run away. (James 4:7)
9. Nothing can separate me from God’s love. (Romans 8:35)
10. If I am God’s sheep (I hear and follow Him), Then nothing can snatch me from His (Father and Son) hand. (John 10:27-29)
11. The Holy Spirit will help me to pray effectively. (Romans 8:26-27)
12. God will not lie to me because He cannot lie. (Titus 1:2)
13. The Holy Spirit will lead me into all truth (John 16:3) and give me the right words to say. (Mark 13:11)
14. God will supply all my needs. (Philippians 4:19)
15. If I sow, Then I will reap. (Galatians 6:7)
16. If I labor in the Lord, Then it will not be fruitless. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
17. If I approach the throne of grace, Then I will receive mercy and find grace to help in my time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
18. I have an inheritance. (Ephesians 1:14)
19. I am being transformed into God’s image. (Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:17)
20. Christ is in me. (Colossians 1:27)

Finally, the IVP New Testament Commentary affirms:

…God’s faithfulness in and through Jesus was preached by Paul without any wavering or inconsistency, so that the consistency of his message ensured the consistent character of his motives and actions. As the Corinthians themselves could verify, there was no “yes” and “no” about the Son whom Paul and his colleagues preached. His consistency in the greater matters ensured his reliability in the comparatively lesser matters.

Music resource: Click the link above for the River Walk blog, or listen to Your Promises by Elevation Worship at this link.

*Click the “Study This” tab for this verse at



October 3, 2015

The Gospel’s Central Theme: The Kingdom

I know we just did a post from Chaplain Mike Mercer from Internet Monk, and I know we have a six-month rule, but I was really compelled to share this one from a few days ago there. (I promise this is the last one for awhile!) I remember someone asked me what the crux of the gospel was, and they said the answer, for them was, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That’s always stuck with me, and I often read passages through that lens. Click the link below to read this at source, and consider subscribing to Internet Monk.

If there is an overriding narrative theme in scripture, this is it . . .

If I were asked to summarize the primary narrative theme of the Bible with one brief verse, I would choose a line from the Lord’s Prayer:

“Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, CEB).

The story of the Bible is about God establishing his Kingdom in this world.

The Hebrew Bible begins with the story of a royal construction project, as the King of the universe prepares his holy Temple (Genesis 1). The word for “temple” in Hebrew means “palace,” and what God does on the days of “creation” is to set up the place of his reign. He appoints royal priests — human beings “in his image” — to represent him, subdue the evil in the world, have dominion and multiply his blessing throughout the earth. Then on the seventh day, he rests on his throne, taking up his rule.

Internet MonkThe story goes on to tell us that humans failed to carry out the King’s directives, leading to cycles of rebellion, divine judgment, and restoration (Genesis 2-11). Those early days of sin and salvation culminated in the establishment of the city of Babylon, where people gathered together to build their own temple and create their own kingdom. God scattered them over the face of the earth, and then chose one man and his family out of Babylon through which to restore his blessing to the world (Gen. 11-12:1-3).

The man’s name was Abram, and to him God said, “I will make you very fertile. I will produce nations from you, and kings will come from you” (Gen. 17:9, CEB). From that point on, the people through whom God would restore his blessing began to experience conflict with the kings and kingdoms of the world. Abraham, called to be the patriarch of kings, found himself in danger on several occasions, and ultimately his family, many generations later, found themselves in captivity under the rule of Egypt’s ruler, Pharaoh. In time, God delivered the Hebrews and led them to Mt. Sinai, where he entered into a suzerainty treaty with them. He became their King and they became his people, his chosen nation.

The story of God’s chosen nation is a narrative filled with battles, wars, and controversies involving the peoples and kings around them. At one point, Israel herself chose a king, and though her motives were bad at the time, God relented and made her into a kingdom. It wasn’t long before Israel had established God’s palace (temple) in Jerusalem, enjoying a season of prosperity and peace during David and Solomon’s reigns.

However, under the kings that followed, Israel split apart into two nations and eventually became exiled once more from their land. The kingdom was destroyed, the temple sacked, the people carried off into the diaspora. Though some returned to the land within a couple of generations, things were never the same. Israel never had another king again but lived under the domination of invading nations for centuries.

When Jesus was born, the emperor of Rome ruled the land. At the proper time, at the outset of his ministry, Jesus publicly announced, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:15, CEB).

Jesus’ life and ministry led to his death, resurrection, and ascension, by which he took the throne and inaugurated God’s Kingdom in the world. Through his finished work, he did more than conquer the rulers of earth; he soundly defeated the spiritual rulers: the forces of sin, evil, and death that hold all people (not just Israel) captive. By the power of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on his followers, a mission was launched by which outposts of his Kingdom are being established throughout the world. His people are planting seeds for a harvest of righteousness and peace in the age to come.

So today we who trust and follow Jesus live in anticipation of the day when the Kingdom will be consummated and we will sing the Hallelujah Chorus together: “The kingdom of this world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and his Christ, and he will reign forever and always” (Rev. 11:15, CEB).

Until then, every day we pray, “Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven” (Matt. 6:10, CEB).

Preparing today’s devotional reminded me of this song by Hillsong. It fits today’s reading really well; play it loud, when you reach the chorus allow yourself to be caught up in the power of these lyrics.

October 2, 2015

A Servant’s Heart

Phil. 2:19(NIV) I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.

Today we pay a return visit to the blog of Harvest Pointe Fellowship in Evans, Georgia. This resource has been on their site for over a year, but is a good fit for us here. Click the title below to read at source.

Deeper In God’s Word – The Heart Of A Servant

Most often, we don’t have much faith in the results of public polls but sometimes we get useful information from the Gallop polls. One Gallup poll taken recently (and supported by Barna) has produced statistics that will shock many of us. In some ways the outcome was positive. In some ways the outcome of the poll was very negative. The poll found that never in the history of America has church attendance been so high. It is encouraging that church attendance is at an all time high in America. We look back to previous generations and we tend to glorify the days past as a time when church attendance was common. But according to the Gallup poll never in the history of America has the attendance of Christianity been so high as it is now.

But then the second part of the poll reveals the discouraging aspect of this poll. Never in the history of America has church attendance made such little difference. In other words, many are attending church and many are coming more than ever before but the problem is the influence the Christian has on society. Never has Christian influence been so weak. It could be said, that we have a real problem with the absence of Christian character today.

