Christianity 201

July 24, 2021

Death, The Intruder

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted. – Ps. 23:4 (The Voice)

This is our third time visiting the writing of Jake Hunt at his blog Wiser Time. Though he doesn’t write frequently, we wanted to share this more recent article here. Jake writes from Prague in the Czech Republic.

Now ye need not fear the grave

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

All our fear is ultimately the fear of death. It is, as Paul says, “the last enemy.” It is the ultimate worst case scenario.

My grandmother died this year. She was 92. She lived a beautiful life, passed her final days in my parents’ home being cared for by those she loved the most, and died trusting in Christ. This is the way to go. Having seen her decline, and knowing she was tired and ready, I had even prayed that God would take her before too long.

And yet, this was the toughest blow of a tough year for me. I think of her daily. I miss her terribly. It hasn’t fully set in that I can’t pick her up and take her to dinner the next time I’m in Georgia.

This is because death, even a good death, is awful. It’s an intrusion into the good world God created. And we pass our entire lives under its shadow, knowing it awaits us all, awaits those we love. Death is inevitable. The fear of this makes us subject to life-long slavery.

Jesus stepped into time and space, became human with all that entails, in order to change this. He was acquainted with death, more so than many of us. He lived in a time when death was much more a part of everyday life than it is for us. People didn’t get taken to the hospital and then the funeral home; they typically died at home, were mourned at home, and were buried by the family and community.

Jesus seems to have lost his earthly father at a fairly early age, as Joseph departs the narrative between his adolescence and young adulthood. He saw children die– doubtless more than just the few he raised from the dead. He wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. But more than all this, he passed his entire life on earth in the shadow of the cross. He knew it was coming. He knew what he was here to do. “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.”

The fact that he also knew the Resurrection was coming didn’t change the fact that the suffering was coming as well.

Hebrews 2:14 and following is one of my favorite passages, and especially my favorite passage for Advent. One thing that always strikes me: The author doesn’t say that Jesus delivers us from death. Of course, in the greatest sense he does, but unless we are alive at his return, knowing Christ does not deliver us from the physical experience of death. He does, however release us from slavery to the fear of death.

This is not just about knowing that heaven is coming, though it is that. It is about knowing that because Jesus’ humanity is so genuine, his becoming one of us in every way so complete, we are united with him in every stage of our life, including the final one. How has he destroyed the power of death, and the work of the devil? Through death itself. He didn’t pretend to die, or seem to die. He died. His death destroyed death forever. And he accomplished this for us– for “the children” of whom he is unashamed, who share in the flesh and blood that he willingly adopted.

“Now ye need not fear the grave.” Because Jesus has been there already. And so we will not go there alone.


Here’s how Eugene Peterson renders today’s key text:

MSG.Heb.2.14-15 Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it’s logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death.

July 23, 2021

Christ’s Ultimate Authority at the End of Time

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Once again we’re back at the website of The Superior Word Community Fellowship in Sarasota, Florida and pastor Charlie Garrett. Last time, they were studying 3 John, and today, a year later, they are heading to the final two chapters of Revelation. It’s hard to jump into the middle of this, but hopefully it whets your appetite and if you want to get into deep detail on the New Testament’s last book, this is a great website to check out. Clicking the header which follows gets you to today’s piece.

Revelation 20:1

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. Revelation 20:1

With the introduction of Chapter 20, a new vision is also introduced. John begins it by saying, “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven.” There is no reason to assume that this is not the Lord. He is coming down from heaven with a set purpose. As such, it is another aspect of the many roles of what Christ has come to do. Just as heaven opened and He came riding on a white horse in verse 19:11 in order to fulfill His role as the returning Lord and the conquering King, here, (assuming it is the Lord) He is coming down from heaven “having the key to the bottomless pit.”

The Lord is the One who has final authority over the bottomless pit. In Revelation 9:1, it said John saw “a star fallen from heaven to earth.” He then noted that “to him was given the key to the bottomless pit.” Being given a key means another gave him the key. Nothing is said about that now. Thus, the key is already in the possession of this angel. Along with the key, it says, “and a great chain in his hand.”

The Greek reads “upon his hand.” It signifies that in His hand rests the authority of binding with this chain. What will be done with it demonstrates that this is most probably Christ Jesus who bears it. Without taking the symbolism too far, one can almost imagine it is as if the chain is held upon His hand and, without words, hinting, “Here is the implement of your confinement, and it is I who have the authority to use it to bind you.”

Life application: So far, the bottomless pit has been mentioned in Chapter 9 in connection with locusts which were sent to harm men and who had over them the destroyer – Abaddon (Apollyon). It was also noted in Chapter 11 when speaking of the beast that would come from it and kill the two witnesses. Finally, the bottomless pit was mentioned in 17:8, again referring to the beast that would come out of it.

This pit, or abyss, then is not the place of final destruction, but a place which is under God’s control to which, or from which, these evil beings are directed to meet God’s sovereign plans for humanity. As He directs, these beings follow that direction. This is a good lesson for readers of the Bible to understand, and it is one that is also understood from the book of Job.

There is no wickedness, evil, or producer of evil that can thwart God’s plan. Anything which occurs does so to meet God’s overall good purposes and He is in control of all things. If we can truly grasp this and believe it, then no matter what happens, we know that it is being worked out for our good and for God’s glory. This should be an immensely comforting thought for us as we walk in a world that often contains difficulties, trials, and sadness. God is in control, and He has His great hand upon you – even when it doesn’t seem so.

Be of good cheer, God has your back. He has proved it through the redemptive narrative, and it is summed up in the incarnation. Everything ultimately points to what God is doing through His Son, JESUS!

Prayer: What a great comfort it is to know that You truly are in control. Despite the evil that surrounds us, the troubles that come our way, the terrible choices our leaders make, and also in the forces of evil that constantly try to mislead us, You are still there taking care of us and tending to us. You are working it all out for our good. You are great, O God! Amen.

July 22, 2021

Abraham’s Faith Never Wavered

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Clarke Dixon’s regular Thursday column returns in four weeks.

Today again it’s our privilege to feature who writes at Feeding on Jesus where she has a following of many faithful readers who actively engage with her in her comments section. We chose this one for you today. Click the header which follows to read at source. There are also two more recent articles there on the subject of angels including some inspiring stories, and also a link to her devotional book, Feeding on Jesus.

Weak Faith? Strong Faith? Keep Pushing Forward!