The passage of scripture that Chris taught us from on Sunday addresses this problem. In Philippians chapter 2:19-24, we meet two friends of the Apostle Paul. These were real men who quite literally display the character of Jesus Christ that Paul has been writing about.

First, we meet Timothy in verses 19-24. As Paul writes about him we see that the underlying quality that marks the man is Jesus Christ. We see that Timothy is an exceptional man. Paul says, “I have no one like him.” Wouldn’t you like to have that written about you? I know there must have been many things at which Timothy did not excel. With his frail body, I am sure he was not much of an athlete. He could very easily have been beaten at sports, or possibly surpassed in learning. But there was one area where no one even comes close to this man, and that is in his selfless care, his demonstration of genuine and anxious concern for the welfare of others. Here he is demonstrating that peculiarly Christian virtue, that distinctive mark of the presence of Christ within: selflessness (Berkley). That is what the Lord Jesus said of himself, “Learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.”

Recently, I read a definition of meekness that I think is awesome. I’ve been searching for a definition of that word for sometime. I don’t know any word in Scripture that is more thoroughly misunderstood than “meekness”. Most of us think of meekness in terms of weakness. We picture some spineless wimp who lets everyone walk all over him. But of course that description would never apply to our Lord. What did he mean when he said, “I am meek”? I found that “meekness is that quality which receives injury without resentment, and praise without pride” (Pettigrove). Timothy is demonstrating that utter unconcern for the rights and privileges of self, and an outgoing, deep and genuine concern for the needs of others.

I am not sure exactly what Paul means when he says, “for all others look after their own interests.” But, I think this reveals a frustration that as Paul searched among his acquaintances there in Rome for someone to go to Philippi, he sadly found no one with a selfless character. Evidently all of them turned him down. Not because they couldn’t do it. I’m sure Paul would not have asked them if that had been the case. But they turned him down because they were interested solely in their own concerns. They all had perfectly good excuses why none could undertake the journey to Philippi. The only one to whom Christ’s business was his business was Timothy. You can imagine what an encouragement he must have been to the apostle’s heart as he is longing to send someone to the Philippians to help them with their problems and everyone turns him down simply because of their own selfish concerns. But Timothy says, “All right, Paul, I’m ready to go-any time, any place, anywhere.” Like a sprinter in the starting blocks, he was sitting on ready. This was the selflessness of this young man. No wonder he was always a channel of power wherever he went, as he went ready to be an instrument of God’s grace (MacArthur).

This is the question. Are we self-satisfied with ‘random acts of kindness’ which may cost us little? Are we really in a constant state of readiness? As we consider the incomparable sacrifice of our Lord on our behalf, can we do less than worship Him with all we have and are?

Prayer: Father, teach us to be a people who genuinely care for the welfare of others, and who are willing to demonstrate that care in selfless acts of service.

Deeper In God’s Word,
Tom Renew

C201 New LinkMission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. Your suggestions of articles and websites to consider are always welcome.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

October 1, 2015

Our Message Isn’t “Church” or Simply “God;” It’s “Jesus”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I often tell people if you have company over and it’s getting late and you want your guests to go home, start talking about Jesus. Unless it’s church people, your friends will get fidgety and start looking at the time on their wristwatches or phones.

In the Christian bookstore where I spend a couple of days per week, I differentiate between using “the G-word” and using “the J-word” and often include the E. Stanley Jones quotation we’ve used here a few times:

When we begin with God we begin with our idea of God and our idea of God is not God. Rather, we should begin with God’s idea of God and God’s idea of God is seen in Christ.

People like Jesus (for the most part) but he has a way of making people uncomfortable. Yet the message of hope we bring to people is:

I Cor 1:23 …but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness…

and again Paul repeats

II Cor 4:5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.

Yesterday at Daily Encouragement, Brooksyne Webber posted this:

Yesterday morning I walked with my neighbor as we try to do once a week. We often talk about the things of the Lord though our Christian backgrounds are very different. She, being a very conservative Mennonite, is quite reserved in speaking to others outside her church about the Lord. In the course of our conversation she said, “Brooksyne, I thought of you the other day when I was talking to the father of a boy that’s in my daughter’s class. He has lots of problems and I told him that if he would start going to church it would help him with his problems.” In hindsight she chuckled as she said, “You would probably tell me that I should have witnessed to him about finding God, rather than finding a church.” She said this because she later found that he was already in a church yet not living according to God’s teachings.

It led to further discussion about being bold in our witness. I shared with her about a turning point in my public witness to others. About 30 years ago a woman named Sally, who had many difficulties and overcomings in her Christian life, would regularly stand up in church and with a huge smile say, “I love Jesus”. Jesus was always at the center of her conversation and witness. She told me one day, “When I talk to my clients about God they nod their heads and pretty much act as though they’re going along with me. But when I speak about Jesus many of them grow uncomfortable and want to end the discussion.”

Like my neighbor who was comfortable talking about “church” but it would have stretched her even more to talk about Jesus, I was comfortable talking about God as I witnessed to others but I rarely talked about Jesus. It changed my witness approach and made me more bold to declare the name of Jesus who came to die for us, rose again from the dead and evermore lives making intercession for us.

Perhaps you can’t relate to this, but if you do, speak about Jesus more openly until it becomes a regular part of your conversation to outsiders, especially those who need to be saved.

Reading this reminded me of something we started in a church we were serving in many years ago, a Sunday morning featured called “The Witness Stand” where people in the congregation whose voices were rarely heard could tell their salvation story. When I began, I automatically chose people who I knew would do a good job with their presentation, but eventually I worked my way down the list and noticed we started getting people talking more about how much “this church” meant to them, and not how much Jesus meant to them.

Were we converting people to Christ or converting people to our church? I immediately dropped the feature after about three weeks of this.

Many years later, in another church, we did something similar only more spontaneous and with a broader focus. This one I modeled on the verse

I Cor. 14:26 What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

I’ve seen this verse applied in both conservative Plymouth Brethren-type churches and also independent Charismatic circles. Initially, people stood up with a verse of scripture or a testimony they wanted to share. But then people started talking about things that were rather random, and after the one woman went on about her dog, I knew it was time to shut that one down for a season.

One blogger writes,

One of the greatest marks of the unhealthiness of the Church is that rather than manifesting the glory of Jesus and the offensiveness and foolishness of His cross, the culture-exegetes of today attempt to show the world how much alike we are. In so doing, professing Christians present themselves to the world, and, purposefully or not, implicitly ask unbelievers to receive them long before calling them to receive Christ.

Peter reminds his readers in his second epistle:

II Peter 3:18 …but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…

not Bible knowledge, not how to be a better person, not moralism, not the history of our church and denomination, not how our local church governance works; but the grace and knowledge of Jesus.

…The song we’re ending with today has both dated music and a few obsolete lyrics, but I hope that a few hours from now, when you’ve forgotten the verses and the instrumentation, you’ll remember the line from the chorus, “It’s Jesus That They Need.”

September 30, 2015

Paid in Full

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Allan Connor is a retired missionary who has also authored two books and produces a series of devotional studies under the title Trail Mix. Allan is part of Clarke Dixon’s church; Clarke returns next week.

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 26:36-29 and Luke 22:39-44

tetelastaiPaid In Full

Jesus and his eleven disciples emerged from a house in Jerusalem, crossed the Kidron Valley to the east and entered a garden on the thickly wooded slopes of a long limestone ridge named the Mount of Olives. This walled enclosure was called “Gethsemane” from the Aramaic word meaning “oil press.” It was about to become a place of great crushing.

The Master took three of his intimate friends and moved off a short distance from the rest. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he confided in them. “Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther he knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel came to his help, strengthening him. But he prayed more earnestly, in great anguish, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

What is happening here? Why this convulsive struggle? What is the cup? Jesus knew he would soon die on a cross but even death by crucifixion could not create such torment of soul. Here is the strong and mighty Son of God in an astonishing state of overwhelming agony!

Jesus, the sinless Savior, is about to die on the cross, taking on himself the world’s sin, breaking his oneness with the Father, facing the blackness of hell, drinking the cup of God’s wrath. “And his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Christ is being crushed beyond endurance in Gethsemane’s press; he will drink the cup until not a drop remains.

Next morning Roman soldiers fasten him to a crude wooden cross, the fiendish instrument of torture used by the Romans to punish and execute slaves and the worst type of criminals. At noon darkness descends over the land for three hours. Then Jesus cries out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Someone runs to get him a drink. Then his last words, “It is finished.” He bows his head and gives up his Spirit.

“It is finished.” Three English words are used here to translate a single Greek word, “tetelastai,” a word written across tax receipts of the time that meant, “Paid in Full.” Through his shed blood Jesus has become the supreme sacrifice required to pay our debt completely, to grant us full and complete salvation.

If Christ was willing to endure the horror of Gethsemane, the physical pain of crucifixion and the unthinkable separation from the Father as he bore my sin on the cross, there is a message here that I must breathe into my soul: God is the great Lover. As such he has an urgent need to be loved in return; that need requires our response.

John the apostle, one of the three disciples Jesus drew aside in the garden, put it this way: “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life” (John 3:16, TM).

So I take my stand: I will endeavor, with the help of his Holy Spirit, to love the Lord with all my heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12:30). For that is his desire.

September 29, 2015

The Top Verses: Minor Prophets Edition

Today we pay a return visit to and a look at scripture verses that are often sought out from the twelve Minor Prophets of the first testament. (Far from a last minute devotional, this is something I’ve been meaning to do for several months, and it took twice as long to format this!) All selections NIV; clicking the reference will take you to a page which shows the verses in context, in 3 different translations. Allow the various passages to speak to you.

Hosea 4:6

Bible Rank: 469
My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.”

Joel 2:28

Bible Rank: 90
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”

Amos 3:7

Bible Rank: 822*
Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.

Obadiah 1:2

Bible Rank: 2,085
“See, I will make you small among the nations; you will be utterly despised.”

Jonah 1:1

Bible Rank: 1,144
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai:

Micah 6:8

Bible Rank: 99
He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Nahum 1:2

Bible Rank: 2,385
The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies.

Habakkuk 1:2

Bible Rank: 1,856
How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?

Zephaniah 3:17

Bible Rank: 1,522
“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Haggai 1:4

Bible Rank: 2,791*
“Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

Zechariah 9:9

Bible Rank: 739
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Malachi 3:10

Bible Rank: 492
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

*The top searched verse in Amos is one of those humorous verses that doesn’t exactly provide the devotional blessing we’re going for here! The top verse in Haggai was similar to the one in Jonah, so we went to the second one. At some point we’ll return and look at second and third ranked verses, but always remember that the verse numbers themselves are an artificial construction that were never part of the original documents.

September 28, 2015

Are You a Fountain or a Drain?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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fountainThrough a rather roundabout journey on the weekend, I found this 2011 post at the blog The Pound Proclaimer by Glen Young. Click the title below to read at source.

Be a Fountain Not a Drain

I saw a marquee in front of a church’s building that had the following on it: “BE A FOUNTAIN NOT A DRAIN”. I looked over at my wife and said, “There is a sermon in there somewhere.” Indeed, there is a lesson in this simple statement that every Christian needs to hear.

Christians will either be a fountain or they will be a drain when it comes to their responsibilities in the kingdom of God. This is especially seen in the local work of a congregation. There is no middle ground. As a member of a local church, I am either a fountain that nourishes the work or I am a drain that is depleting the energy and life from that work.

Paul expressed the ‘either or’ principle when writing about the life of the Christian.

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:16-18)

Having become slaves of righteousness, we are bound to fulfill our servanthood. Slaves have a vested interest in the success of their master. The accomplishing of the master’s desire is directly related to the faithfulness of the slave. The lazy servant fails to understand that he is important in the process of completing the task. A modern expression to emphasize this principle is, “he got skin in the game”.

Every member of a local church has “got skin in the game”. Therefore, when a member is lazy and a slacker regarding the work of the local church, they become a drain rather than a fountain of life giving water. Drain is defined as, “To deplete gradually, especially to the point of complete exhaustion.” (American Heritage Dictionary) My oldest son has a GMC pickup truck that began having a problem with the battery losing power when the truck wasn’t run for a day or so. It was determined that it had an electrical short that drained the battery. Like the electrical short in my son’s truck, a member who does not consider that they have “skin in the game” will drain the life out of a local church.