“And Abraham’s faith did not weaken… In fact, his faith grew stronger…(Rom. 4:19a; 20b, NLT)

We can draw much encouragement from how God remembers and memorializes Abraham’s life. I’ve always done a double take when reading this passage from Romans 4. The Holy Spirit, writing through Paul, makes the statement that “Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise” (v. 20a).

I read that and my mind starts to protest: Wait, he never wavered? What about when he despaired of waiting and decided to take matters into his own hands? What about Ishmael? What about the poor boy he engendered that had to be sent off into the desert to almost die there?

Somehow, as God gives the overview of Abraham’s earthly sojourn, He chooses not to bring up the Ishmael incident. Apparently, it’s not relevant to the main point: that Abraham’s faith eventually completed the test. The extremely lengthy, prolonged process of waiting on God for His promise actually accomplished something staggering in Abraham. His initially shakeable faith became so resilient that he became renown as “the father of all those who believe” (v. 11).

At the culmination of Abraham’s faith journey, this is the description God gives us of him: “He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises” (v. 21). How do I know this verse is talking about the “end product” of the (twenty-five year) long process that went into the development of Abraham’s faith?

Well, just take a quick look again at the midpoint. That was when Ishmael happened. So clearly Abraham wasn’t fully convinced at that juncture that God was able. He kinda thought God might need some help. His faith was a bit wobbly yet.

However, even after that faltering moment, he didn’t give up on God. He didn’t give up on the process. He didn’t give up on what must have felt like an eternal wait. He kept on choosing hope when for all the world it didn’t look like there was any shred of a reason to keep on hoping (v. 18).

Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, he kept pressing on. His body kept getting older and older. His wife’s did too. But he refused to relinquish God’s word to him.

Every night, he would look up at the stars and remember his Promise encounter. Over and over, he kept choosing to feed and edify his faith. He kept reminding himself of what God had said. He kept stomping on doubt by lifting up his voice and glorifying God (v. 20). He kept pushing through the process. Every. Single. Day.

The result? “Abraham’s faith did not weaken… In fact, his faith grew stronger…” And stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and STRONGER!!!!

Here’s my encouragement to you today. Feeling a little wobbly? Not quite at the “completely convinced” stage yet? That’s okay!!! Just keep pushing forward! Be assured, your faith is not weakening; it’s getting stronger and stronger and stronger by the day. No matter how eternal the wait seems, you ARE going to complete this test. And when God is through with you, WATCH OUT WORLD!! I can’t wait to see the flattened mountains in your wake!!!

*******************************************************

Do you find comfort, as I do, in knowing that “the father of all who believe” started out with faith that needed to be greatly strengthened?

July 21, 2021

Book Excerpt: Don’t Waste Your Pain (2)

This is our second of two excerpts (see here for part one) from a new book by Paul Willoughby titled Don’t Waste Your Pain: The Journey from Brokenness to Wholeness. Have you known pain in your life? Paul’s book is equal parts of autobiography — including his (and wife Gloria’s) ministry nationally in Canada through Christian television, in local churches in Ontario, in Uganda, and in India — and exposition of key Bible narratives. There are 13 challenging chapters and each has questions at the end for personal or group reflection, as well as links to some supplemental online resources relating to each.

Our excerpt today is from one of the teaching sections. Learn more about the book and how to order at dontwasteyourpain.com.

Fruit from Darkness

God has given us many wonderful parallels in nature that help us understand spiritual realities. Often in the Scriptures we see Jesus using everyday objects to illustrate great truth. One of Jesus’ favourites was to talk about farm life – something very familiar to His hearers. He spoke of a farmer sowing seeds, or of a vineyard that needed tending. One time, in speaking of His death Jesus said those words about a kernel of wheat dying, being buried, so it can produce a harvest of many seeds.

For a plant to grow, a seed needs to be buried in the soil. It is a picture of death and pain, of darkness and loneliness. Unless it is planted it will not bear fruit.

Many times in our lives we also feel like that seed – buried, forgotten, alone. But, like the seed, if we allow God’s presence to fill our lives He can cause us to grow and to be fruitful. It’s not easy. And it may take some time. There may be further pruning involved. But as the great Gardener of our lives, we can trust Him to know what He is doing and to bring us to a place of fruitfulness!

Naomi’s Pain: From Bitter to Blessed

One of the many examples of this in Scripture is seen in the life of Naomi. I imagine that she must have spent many nights weeping, crying out to God, wondering why her dreams had been shattered and buried.

Naomi and her husband Elimelech, along with their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, left Israel due to a severe famine. They headed as refugees for Moab, a country neighbouring Israel. Not long after, Elimelech tragically died. Naomi was devastated yet grateful that she still had her two sons with her. She soon found wives for them: Mahlon married Orpah and Kilion married Ruth. As hard as it was to imagine tragedy struck Naomi again within ten years of her husband’s death: her two sons died.

Naomi could not bear the pain. She viewed her losses the way many people do and concluded that God was against her. Perhaps Naomi wondered, “Aren’t I part of God’s people? Doesn’t God see me or care for me anymore?” Resentment began to seep into Naomi’s soul. We can sense it in her words: “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” (Ruth 1:13). In fact, Naomi told her friends to call her “Mara” instead of Naomi, because Mara meant “bitter.” She was beginning to form her identity around her circumstances, rather than on what God thought of her, or had planned for her. Because of her pain Naomi thought her story was finished; she was unable to see how God could bring anything good out of something that appeared to be so bad.

We all need to be careful about how we interpret the bad things that happen to us. In deep sorrow Naomi gave up and advised her two daughters-in-law to go back home and find new husbands. Orpah followed her suggestion, but Ruth refused. “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you,” Ruth replied. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16). Could there be any stronger example of devotion in all of Scripture? Ruth’s willingness to selflessly bind herself to one in such tragedy and suffering is amazing. However, in the throes of depression, Naomi was unable to see her world correctly.

A small glimmer of hope for Naomi emerged in her daughter-in-law’s promises to never leave her, never forsake her. It is the same promise that God makes to us: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5–6). We begin to see how, in a sense, Ruth is like God and sometimes we are like Naomi; though many will leave us and forsake us, God will not.

Ruth’s promise did not take away Naomi’s pain, but it did help her begin to move in the right direction and kept her going until she reached a place where she could say, “God is good.”

If you read through the story, in the book of Ruth, you will see how after Naomi and Ruth returned to Israel, God moved the heart of Boaz to provide for Ruth and then to eventually marry her. They had a child, Obed, who would eventually become the grandfather of David, the great King of Israel. Hundreds of years later, of course, Jesus himself would come from David’s lineage.