Christians often lament the lack of growth in the congregation where they hold membership. We all have known of local churches that at one time were growing but today are on the verge of death. Why do congregations find themselves in this dilemma? In my humble opinion, it is because members have failed in their servitude by losing sight of their personal responsibility. A local church’s spiritual vitality is predicated upon the individual member’s participation. Yes! Every member has “got skin in the game”!

Some will say, “I can’t do anything.” Peter says you can, and he was inspired by God to say so.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” (2 Peter 1:3-10)

What makes a local church grow and do the work God has assigned to it? It takes a membership where each individual member is personally involved in every aspect of its work. In this way and only in this way, will it be a living active organism.

Members who are fountains will give forth their energies to serve. Local churches that are alive and well have members who are fountains. Further, churches whose members are drains are being depleted of their life’s energy which leaves them a useless shell; an illusion rather than the real thing.

Which are you, a fountain or a drain?

September 27, 2015

Enoch Walked With God

Featured writers here range from Reformed to Baptist to United Methodist to Alliance to Assemblies of God. Rick Joyner is a well known voice within the Charismatic movement that we’ve never included here, until today. Click the link below to read this daily devotion online.

Walking With God

Then Jared lived eight hundred years after he became the father of Enoch….
And Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah. Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years.
And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him (Genesis 5:19, 21-24).

Enoch is one of the most remarkable and inspirational characters in the Bible. He walked with God in such a way that he did not have to taste death because God just took him. We read in Hebrews 11:5:

By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.

Adam was still alive during Enoch’s days. It is probable that Enoch talked with Adam about what it was like to have walked with God before the Fall. Something must have stirred within him, a desire to have that same kind of intimate relationship to God that Adam once had, and he pursued it. God responded.

Nowhere does it say in Scripture that Enoch is the only one who can do this. In fact, we are promised in James 4:8, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” We are all as close to God as we want to be. The veil has been rent and we can all enter into the presence of the Lord by the blood of Jesus. We can be as close to God as anyone in the Scriptures has been. This is not a presumption, because the Scriptures are full of invitations for us to draw near to Him. He created us for that purpose, to have fellowship with Him. If there is anything that can measure the degree to which redemption has worked in our lives, it would be how close we are to Him. The only thing that prevents us from being as close to God as Enoch is our own desire.

Our God is an awesome, holy God. He is a consuming fire, and when we get close to Him the wood, hay, and stubble in our lives will burn. Even so, we do not have to wait until we are perfect to draw near to God, but it is by drawing near to Him that we are changed, as we read in Hebrews 4:15-16:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.

If we sin and fall short of the grace of God, we must learn to run to Him, not away from Him as Adam and Eve did. We can never hide from Him anyway, but He has also proven throughout the Scriptures that He will not force us to come close to Him. We have to want to be close enough to Him to seek Him. He promised in Jeremiah 29:13: “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” If we are going to be that close to Him, we must desire Him enough to sacrifice all of the things that would distract us. We must choose to draw near to Him when we could be doing other things.

We have another very interesting statement about Enoch in Jude 14, “And about these also Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones.'” Enoch is the very first one recorded in Scripture who prophesied. This reveals the true essence and foundation of an authentic prophetic ministry, which is simply to get so close to God that you are His friend. Friends share their plans and purposes with each other. That is why the Lord said in Amos 3:7: Surely the Lord GOD does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets.”

Nowhere has the Lord obligated Himself not to do anything without first revealing it to His prophets. He does this because He wants to. He wants to because the prophets are His friends. There is nothing that prevents us from being that close to God. There is nothing that says we cannot walk with God to the point that He just takes us up like He did Enoch. Could this in fact be what the rapture really is?

September 26, 2015

Take a Praise Break!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:38 pm
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This is our third time sharing some content from Dwight L. MacPherson at the blog of Son of a Parson Ministries. We’re so thankful for writers who, when we check back a year later, are still faithfully posting new material; and who graciously allow their material to be shared here.

We also made another discovery there which follows in today’s 2-for-1 devotional special! Click the title below to read at source:

Praise Break

We just completed our reread through the  Book of Psalms for family Bible study. One of the many things I love about this book is that no matter what David (or another psalmist) is going through, there in the very shadow of darkness, their minds turn to praise. “I’m about to be torn to pieces by my enemies, but praise God that He rescued me last time!” Now… that’s a MacPherson paraphrase, but you get the idea. Even when things look their bleakest the psalmist remembered what God had done and thanked Him for who He is all He’d done in the past and would continue to do in the present and in the future. .

I think we could all benefit from the habit of taking praise breaks. Yes, some days you just want to crawl under your bed in the fetal position, clench your eyes and cover your ears… but is that bringing glory to God or real peace to your heart? I think not. Stop the “worst day ever” mindset and start setting your mind on praising Him in the midst of the trial. When we take our focus off our setback and put it on God, it is amazing how our outlook changes. Rebecca takes her “Praise Breaks” during her break time at work. She has a lake complete with ducks, birds, and squirrels behind her office, so she sits on the benches and thanks God for the beauty around her, and thanking God that He has made it possible for her to work every day.

I take my Praise Breaks throughout the day as well. Whenever I am too focused on a trial I begin praising God for past deliverance, for His unconditional love, and that He is forever faithful. It’s amazing how a short time of praising the King can completely change your attitude outlook.But don’t take my word for it.  If you’re not taking regular praise breaks, why not start doing that today?

“You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.” – Psalm 22:3

So as we were looking around Son of Parson Ministries website, we discovered that Rebecca MacPherson is also a gifted writer. Again, click the title below to follow their writing and their family journey.

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” – Proverbs 13:12

This verse was in our family Bible study last night. After we finished reading and praying, Dwight and I went out on the porch to discuss this particular verse. Both of us have had dreams come true–for Dwight, it was seeing his first comic book on the shelves of bookstores, and for me, it was seeing my name in the rolling credits of my first big budget film production. Both were life-long dreams of ours, and yes, it inspired us to move further along with our goals. It solidified what we had been wishing for and praying for; it was the confirmation of our belief in ourselves. We knew we could do it and we did!

Our boys each have their own dreams, and we support and encourage them to work hard at achieving their life-long goals. We don’t shy away from telling them that there may be many obstacles along the way. Dwight could write a whole blog post about how many things went wrong before Dead Men Tell No Tales went to print. But our sons need to know that things in life don’t always come easy and it is not mommy and daddy’s job to make everything happen for them. That is not our role as parents, and it is not realistic. It sets them up for failure if we are always hovering over them, pulling strings to make sure they get everything they want. Because the minute they are really on their own and don’t accomplishment something, their whole world will come crashing down. They will feel like complete failures when, in the grand scheme of things, it might not be that big of a deal. Our goal as parents is to help equip our children for lives on their own. Parents who refuse to cut the umbilical cords are actually retarding the process of our kids becoming adults. And why would we want to do that? My “need” to be a mom should never supersede their need to grow up. My dream is not their dream, so I am not pushing my own agenda on them.

God bless you, and we hope you have an amazing week! God is good all the time!

“The soul of the sluggard craves, and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” Proverbs 13:4


September 25, 2015

I Believe in the Resurrection

One of the most beloved Christian websites on the internet is Internet Monk. Founded in November, 2000 by the late Michael Spencer, the blog continues to post fresh material each and every day and its following is evidenced by the engagement in its comments section.

We’ve referred to iMonk here about ten times, but with one very short excerpt exception, never posted anything by current proprietor Chaplain Mike, aka Michael Mercer. What follows below is the first of five parts of a series on eschatology which ran this week. By clicking the title below and visiting the website you can track the other parts, which I’ve also listed below.

Eschatology Week: The Christian Hope = Resurrection

Part 1: The Christian Hope = Resurrection

I believe . . . in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

~ The Apostles’ Creed

These days, it seems that the gold standard for eschatological teaching in the Christian world is N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. This, however, hasn’t stopped the crazies from advocating wild theories about the end times, such as the “four blood moons” teaching offered by people such as John Hagee. And since September 28 is the fourth and final in the “tetrad” of blood moons, coinciding with the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, and supposedly portending apocalyptic events, I thought maybe we should spend this last week on earth discussing a more sane and scripturally-grounded understanding of the Christian hope.

Despite what you and I and everyone else has been told in evangelical/fundamental circles since the advent of the Scofield Reference Bible, the heart and center of the Christian hope is the resurrection. For most of my adult Christian life, the resurrection (or resurrections — many believe there will be several) has served as little more than a dot on an end-times chart, mentioned but overshadowed by talk concerning things like the Rapture, the Tribulation, and the Millennium.

One of the greatest contributions of Wright’s work has been to put the resurrection back in its proper place, back where the Apostles’ Creed puts it, as the main content of our Christian hope and that which leads to “the life everlasting.”

In chapter 3 of Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright traces various understandings about resurrection and life after death in ancient paganism and Judaism. He shows how Jesus’ teaching on the subject was not substantially different from that of the standard Jewish view.

When the ancients spoke of resurrection, whether to deny it (as all pagans did) or to affirm it (as some Jews did), they were referring to a two-step narrative in which resurrection, meaning new bodily life, would be preceded by an interim period of bodily death. (36)

Jesus’ own teaching more or less followed this narrative, with one great exception. In Judaism the resurrection was understood as something that would happen to all the righteous and unrighteous at the end of the age:

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

• Daniel 12:2-3

But Jesus began teaching his disciples that he himself was going to be raised from the dead after being betrayed and killed. The disciples, having a hard enough time grasping that the one they believed to be the Messiah would die, could scarcely imagine what he was saying when he spoke of resurrection in individual terms. So Jesus was adding something utterly new and unforeseen by those who followed them to the concept.

This addition, however, did not change their basic hope, it merely added elements to it that we will discuss in future posts. The Jewish and early Christian hope was focused firmly on bodily resurrection and the age to come. It wasn’t about “going to heaven when we die,” though that was one part of the process of hope that led inevitably to new bodies in a new world in a new time.

As a hospice chaplain, you might imagine that the subject of “life after death” is one I regularly discuss with people. And you would be right. Pastorally, when I get the opportunity to share the Christian hope, I think it’s important to help people get comfort from both parts of the “two-step narrative” that Wright discusses. It is important to know that their loved ones are safe in God’s care when they die. “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” Paul wrote, and I give thanks for that every time I pray over the body of one who has passed.

However, I will also include this in my prayer: “Lord, take care of this loved one until the day she is raised up again in a new body to live in a new creation where there will be no more sorrow, pain, death, or separation from those we love.”


The last prayer I give at a graveside is the traditional committal:

In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty
God our brother ______, and we commit his body to the ground;
earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. May the Lord bless
him and keep him, may the Lord make his face to shine upon him
and be gracious to him, may the Lord lift up his countenance
upon him and give him peace. Now and forevermore. Amen.


The Christian hope centers on this. New life, new bodies, a new creation. The material stuff of life, corrupted by sin and devastated by death, reawakened, reanimated, reinvigorated. All things made new and incorruptible. “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven,” wrote Paul in 1Cor. 15. And in Romans 8: “…the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

Continue reading:

Part 2: Eschatology starts in our past
Part 3: Jesus’ Future Presence

Part 4: Setting the World Right
Part 5: Bringing Ultimate Harmony to Creation


September 24, 2015

Through a Glass Darkly

Today, a guest post from the blog Flagrant Regard. A longer version appears at the link in the title below.

‘Through A Glass Darkly’ – A Lesson On Spiritual Renewal

“We are all messed up like a person compromised with impurity; even all our right efforts are like soiled rags. We’re drying up like a leaf in autumn …”
Book of the prophet Isaiah, Chapter 64, verse 6


At the point of our conversion (or in my case, my reconversion), we’re given a new perspective by God which allows us to see more clearly the world around us and how broken it is. At the same time (and maybe more importantly) we are given much needed insight with respect to our own soul and moral character and how poorly developed they truly are. We become aware of God’s unmerited love for us but receive along with that a glimpse of how distant our goodness is from the goodness and purity of God. And because of our new, clearer perspective, we find ourselves humbly asking God for strength and the ability to live our salvaged-by-Grace lives for Him with a sincere determination.