But let’s think about Naomi once again. Imagine her in Moab, her husband and two sons suddenly gone. All her dreams suddenly shattered, her longings unfulfilled, her hopes dashed to pieces. She put a label on herself: “bitter.” But looking back we see that God actually had blessing in store for her. What if she had really given up? Turned her back on God? She could have said, ‘I never want to go back to Israel and its God! He doesn’t care about me!’ But, no, even though she could not understand it, she returned again. And as we turn to the Lord, even in the midst of pain, God can turn our bitterness to blessing, just as he did for Naomi!

When our circumstances look desperate and we are tempted to become despondent, we must remember that there is still hope.

So, don’t give up. God is near. Turn your eyes toward heaven and know that He sees your tears. Let Him draw you close to Himself. Rest there in His embrace and allow Him to “quiet you with his love” (Zephaniah 3:17). Yes, loss is a bitter pill to take, but we never know what good God will bring out of it, or the greater plan He can unfold if we only trust Him.

 

July 20, 2021

Christianity’s Exclusivity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today again we get to highlight a new voice. Dave Lowe writes at The Lowedown (and his articles are DAVEotionals!) He has spent his life in service with Cru (along with his wife Jen) and currently heads up Cru City’s Millennial ministry in California, reaching out to one of the least evangelized groups in the western world. As always, you’re strongly encouraged to click the header which follows and read these articles where we found them.

Is Christianity an Exclusive Religion?

1 Timothy 2

1I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. As you make your requests, plead for God’s mercy upon them, and give thanks. 2Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity. 3This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4for he wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 5For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus. 6He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message that God gave to the world at the proper time. 7And I have been chosen—this is the absolute truth—as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles about faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-7, NLT)

DAVEotional

One of the criticisms I often hear when talking to others about Christ is that Christianity claims to be exclusive. These claims of exclusivity are seen as a negative in our culture, which values freedom of thought, and in the name of tolerance, often validates any and all views, no matter how outlandish or illogical.

It’s absolutely true that Christianity claims to be true and  on certain doctrinal matters it is exclusive.

In this passage of 1 Timothy 2, Paul is urging his audience to pray for everyone, including kings and those in authority. I previously wrote about the need to pray for our political rivals here.

Paul gives the reason why we should pray for others, even those who are in authority over us and with whom we might disagree – God wants everyone to be saved and understand the truth.

Two questions naturally follow: what does it mean “to be saved” and “what is the truth that people need to understand?”

When the Bible talks about being saved, it’s referring to being rescued from punishment. The picture is that we are on a trajectory that will lead to disaster but because of God’s help, our crisis is averted.

One of the questions that every religion seeks to answer is “how can people be reconciled to God?” Or another way of putting it is, “what must a person do in order to be accepted by God and enter into His presence?”

To be reconciled means to be brought back into a favorable relational status. What must I do to please God, to earn His favor and gain His acceptance?

Nearly every religion answers this question by providing a list of actions one must complete or avoid in order to gain favor. These actions form the basis for evaluating a person’s devotion to God and the quality or “goodness” of a person’s life, which in turn is used to determine their worthiness for entering God’s presence in the afterlife.

But here lies the problem. Nobody can follow all the rules that any religion might establish. These “rules” create a legal system for following God which people inevitably violate. One doesn’t have to read very far into the Old Testament to see that the Israelites were constantly abandoning God’s laws and rebelling against His statutes.

So what is the “truth” that God wants everyone to understand?

The truth is outlined in verses 5 and 6, which state:

For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message that God gave to the world at the proper time.

The truth is that the ONLY way to be reconciled to God is through Christ Jesus. His death on the cross purchased freedom for everyone.

So reconciliation to God does NOT occur by keeping a list of religious requirements. Instead, it comes by placing one’s faith in Jesus to make the payment for us.

Is it exclusive? YES and NO!

It’s exclusive in that Jesus is the ONLY one who has made a payment for sin. No other religious system even offers a solution to how imperfect people can make themselves righteous enough to enter into the presence of an infinitely holy God. Every other religious system keeps people trapped in the religious hamster wheel of endlessly attempting to make oneself “worthy” before God, only to experience moral failure through everyday sins.

Fortunately for us, Jesus rescues us from this religious trap and provides a way for us to actually be reconciled.

But it’s NOT exclusive in the sense that the freedom Jesus offers is available to EVERYONE, not just some select group. ANYONE can access God by coming to Jesus!

This is the truth that God wants EVERYONE to understand, which is why Paul urges us to pray for all people to ultimately understand this truth so that they might experience God’s mercy.

Reflection

What is your view on how a person is “saved”? In other words, in your view, what does a person need to do in order to make it to heaven and live with God for eternity?

What is the basis for your answer in the previous question? In other words, what is the source of the views that you hold? 

People often say that Christians are too exclusive in their views. Do you agree that Christianity is exclusive? If so, why is this seen as a negative to people? Does being exclusive mean that it is automatically wrong? Why or why not?

The essence of Christianity’s exclusive claims is found in verse 6, which says, “He [Jesus] gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.” How would you explain this concept to someone else? What does it mean that Jesus gave his life? What does it mean that he purchased freedom?


Because of the nature of today’s article, it may be that a search engine brought you here and you’ve not yet crossed the line of faith. I want to invite you to read another one of Dave’s articles which touches on things you might be considering; check out Follow the Science.

July 19, 2021

Taking the Land

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NIV.Johsua.14.6a&7-9 Now the people of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him… “…I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, but my fellow Israelites who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt in fear. I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly. So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.

A year ago at this time we introduced you to Leiah who writes at Yellow Diamond Blog. Why the name? Her hope is, “that you will discover that you are far more precious and valuable than even a rare yellow diamond.” Her recent writing has been a mix of testimony and Bible study. Click the title to read at source.

You Can’t Take Everyone with You

You can’t take everyone with you.

For nearly a year now I’ve know that the Lord was getting ready to make a shift in my life. I had absolutely no idea how or when it was going to play out. I just knew he was moving me into a long awaited promised land.

I’ve spent hours and hours just imagining what it would be like. I had so many ideas and things I was just really certain about. And finally one day I knew it was time to move forward and take the land. So naturally I summoned others to come too. But as I moved forward, they regressed. Bittersweet isn’t a strong enough word to describe the conflicted feelings I have about this journey so far. I never planned to do it alone. And yet here I am. But you can’t take everyone with you.

I look back on the children of Israel, and I see the difference in the people that crossed over into the promised land, and the ones who didn’t.

The ones who crossed over were willing to face their greatest fears, to face the unknown, and go after the promise of the Lord unapologetically no matter what or who they had to leave behind. They trusted that if the Lord brought them there, He would indeed take care of them there. They knew that even though it looked impossible for them to enjoy the fruits of the land they were entering into, that the Lord intended good for them. They knew that he would heal their hearts of the brokenness they had encountered in the wilderness. They knew that the joy of the promised land would be greater than the sorrow of the wilderness. They knew that there would be an adjustment period, in which they had to go from the “survival of the wilderness” to “thrive in the promised land” mentality. They also knew that maintaining the promised land would require following the Lords instructions meticulously.

I am still in the process of taking the land. I know there will be days I feel defeated, insecure, and want to run back into the wilderness I’ve known for so long. However, I will not turn back. I will set my eyes on Jesus and walk hand in hand with Him towards the life He has for me. I will deal with the trauma of the wilderness. I will not carry those survival mindsets into this new place. I will embrace the goodness of the Lord and all that He has planned for me. I will work hard to embrace this new life. I will open my heart to new adventures with the Lord, and trust that he has equipped me for whatever is ahead.

It makes me sad to think that some people will never experience the promised land in their life. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see fear hold them back. I get it.

It’s terrifying to face the giants in the land.

It’s intimidating to look at all the things in your life that are keeping you from Gods best and tackle them head on.

It’s hard work.

It’s exhausting.

It’s painful and emotional, and confrontational.

It’s all the things I hate.

The process can be long and grueling.

It can take days, months, or even years.

It can take setting boundaries with others,

separating your self from relationships,

saying no to things you’ve always said yes to,

changing your way of thinking,

breaking habits,

being disciplined.

Some days it requires crying until you can’t any more.

Some days you just have to go against everything you’ve ever known and do something different.

It requires taking responsibility for your actions, but at the same time allowing the Lord to reveal the broken places leading you to those actions, and allowing him to heal them.

It takes showing yourself love and compassion while accepting and correcting your biggest failures.

It takes learning who the Lord created you to be, believing what He says about you, and confidently living as that person.

It’s going to require a lot of me to enter into my promised land. It already has in the first few steps towards it. It will require a lot of you too. You won’t want to move towards it some days, in fear of what or who it will require of you next. But remember, it’s YOUR promised land!!! It is the good the Lord intended for YOU!!! He knows who can thrive there with you, and who can’t. TRUST HIM!!! Look at all the times His children took people with them when they weren’t supposed to, and those people cost them their promised land every single time.

Leaving people behind for your promised land is terrifying and heart wrenching. It seems harmless to try and take them with you when the Lord says you shouldn’t. But remember, people don’t value something that isn’t meant for them.

Step out. Move forward. Fight for your promised land with no regrets. The Lord is with you, and for you. He will not let you down. Follow His lead. Hear His voice. Do whatever it takes to defeat those giants keeping you from the fullness of the Lord in your life.

It’s time child. The Lord says you’re ready. Take heart, take courage, take your promised land. ❤️

“but my brothers who went with me frightened the people from entering the Promised Land. For my part, I wholeheartedly followed the Lord my God.”

Joshua 14:8 NLT

 

July 18, 2021

The Triune God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Last year at this time, we briefly connected with the writing of Michael Battle at his site Rooted and Grounded in Christ. We thought he deserved more than a few paragraphs this time! To red this at source, click the header which follows. Michael uses the King James text in this post, but references are provided.

The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit

According to the Bible there is only one God and he has a Son, Jesus Christ.

In John 17, Jesus prayed the following words:

Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. ~ v.1-5

When the New Testament is surveyed, the overarching truth which comes up again and again is that the One true God is that the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Christ is his Son in the fullest sense of the word, having the same divine and eternal nature as the Father. In the text above, Jesus prays to the Father to be glorified with the Father’s own self which is glory he had before the world was. Christ came from God and has always existed with God and in God. The apostle Paul refers to the deity of Christ as the mystery of godliness.

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. ~1 Timothy 3:16 

Christ is one with the Father in spirit, being divine, and in his eternal existence having always been with the Father. Jesus came into the world from the Father, who is God.

In 1 Corinthians 8, the apostle Paul declares, For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. ~ 1 Corinthians 8:5-6

Notice the language Paul uses: One God, the Father of whom are all things… and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things. This is consistent with Paul’s words elsewhere, that God created all things by Jesus Christ.

Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ… ~ Ephesians 3:8-9

According to Paul, the unsearchable riches of Christ were hidden in God from the beginning of the world. Christ is indeed the revelation of God’s person who dwells in unapproachable light and whom no man has seen (1 Timothy 6:16). Christ is the revelation of God’s person to fallen humanity.

The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as the Son by whom God has spoken to us, by whom also God made the worlds. He then declares that Jesus is the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person. ~ Hebrews 1:3

In creation we see God’s outward handiwork, In Christ we see his inward glory and beauty – his love, his grace, his kindness, and his mercy. Christ brings us into fellowship with God and reveals to us his glory by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the One true God who gave his only begotten Son.

But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. ~ Matthew 10:19-20

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance… But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy… ~Acts 2:1-4; 14-18

In the texts above Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of your Father (God), and Peter interprets the Holy Spirit coming on the Day of Pentecost as God pouring out his Spirit. Over and over again, the Holy Spirit is referred to as God’s Spirit.

For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit. ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8

He is also referred to as the Spirit of Christ.

But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. ~ Romans 8:9

Consider Paul’s words to the Ephesians:

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. ~Ephesians 3:14-19

Paul bows in prayer before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for it is the Father to whom we pray through Christ. Paul says the whole family in Heaven and in earth are named from the Father. He then refers to the Holy Spirit as the Father’s Spirit: that he (the Father)  would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man…

Notice Paul’s expectation of the Father granting strength in our inner man by his Spirit is to this end – that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith, that we be rooted and grounded in love, that we comprehend the love of Christ in all its vastness, and thus be filled with all the fullness of God.

In Christ the fullness of God is revealed. Through the Spirit Christ dwells in our hearts drawing us close to the glorious God who sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. In Christ, God is revealed to us. Through the Holy Spirit Christ lives in us. This is the fellowship of the mystery we are called into, and thus we come to know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, except the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ. ~ 1 Corinthians 2:9-16

July 17, 2021

God’s Peace for You

Today something radically different. Our devotional thoughts are taken from one of many 5-day reading plans at YouVersion. For those who don’t know it, just as desktop and laptop computer users tend to gravitate to Bible Gateway or Bible Hub, cell/mobile users tend to download the YouVersion app. It offers an endless list of Bible translations in hundreds of languages. It was conceived by Bobby Gruenewald (an associate of Craig Groeschel) who got the idea and immediately registered the domain name while standing in line at an airport.