But at some point, after this ‘great awakening’, we lapse back into familiar ways – well I believe most of us do – and find that the things of the Spirit become less important or engrossing compared to the urgent issues and distractions that make up our day-to-day existence. Still having the Spirit of God within us, we may become aware of this lapse, but often feel helpless to deal with it. And then guilt sets in – the biggest nail in the coffin for a once spiritually inspired, enthusiastic mindset. So we pray, “God get me out of this funk.” Or, “Make me better than I am.” Or, “Fix me (or things) again so I can feel connected to You!” But these repeated requests or prayers often come across as a seemingly useless endeavour. It’s like trying to repair or clean things up with broken and dirty implements.

And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

As our spiritual energy and connection to God seems to diminish, we feel caught in a loop and a dryness of the soul begins to overwhelm us. This is a dangerous ‘tipping point’ for some believers. If they don’t feel or see enough of God’s power in their lives, they walk away from the faith and give up ‘trying’.


Here’s the thing: you can’t. As your spiritual life continues, you will lose connection with God frequently and all your efforts to rekindle the excitement or ‘vision’ you had the day you knew God had entered your life will, in your mind, amount to a hill of beans. You’ll feel adrift in stagnant water and those living waters Jesus promised his followers are somewhere on the other side of dark mountains that have seemingly hemmed you in. Welcome to the valley of the shadow of death. You have now joined the ranks of every single believer who’s ever asked God to change them! This might come as a shocker, but you were meant to arrive here.

“Why?”, you ask.

kitten distressed

Because it is at this time, God is about to reveal to you that everything you think you have done or have attempted to do to put things right between you and Him is not unlike your trying to clean a pair of glasses with dirty rags. And as long as you continue to assume you’re the one who has to clean up your spiritual lenses to restore clarity, perspective and objectivity to your own soul-view you will fail miserably because God has set it up that way.

Again, you ask, “Why? Why would God allow me fall so hard if I am doing my best to put things right?”

He does this so that He can reveal within us His power, His strength and what His vision for you truly is. It’s only when every light you’ve tried to keep going has gone out that it’s His time to shine! When your knees have hit the floor it’s then He eagerly shows you how strong His arms are by pulling you back up. He takes your worn-down perceptions – all the methods that you thought were going to keep you connected to Him or ‘spiritual’ – and tosses them into His washing machine. Then He hands you back those things that are really needed to really make a difference in your world, your outlook and life-experiences.

God likes to show off – the Scriptures evidence this repeatedly with respect to His character and/or his modus operandi. Deep in our personal valleys, if/when we continue to walk by faith (what little there may be of it at times) He will restore our spiritual sight by showing us who He really is by answering our prayers from an unexpected angle or entering our world in ways we never would have anticipated.


“Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.”
~ G.K. Chesterton

This kind of thing – beautiful and powerful spiritual renewal – happens frequently over one’s lifetime in the hearts of those who humbly walk with God. Admittedly, it takes a lot of patience and waiting for it to happen. But God helps with that too … just hang … on … a little … longer!

Wash, rinse, repeat.

This is God’s style of restoration and it’s so welcomed, especially when we’re spent from our trying so hard. With respect to our dealing with ourselves and God, preacher and author, John Ortberg, instructs us to ‘try softer’.

“Often the people in the Gospels who got in the most trouble with Jesus were the ones who thought they were working hardest on their spiritual life. They were trying so hard to be good that they could not stop thinking about how hard they were trying. It got in the way of them loving people. … there is an alternative: Try softer. Try better. Try different. A river of living water is now available, but the river is the Spirit. It is not you. … Don’t push the river.”
~ John Ortberg, from the book, ‘The Me I Want To Be’


I cannot emphasize this enough: the Bible and its guiding principles as presented to us through the many colourful characters who authored it is like having a legal representative with you when you are in your darkest trial and at your lowest ebb. It stands beside you to instruct you when direction is seeminly absent. It is there to remove (not add to) your guilt when you may be completely bereft of feelings, spiritual enthusiasm or at the tail end of your faith. There is NOTHING you are experiencing (including the dryness of soul and even the disdain for all things spiritual) that has not been experienced by those who went before us – from Adam to Amos, Joseph to Jesus, Paul to Peter.

Read the Word and wait. Don’t read it, and you’ll feel utterly alone. I don’t care if you’re a literalist or a liberal – the Power of God is in that set of 66 books. You will find God in those words (try to resource a good translation like the New International Version or The Voice) and they will comfort you and set you up for that glorious moment of restoration – the big wash – that is coming to restore you to a fresh awareness of God’s will for your life and a clarity of vision that only He can provide.


In the medical field, visual clarity isn’t something that occurs by one’s trying to see better or by applying a plethora of home-remedies. It occurs via the efforts of a skilled outside agent who is able to alter the eye’s lens in order to enhance or correct poor vision. Similarly, we must await God’s agent – the Spirit – to restore to us the perspective, outlook and vision we are deeply in need of to get through this thing called life. We cannot experience these necessary renewals through any amount of redo’s that we embark on, no matter how sincere our effort.

Wait for God to be the Saviour He truly is. You will not be disappointed.

“But those who trust in the Eternal One will regain their strength. They will soar on wings as eagles. They will run—never winded, never weary. They will walk—never tired, never faint.”
The book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 40, verse 31 (The Voice Translation)

“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”
Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 10, verse 13 (New Living Translation)

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, chapter 7, verse 10 (NIV Translation)

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.”
Book of Revelation chapter 3, verse 19 – Jesus speaking through John the disciple to the church in Laodicea (N.I.V. Translation)

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”
Paul’s letter to the Phillippians, Chapter 2, verse 13

“To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
Second letter of Peter, chapter 1, verses 1 thru 4 (NIV Translation)


©Flagrant Regard; used by permission

September 23, 2015

Peace for Your Soul

by Clarke Dixon

Rest in Peace. A Reflection on Psalm 116

Rest in peace” is a statement we often use for the dead which unfortunately we rarely use for the living. We are restless souls with our worries and concerns, with our fights and contentions. We rarely rest. We rarely know peace. Even when our bodies find rest, our souls often do not. Ironically, one thing our souls can fret over is death itself, the very thing that causes “rest in peace” to fall so easily from our lips. We have great difficulty in saying “rest in peace” to our own souls. In Psalm 116 we find someone who does in fact call upon his soul to rest:

7 Return, O my soul, to your rest,
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you
(Psalms 116:7)

How did the Psalmist break through to finding a place of rest for his soul? How can we get there? Let us turn to the rest of the Psalm to find out:

The journey to a place of rest for our souls begins with prayer. We do not know the exact nature of the Psalmist’s prayer request, but we do know that his life seemed to be in danger in some way and he is grateful to God for a rescue, for answering his prayer.

1 I love the Lord, because he has heard
my voice and my supplications.
2 Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
4 Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, save my life
(Psalms 116:1-4)

Something we should note here is that the Psalmist does not say “someone out there is looking out for me“. His prayer for deliverance would hardly have been “If something or someone is out there could you please . . . “. Rather the Psalmist’s prayers are specifically to the LORD, God, Creator of the universe, Who has revealed Himself to humanity. The Psalmist does not have some generic idea of God in mind, but The LORD. In fact in this Psalm he uses God’s specific name, represented in many English translations by LORD, fifteen times. The Psalmist is praying to a God he knows, something he can do because God has made Himself known. Which leads us to our next thought.

The journey to a place of rest for our souls begins not with our prayers, but with a God Who hears prayer. Prayer works because God works with grace and mercy toward us:

5 Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
6 The Lord protects the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me
(Psalms 116:5-6)

We think we are taking a low view of ourselves when we think God does not hear our prayers. “Why should He care about and listen to us? Should we not be nothing to him?” But really we are guilty of taking a low view of God. We are doubting the scope of His love.

Psalm 116 has a caution: Watch out for the dead end roads on your search for a  resting place for your soul. Prayer sounds like a very religious thing to do, and many people assume that religion is the path one should take in seeking rest for one’s soul. However there is a very grave danger here, one made worse by a temporary feeling of peace that most religions can provide. Let us take an extreme example of a man who feels he has made peace with God, and can serve God best by blowing himself up and taking out God’s enemies with him. This man says to his soul “return, O my soul, to your resting place, you are doing the right thing and God will be pleased.” However, what will he say before the judgement seat of Christ when he realizes his religion has failed him? Religion has the horrible habit of giving people some sense of relief for their souls, when really they ought to keep seeking. Likewise, many turn to “non-religions” like Darwinism and Secular Humanism in a search for rest for their souls. Remember the bus signs which said “God probably does not exist. So stop worrying and enjoy your life”? These signs appeal to a sense of rest from worry about the afterlife. People who believe signs like these shall also stand before the judgement seat of Christ but with the realization that their non-religion has failed them every bit as much as the religion of the religious.

So it is the Christian religion which brings true peace to the soul then? No, that is not it either. Our Psalmist does not refer to religion as the reason his soul can rest. It is not religion but the LORD, God Himself Who is the reason for rest.

5 Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
6 The Lord protects the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
7 Return, O my soul, to your rest,
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
8 For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling
(Psalms 116:5-8)

Religion is something we do. Rescue and salvation is something God does. We get the cart before the horse when we subscribe to religion or do religious things to make God like us, to get Him to save us. Too late for that, He already loves us and has offered the rescue. Our “religion” is an expression of worship which flows out of our knowledge of God and His salvation, it is not a precursor to it. The Psalmist commits to religious activity in response to rescue, not in order to obtain it:

12 What shall I return to the Lord
for all his bounty to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord,
14 I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people
(Psalms 116:12-14)

It is not religion that leads to a resting place for our souls, but a Person, God Himself.

There is one final thing to note about the Psalmist’s prayer. Note how different this Psalm is from the prayers of Jesus in Gethsemane and at the cross. The Psalmist is pleased about being rescued. Jesus, however, wants the cup of suffering to be taken from Him. The psalmist is rescued and can say “return, O my soul, to your resting place,” Jesus says “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” There was no rescue on that day, at least not for Jesus. However, there was the greatest rescue of all that day, for people like you and me, people who are willing to turn from sin and turn to God. A rescue from sin, from the root cause of the death and destruction that lay around us. Death may lay ahead of us, but only the death of our earthly bodies, not the death of our hope of salvation in God.

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ
(1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

We may die someday, but we can yet say “Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” Is there something you want to say to your soul?

All Bible references are taken from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon is a Baptist pastor in Ontario, Canada; read more at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

September 22, 2015

Adjusting Your Ego

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

‘Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.’ – Hosea 2:14

Post 2000

As I mentioned a few days ago, over the weekend I was reading a back-issue (May/June 2011) of Every Day With Jesus by Selwyn Hughes titled Close Encounters. The series of daily writings talks about the times God may lead us into a desert experience; two of those devotions follow…

Genesis 32:22-32
‘The man asked him, “What is your name?”‘  (v27)

A reason why God may allure us into the desert is this:  to properly position our ego.  Now here we have to be careful, for many incorrect things are said about the ego by Christians.  The ego is God-created and God-approved, and will function properly if it is surrendered to the Spirit.  I am not in sympathy with those who say the ego is to be banished, cancelled or suppressed.  When the ego is in its proper place – surrendered to Christ – then it becomes Christo-centric; when it is not linked to Him it is likely to become eccentric.

If you will forgive a personal reference, in the early days of my Christian life there was no one with a bigger ego than mine. Many times I tripped over it and sprawled in the dust of humiliation.  After I entered the ministry and was obliged to make announcements, I would say something to this effect:  ‘These are the meetings that will take place in this church over the coming week. The ones at which I shall be present are as follows…’  I often wondered why the congregation smiled when I made such an announcement.

Then came the time when the Lord allured me into the desert, slowed down my life and forced me to cry out, “Lord, what is happening? There are so many possibilities but Your blessing doesn’t seem to be flowing in the way it did.’  God asked me the same question as that asked of Jacob by the angel in the story we have read today:  ‘What is your name?’  It took me a long time to answer but at last I spat it out:  ‘My name is Ego.’  In that wrestling match with God my ego was repositioned.  Instead of being central, it became marginal.  I walk with a limp now.  You cant’ see it in my stride; it’s in my soul.