Today’s excerpt from the notes has been edited for space; you’re encouraged to click the link which follows to read in full. There are also many suggested scripture readings for each of the five days you select, and you can click on them to read the passages.

Experiencing God’s Peace

What Is Peace?

If you ask people what peace means, they’ll give you a variety of answers…

While those answers aren’t bad or wrong, they are usually from a viewpoint that doesn’t include God in the equation. The world’s peace is different from God’s peace. Worldly peace is temporary and dependent upon circumstances, and doesn’t provide the kind of peace Jesus is offering. When things are calm, we’re at peace. When our circumstances grow dim, we’re not at peace.

In John 14:27, Jesus doesn’t want our hearts to be troubled. Because although we concern ourselves with temporal struggles, He’s offering a permanent solution, which is His peace. It doesn’t matter how intelligent we are, how decorated our resumes are, how many inventions are credited to our names, or how smart, creative, and wise we are—we don’t know how to create peace.

The Creator of peace is the One who created us. He is our Lord, our Creator, our Mighty God, and our Everlasting Father…

Peace With God

This peace that God gives may be beyond our comprehension, but it’s not beyond our grasp. It’s readily available to us. If we want to have peace with God, there are no “Three easy steps to peace with God.” There is only one way—Jesus.

When Jesus died on the cross, God put all of the sins of the world on Jesus—past, present, and future. When we accept this gift from God and put our faith in Him, we get the righteousness of Christ. This righteousness, according to Romans 4:23-24, is “credited” to us who believe in Him who raised Jesus from the dead.

We all want God’s peace. But until we come to a saving relationship with Jesus, receive His gift, and are saved, we’ll never have it. It’s best stated like this: If we want the peace of God, we must first have peace with God.

When we sin—and we will—this does not cancel out peace with God. When we are justified by God, it’s a one-time event. We’re not justified over and over. Praise God that our human condition doesn’t render our saved, spiritual condition as null and void.

So, what does peace with God do for us during uncertain times? It grants us hope. Hope that the life we live on earth is just the beginning of our forever life with God. As followers of Jesus, people who’ve accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, we’re given life abundant and life eternal. They go hand in hand.

Because we have the hope of Jesus and His Holy Spirit guiding us, an abundant life is possible here on earth. When we’ve taken our final breath in our temporary body on this earth, we are ushered into eternity. This life in our forever home is eternal and abundant. But, they are both just a continuation of what was begun on earth.

If you know Jesus, if you’ve made Him your Lord and Savior, then you can rest assured that whatever earthly scenarios or circumstances are weighing heavily on you don’t have eternal power over you. In light of what awaits us in our true home, this life is just a tiny segment in time. The peace we have with God is what guarantees our hope of what’s to come.

Peace of God

…To experience the peace of God, let’s dive into two Bible passages to see how we can make the peace of God our constant reality.

Romans 8:6-11

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[b] his Spirit who lives in you.

A Spirit-controlled mind leads to life and peace, and letting our sinful nature reign brings death. Think about it. When we cave and entertain sinful thoughts that are far from God’s best, our minds don’t have the peace of God. Not because God isn’t near, but because our sin has put a barrier between us and God. The peace of God and our sinful nature are at war. They cannot co-exist. But when we simply submit to our good God, trust in His ways, and obey Him, we’re no longer succumbing to our sinful nature and instead experience His perfect peace.

Philippians 4:6-7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The peace of God covers us like a blanket when we stop worrying but pray about everything instead. That’s right—everything. We turn every burden or hardship that we’re carrying over to God and when we do, His peace that “passes understanding”  floods our hearts and minds. It’s so beyond our understanding. It’s not something we can create but something we obtain when we choose to trust, obey, and walk in faith…

Peace With Others

Sometimes our lack of peace with others is because we’re stubborn and don’t want to meet in the middle when we don’t agree. We think arrogantly that our way is the best way. Another reason we don’t have peace with others is because we don’t want things to go well for them, either because they’ve hurt us or we’re jealous of them. We don’t want them to flourish, but instead want them to fail.

But we can learn how to live in peace with others from a variety of verses in God’s Word. Here are a few:

  • When someone persecutes us, we bless them in return (Romans 12:14)
  • Never pay back evil with more evil but instead be honorable (Romans 12:17)
  • Don’t retaliate with insults but pay back with a blessing (I Peter 3:9)

Even when we’ve blessed those who persecuted us, have chosen not to pay back evil, and been honorable in our actions, there still may not be peace. Why? Because people are people, and as good as we try to be and as much good as we try to do, we still fall short of perfection. Not every relationship can be salvaged, but let’s do everything we can to ensure that we’ve done our part.

  • Let’s love and be tenderhearted toward each other
  • Let’s believe and hope for the best for others
  • Let’s consider things from their point of view
  • Let’s apologize when we need to make wrongs right
  • Let’s pray for God to work in us and also in them

And let’s ultimately remember that people are not our enemies. We have a real spiritual enemy who loves it when we battle and accuse each other. If we blame people, circumstances, or struggles for our stress and lack of peace, then we are inevitably giving them control over whether or not we live in peace. Let’s not give anything or anyone in our lives this kind of power. There is only One peace-bringer, and His name is Jesus. He is the Prince of all Peace.

Peace Doesn’t Equal Perfection

…While earth is our home, we will have hardship and difficulties. We’ll go through seasons where the pain is intense because pain accompanies struggling relationships, struggling economies, and struggling health crises. These outside pressures don’t have the power to take away God’s perfect peace through Jesus Christ...

He meets us in our deepest time of need with an unexplainable, unfathomable, and inexplicable peace. This peace of God is unrivaled, and it’s beyond compare. No one or no thing is even in the same class as this perfect, mysterious peace. Even though it’s beyond our comprehension, we know when we have God’s peace and we know when we don’t.

We experience it in the midst of unspeakable pain and yet somehow, we have this calmness over us. We experience it when we’re in financial struggles and are unsure of how to pay the next bill, yet we’re amazed we can rest in God’s provision. We experience it when our health is in jeopardy and we don’t know when healing will come, yet we can’t explain the serenity we are living in. That’s the peace of God in imperfect situations. Life is not perfect, but our God is.

God doesn’t always take us out of our valleys, but He will always bring us through them. It’s often in the unknown that God shows us the most powerful revelations about who He is and who we are. We can still trust and rest in our good God during life’s challenges and exhibit faith during our own torrential, situational downpours. It’s this kind of faith that pleases our God.


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July 16, 2021

The Angel Taking Notes

Today’s devotional doesn’t have direct scripture references, but you’ll see allusions to key passages all over this piece of writing.

This is a poem written by Canadian pastor Craig Pitts. It’s been reprinted in a handful of other places by permission, so we’re taking the liberty of doing so here as we were unable to contact anyone directly.

God’s Eternal Ink

by Craig Pitts

I dreamed I was in heaven
Where an angel kept God’s book.
He was writing so intently
I just had to take a look.

It was not, at first, his writing
That made me stop and think
But the fluid in the bottle
That was marked eternal ink.

This ink was most amazing,
Dark black upon his blotter
But as it touched the parchment
It became as clear as water.

The angel kept on writing,
But as quickly as a wink
The words were disappearing
With that strange eternal ink.

The angel took no notice,
But kept writing on and on.
He turned each page and filled it
Till all its space was gone.

I thought he wrote to no avail,
His efforts were so vain
For he wrote a thousand pages
That he’d never read again.

And as I watched and wondered that
This awesome sight was mine,
I actually saw a word stay black
As it dried upon the line.

The angel wrote and I thought I saw
A look of satisfaction.
At last he had some print to show
For all his earnest action.

A line or two dried dark and stayed
As black as black can be,
But strangely the next paragraph
Became invisible to see.

The book was getting fuller,
The angel’s records true,
But most of it was blank, with
Just a few words coming through.

I knew there was some reason,
But as hard as I could think,
I couldn’t grasp the significance
Of that eternal ink.

The mystery burned within me,
And I finally dared to ask
The angel to explain to me
Of his amazing task.

And what I heard was frightful
As the angel turned his head.
He looked directly at me,
And this is what he said…

I know you stand and wonder
At what my writing’s worth
But God has told me to record
The lives of those on earth.

The book that I am filling
Is an accurate account
Of every word and action
And to what they do amount.

And since you have been watching
I must tell you what is true;
The details of my journal
Are the strict accounts of YOU.

The Lord asked me to watch you
As each day you worked and played.
I saw you as you went to church,
I saw you as you prayed.

But I was told to document
Your life through all the week.
I wrote when you were proud and bold,
I wrote when you were meek.

I recorded all your attitudes
Whether they were good or bad.
I was sorry that I had to write
The things that make God sad.

So now I’ll tell the wonder
Of this eternal ink,
For the reason for it’s mystery
Should make you stop and think.

This ink that God created
To help me keep my journal
Will only keep a record of
Things that are eternal.

So much of life is wasted
On things that matter not
So instead of my erasing,
Smudging ink and ugly blot.

I just keep writing faithfully and
Let the ink do all the rest
For it is able to decide
What’s useless and what’s best.

And God ordained that as I write
Of all you do and say
Your deeds that count for nothing
Will just disappear away.

When books are opened someday,
As sure as heaven is true;
The Lord’s eternal ink will tell
What mattered most to you.

If you just lived to please yourself
The pages will be bare,
And God will issue no reward
For you when you get there.

In fact, you’ll be embarrassed,
You will hang your head in shame
Because you did not give yourself
In love to God’s Name.

Yet maybe there will be a few
Recorded lines that stayed
That showed the times you truly cared,
Sincerely loved and prayed.

But you will always wonder
As you enter heaven’s door
How much more glad you would have been
If only you’d done more.

For I record as God sees,
I don’t stop to even think
Because the truth is written
With God’s eternal ink.

When I heard the angel’s story
I fell down and wept and cried
For as yet I still was dreaming
I hadn’t really died.

And I said: O angel tell the Lord
That soon as I awake
I’ll live my life for God-
I’ll do all for His dear sake.

I’ll give in full surrender;
I’ll do all He wants me to
I’ll turn my back on self and sin
And whatever isn’t true.

And though the way seems long and rough
I promise to endure.
I’m determined to pursue the things
That are holy, clean and pure.

With God as my helper,
I will win lost souls to Thee,
For I know that they will live with thee
For all eternity.

And that’s what really matters
When my life on earth is gone
That I will stand before the Lord
And hear Him say, well done.

For is it really worth it
As my life lies at the brink?
And I realize that God keeps books
With His eternal ink.

Should all my life be focused
On things that turn to dust?
From this point on I’ll serve the Lord;
I can, I will, I must!

I will NOT send blank pages
Up to God’s majestic throne
For where that record’s going now
Is my eternal home.

I’m giving all to God
I now have seen the link
For I saw an angel write my life
With God’s eternal ink.

Copyright © Craig F. Pitts

July 15, 2021

Parallels Between the Ethiopian Eunuch’s Story And Ours

NIV.Acts.8.30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31a “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?”

This article is based on a sermon that was a sequel to the one which presented here last week and appeared under the title below. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in one of several Canadian denominations of Baptist.  We hope some of the good things he has to say about his faith family apply to yours as well. The scripture focus today is the story of the eunuch who was some type of government official as well, so I’m not sure why we focus on his eunuchicity. (Like that word?) He was riding in a chariot when the encounter took place. Clarke has linked the scripture text in the article.

What I Love About Being a Baptist Despite My Misgivings About Baptists

by Clarke Dixon

Yes, I am a Baptist pastor, but no I don’t always like Baptists.

First off, I don’t like being a Baptist when people think they know what you are like and what you believe. This happens for people from every Christian tradition I’m sure, but when you are a Baptist, you face things like “you can’t dance.” True enough in my case, but that is not a theological thing, I’m just not good at it.

People hear you are a Baptist and think Westboro Baptist, they think Republican party. They don’t think Tommy Douglas, an NDP politician voted the Greatest Canadian in a national poll by the CBC not too long ago. Oh, and he was also a Baptist pastor.

People think “Bible thumpers.” They don’t think of people who put a lot of thought into reading and understanding the Bible.

We also have a reputation for not getting along with others, including each other! When it comes to the churches we officially associate with, the sentiment is often expressed, “if they are in, we are out.”

Worldwide, Baptists are one massive dysfunctional, disorganized, and often estranged-from-each-other kind of family.

What I love about being a Baptist, despite my misgivings.

In reading the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-39 we can find some of the reasons I love being a Baptist.

I love being a Baptist because freedom is important.