Psalm 51:1 – 19
‘Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.’  (v6)

In an earlier issue of Every Day With Jesus you may remember we concluded that the questions God asks of us are far more important than the questions we ask of Him.  God’s questions are direct, straight to the point, and can sometimes cause us to feel apprehensive and nervous.  In the same way, we become nervous when we get close to the root of our problems – an unsurrendered ego.  We shy away from the issue and promise to do anything but resolve it. But a barrenness may set in and God may need to allure us into a desert so that we do something about the matter.

What if God spoke to you in an audible voice right now and put to you the same question that the angel put to Jacob in the passage we looked at yesterday:  ‘What is your name?’  How would you respond? Jacob’s name meant ‘supplanter’, so when he owned up to his name, he was owning up to his nature.  Make no mistake about it – Jacob was a deceiver.  When God asks us our name He is not asking us for our given name but wanting us to admit to our real nature.  Jacob was given a new name only after he had confessed his old one.  In God’s service you have to admit where you are before you can move on to where you should be.

Have you been in a spiritual desert in recent times?  Perhaps this may be the reason:  God wants to reposition your ego.  So on God’s behalf and ever so gently I ask you the question: ‘What is your name?  Is it Ego?’  If so, make this an honest moment and confess it.  The game is up.   Surrender it to him right now.  Your ego in your own hands is a problem; in His hands it is a possibility.  With a changed Jacob came changed circumstances.  When we change, our circumstances sometimes change too.

Learn more about CWR, the parent organization which publishes Every Day With Jesus at this link. You can also read previous Selwyn Hughes material here at C201 at this link.

The irony of celebrating our 2,000th post the same day we have a devotional about ego is not lost on me. I scheduled the post, and noticed the number later. I thought about changing things around, but then the coincidence was such that I decided to leave things as they were. It serves to remind me how easily the ego can creep into things.

September 21, 2015

The Four Signposts

Daniel 7:

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.

Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.

Revelation 6:1:

I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!”

One of the things we don’t spend a lot of time on here at C201 is prophecy. Personally, I find it very difficult, and I know some of your eyes glaze over when you see texts like those above. Furthermore, it seems like there are many voices out there who hold different interpretations on the same passage, not to mention the occasions where world events render past interpretations no longer applicable; but this should not stop us from pressing in to this scripture genre.

Still — how can I say this? — we need to be reminded that this content is in the Bible. It’s there for us to explore and understand and then, after events have come to pass, see that God, existing outside of time, knew these things all along.

This weekend I was reading about Mark Davidson, author of the book Daniel Revisited. The book was released by WestBow, but has been acquired by and will be reissued by Thomas Nelson in December. I went to his website, The Four Signposts, and found the article below.

Again, I know that some of you just are not drawn to understanding the nuances of the prophetic passages — books like Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation and even sections of Matthew — but the Bible is really clear that a day of judgement is coming. Too often we have favorite themes and Bible literature that we study at the expense of others. I believe that Christianity 201 readers need to have at least a passing familiarity with these sections of scripture. Including me.

(Note: In Mark’s first paragraph I’ve added links to the full scriptures excerpted above, and also emphasis in other paragraphs.)

daniel-revisited-cover-smallThe Four Signposts: A Summary

The Four Signposts are four sets of events which will occur, one after the other, prior to the Tribulation or Rapture. These events are derived from the Biblical prophecies of the four beasts in Daniel 7:1-27, the ram and goat in Daniel 8:1-26, and the four horsemen in Revelation 6:1-8. The fulfillment of these events identified in prophecy, have been, and will continue to be, reported as news stories in the Middle East.

In my book, Daniel Revisited, I go into detail of why these three prophecies qualify as identifying the Four Signposts. These three prophecies all share three things in common:

1) They are all applicable to, and will be fulfilled in, modern-day end times just prior to the Tribulation (passages in Daniel 7 and 8 indicate this is so);
2) They all describe the nations involved in, the actions of these nations, and the societal conditions of the geographical areas involved, during the times just immediately prior to the appearance of Antichrist;
3) They all describe the same set of events, just from different perspectives.

The First Signpost includes the lion with wings that is forced to stand upright and its heart replaced, and the first horseman that rides a white horse. The democratizing of the nation of Iraq and the career of its former leader Saddam Hussein, are the news events that fulfilled these prophecies.

The Second Signpost includes the bear that is higher on one side, the ram with two long horns, and the second horseman that rides the red horse. The supreme leader is the first long horn on the ram; the leadership of Iran’s IRGC is the second horn coming up last and longer.  Iran will invade many countries and cause chaos across much of the Middle East.  They will most likely interrupt the Gulf oil supply and end America’s petrodollar causing economic chaos.

The Third Signpost includes the four-headed leopard, the goat with the one great horn, and the third horseman who rides the black horse. The news events to fulfill this signpost are still completely in our future. It will include a four-nation Sunni confederacy taking back the conquests of Iran, and ending Iran in the form that it currently exists. Due to the probable cut off of oil, food will be available but will be very expensive. We do see today some events setting up the Third Signpost. In addition to food price hikes we have seen in the last few years, the governments of Turkey, Egypt and Syria are becoming Islamist. This situation is required for fulfillment of the Third Signpost.

Finally, the Fourth Signpost includes the terrible ten-horned beast, the little horn on one of the four horns of the goat, and the fourth horseman who rides the green horse. The news events to fulfill this signpost are even further in our future. It starts at the end of the Third Signpost where the great new nation that covers much of the Middle East fragments into four pieces. The man who is to be Antichrist will arise out of one of these four new nations, take it over, conquer two others, and have the fourth submit to him. The remainder of the Islamic realm then will also submit to him. At this point, a pre-Trib Rapture and the seven-year Tribulation are imminent.

These Four Signposts are warnings to God’s Church. By watching these Signposts, we may know – as our world goes through each week, month, and year – what season of God’s plan we are in during these end times prior to the Tribulation. These news events will be truly terrible due to their causing economic and mental anguish among the populations of the world due to the cutoff of oil. Islam may be seen as gaining the upper hand and western civilization as being on the decline. But these events, instead of being continual bad news, can be seen instead as fulfillment of detailed and absolute prophecy that must be fulfilled in order for God’s promises to come to fruition.

Those of us who are His must prepare.  Those on the fence in the churches will have their last chance to repent and follow Christ wholeheartedly.  The unbelievers can be witnessed to and shown that the Bible is the living and breathing word of God and is telling all of us what is playing out right before our eyes.

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