The Ethiopian Eunuch came to trust in Jesus freely and of his own accord. Phillip did not force him, in fact being baptized was the Ethiopian’s idea. He would also have been free to reject what Phillip told him about Jesus. If my sons express faith and are baptized, it will be their decision, their faith, not mine.

We promote the freedom to worship God according to our own conscience and not under compulsion from any government or church hierarchy telling us what to believe and how to live as followers of Jesus.

We also believe in the importance of freedom for others to worship God, or not, according to their own conscience. Religious freedom, within reason, for all people is important to us.

We do not think of the Christian Church as being a community of people who ought to be Christian because they are born in a certain nation, but rather a community of people who have freely chosen to follow Jesus, no matter where they are from.

I love being a Baptist because our main creed is ‘Jesus is Lord.’

Jesus was the focus for Phillip when the Ethiopian asked about the suffering servant in the scroll of Isaiah he was reading. We see no effort on Phillip’s part in trying to get the the Ethiopian to start practicing a certain kind of religion, or buy into a certain tradition, but rather he introduces him to Jesus. As Baptists, we are all about Jesus.

Jesus is Lord, and therefore the head of the church, not a king or queen, or a pope. This is why congregational voting is so important to us. The hierarchy of the church is not Lord, nor is the pastor, but Jesus. Since Jesus is Lord, we believe finding out what our Lord desires is very important. Since we believe that the Lord speaks through the entire body of believers, we ask the entire congregation. The way we discern what the Lord desires is through every member. Our congregational votes are not about the preference of the members, but the discernment of the mind of Christ, even when that may be contrary to one’s own preference.

I love being a Baptist because the Bible is our authority.

The Scriptures played an important role in the Ethiopian’s embrace of Jesus. We are a people for whom the Bible is very important, it is our authority.

We should note that Jesus is Lord and the Bible is our authority. The way we talk about it, however, may cause some people to think our belief is that the Bible is Lord and our particular understanding of it is the authority.

Since the Bible is our authority, we keep going back to it in every generation. While confessions of faith have been drawn up by different Baptist groups over the years, we often push against the idea of having such. We can learn from what those in former generations have learned and taught from the Bible, but they are not the authority. The Bible is our authority and not a statement of faith. Therefore, the teaching of the Bible can come alive for every generation and in every context.

I was once asked for a statement of faith by an organization wanting to partner with our church. I asked if they would like a pdf of the Bible!

I love being a Baptist because there is a focus on each person relating to Jesus directly.

When the Ethiopian Eunuch trusted in Jesus, he did not need to go find an official priest back at the temple in order to experience the forgiveness of sin. His sin was forgiven at the cross. He was free to come before the throne of God without any need for a priest as a “go-between.”

We call this the priesthood of all believers, each person relating directly to God through Jesus. We also have the role of priests, of being “go-betweens,” presenting God to people through witness and conversation, and people to God, through prayer.

I love being a Baptist because it is a grass roots, keep-it-simple-like-the-early-Christians-did kind of movement.

The baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch was not very formal at all. If this Ethiopian came to faith in Jesus today and said “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?(Acts 8:36 NRSV), we would come up with reasons! We would make it complicated. Some churches, and entire denominations, have such complications formalized in the rules of how things are to be done, on baptism, in fact on everything. We Baptists don’t always keep it simple, but the opportunity is there to do so.

Conclusion

If people are turned off by organized religion, then we can tell them not to worry, for we are highly disorganized religion! Seriously though, our goal is not to help people move towards organized religion, but relationships and connections starting with a vital relationship and connection with Jesus. This is what Phillip did in the life of the Ethiopian Eunuch.

People today do not like organized religion but they do like authenticity. We have space, as Baptists, for authenticity. We do not say; “here are our traditions and rules developed in another time and place, which you all need to conform to,” but, “here is the Bible, how does it speak into how we walk with Christ in our day, in ways that are authentic to our time and place?”

At the end of the day, it is all about helping people know Jesus and walk with Jesus, like Phillip did with the Ethiopian Eunuch. May we, who are Baptists, be like Phillip, but even more so may we be like Jesus.

July 14, 2021

God Had a Plan in Mind

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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This is our fourth time at Inspire a Fire, but the first time since 2017. They feature a variety of writers and focus on topical devotionals. The writer today is Norma Gail. She is an award winning fiction author, and Bible study leader. Click the header which follows to read this at Inspire a Fire.

Broken Relationships and God’s Plans

Broken relationships hurt. The search for answers feels like grasping at fog. As years pass and circumstances fail to change, the hope of reconciliation fades. God alone can heal a family, but His methods are often different than we would choose.

Joseph Suffered at His Jealous Brothers’ Hands

One of the Bible’s most powerful characters, Joseph, offers a glimpse at how a hopeless family situation was healed. Attacked by jealous older brothers and thrown into a dry cistern, they plotted to kill him. His questions must have circled like vultures, sharp beaks pecking away, leaving painful wounds that pierced his heart. Our most difficult dilemmas and deepest wounds come from those who possess the greatest power to hurt, those we love.

Judah saved Joseph from death but could do nothing to prevent the others from selling him into slavery. What agony he must have experienced as each day carried him further from his life as a favored son. In a foreign land with a strange language and customs, he was tempted and tried, forgotten, and neglected, then suddenly elevated to a position of prominence. Whenever Joseph found a measure of peace and comfort, relationships went bad again, and prison resulted.

Joseph Chose Faithfulness, Not Bitterness

Rather than wallowing in bitterness, Joseph chose to walk closely to the Lord. Scripture repeats the phrases,

“The Lord was with Joseph,” “the Lord gave him success,”

and his masters recognized something special in him. Joseph prospered through faithfulness, despite his circumstances. He was willing to serve others, though he possessed nothing of his former position.

Wherever he went, Joseph honored God in humiliation as he did in prosperity. Whatever his task, he worked as if serving the Lord, and God was faithful in return.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” (Colossians 3:23, 24).

Joseph’s attitude brought blessing to those around him.

God, Not Man, Controls Our Circumstances

My hurt and anger blind me to the blessings that could result if I trusted God and waited on Him. No one enjoys disrespect, lies, and mistreatment, but seeking to right the wrongs on my own is doomed to fail. God’s time and method are essential.

God could have stopped the situation at any point, protected Joseph from his brothers, and punished their hatred, but He didn’t. My most difficult circumstances grow and mature me if I seek Him. He will change hearts and minds if I trust, pray, and wait for His timing.

When Joseph met his brothers many years later, he forgave. He refused to retaliate in anger. Lord, help me learn the lesson of Joseph and extend grace when relationships go bad. Enable me to say as he did,

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” (Genesis 50:20).

[B]less those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:28

God heals hurts. The brother’s hearts had changed over the years as they saw the pain their actions brought to their father. What we see as unchangeable is not so to God.

July 13, 2021

Financial Security vs. Eternal Security

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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James.5.1.NIV Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.* You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

*Or yourselves as in a day of feasting

A year later, we’re checking back in with Meanderings of a Minister by Pastor Jack Jacob. This devotional study begins, “Have you ever taken the time to look at a dollar bill?” For our UK readers, think pound note, and in Europe think Euro note. Where he writes “401k” think pension scheme. Click the header which follows to read this at his site.

From Where Does Your Security Come?

Have you ever taken the time to look at a dollar bill? They really are not that remarkable. They are green and many are wrinkled. If you were to look at one under a microscope, you would find they are laden with all sorts of bacteria. There are reminders all over the bill that it is not really your property, but the property of the United States of America. They have reminders of their denomination. A dollar bill is not that remarkable. Did I say that already?

So, if the dollar bill is not that remarkable, then why is it that we tend to put our security in how many of them we have? Security is defined as freedom from danger, fear, and anxiety. Why do we think dollar bills can provide this? Why do we think we must even use the dollar bills of a credit card company to be happy? Why is it that we sacrifice our time, marriages and even health in pursuing them? Why is it that we want to build a house with them and clothe ourselves with them and yet come away feeling so empty? Maybe it is because we have forgotten where they come from and whose they are.

In James 5:1-6, James tells the rich people of his day (and yes, they were believers) that getting their security from their riches instead of finding their security in Christ would mean that their source of security would make them insecure. He says they should howl and weep because misery would come on them. Before we think that James just does not understand our circumstances, think of the rich farmer of Luke 12:16-21. He thought that he ought to tear down his barns to make room for the riches that were pouring in. Because he thought that his crops were his security, God called him a fool and his life ended the very night he was standing on the security he had chosen. When we think that riches are our security, we are putting ourselves in a precarious position at best. Just ask those that have lost their 401K’s to the failing stock market!

James goes on to say that placing our security in wealth will cause us to want to hoard it and keep it where it can be consumed by pests and where other things can become attached to those riches that make them not as flashy and brilliant as we thought they were in verses 2 and 3. In verse 4, he goes even further to say that our misunderstanding of where our security should come from will cause us not only to hoard it, but will also cause us to keep it from others. In this verse, James accuses the rich believers of withholding wages from those that had earned them. Psalm 37 reminds us that a fool borrows and does not pay back. For many of us that get our security from the wrong place, we tend to hold on to our money and not pay bills right away, or pay the minimum. We rationalize this by saying we are managing our money wisely, but the truth so often is that we are afraid that, if we pay our bills as soon as we receive them, we will not have money for something that might come up. If we pay more than the minimum due, we will not have enough for something else we might “need”. We have gotten our security from the wrong place.

Lastly, James warns his listeners that getting our security from the wrong place with both cause us to think that all we have is for us (verse 5) and can lead us into doing anything to get it (verse 6). I cannot tell you how many honorable people ended up in jail because they got their security from the wrong place. They never dreamed they would steal from the company, cheat on their taxes, or even break into someone’s house, but they needed money because they thought that was the source of their security. This is one of the problems with some folks who have bought into the health and welfare movement that is so prevalent in some churches today. Those that buy into this belief system have never really had a change in their security base. They have just gotten religious about how they will go about getting it. James warns that this will only lead to misery. We would do well to heed his warning.

So if money is not sufficient for security, then what is? Simply this: “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Luke 10:20) Our security can only come from Him Who is the chief cornerstone in the temple of our Eternal Father. Place your faith, trust, and security in Him!


Bonus devotional: Sometimes it’s hard to choose among good articles. Here’s one by the same author; check out Protecting Your Testimony.

July 12, 2021

What if Our “Sabbath” Isn’t a “Day?”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In our continuing quest to discover new devotional writers to feature, I came upon the writing of Nathan Nass who writes at Upside-Down Savior. Nathan is Pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  I found this approach to a recurring question rather refreshing. Click the header which appears below to read this at his blog.

Rest in Christ

These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
 – Colossians 2:17 NIV

“Why don’t you have your church services on Saturdays?” A conscientious Christian woman asked me that recently. It’s a great question! The 3rd Commandment says, Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy (Exodus 20:8). The “Sabbath day” is Saturday. Jesus worshiped in Jewish synagogues on Saturdays during his ministry on earth. Some Christian churches today insist that true worship of God must take place on Saturday. Why don’t we? Don’t we have to worship God on the Sabbath—Saturday?

No! Here’s why: The word “Sabbath” means “rest.” God did command the Israelites in the Old Testament to rest and worship him on Saturdays. The Sabbath day was one of God’s special commands to the Israelites that set them apart from the nations around them and pointed them ahead to the coming Savior, like God’s commands to sacrifice animals daily and give a tithe—or 10%—as their offerings to God. Those were good commands from God that God wanted the Israelites to follow.

But they’re not meant for you and me today. Know why? Because Jesus has come! We no longer need those rituals to point us ahead to Jesus, because Jesus has come, and we now have the real thing. The New Testament explains:These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ (Colossians 2:17). Like a shadow gives you a picture of the real person or object, the Sabbath day and all those sacrifices were shadows that pointed ahead to Jesus. Someday, a Savior would give God’s people true rest. Someday, the Lamb of God would take away the sins of the world.

And Jesus did! That’s why we’re not commanded to offer sacrifices anymore or observe the Sabbath day. We have the real thing in Jesus. The Bible says, Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ (Colossians 2:16-17).

You and I still need rest. We need rest for our souls. Our “Sabbath rest” is found in Jesus, who says, Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Every day we find forgiveness and rest in Jesus. That means that Christian churches are free to worship God on any day of the week, and Sundays make a good choice because that’s the day that Jesus rose from the dead to give us eternal life. Whether it’s Saturday or Sunday or any other day, I pray you find rest in Jesus!


Bonus Devotional: Because his writings are shorter than what we usually present, here’s another devotional from Nathan.

Famine of the Word

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.
 – Amos 8:11 NIV

The worst thing imaginable was about to happen in Israel. Do you know what it was? Not a pandemic or a plague. Not war or death. Something far worse than all those disasters. Listen: The days are coming, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it (Amos 8:11-12). Because God’s people had rejected him and his prophets over and over again, there was going to be a famine of the Word of God. What a judgment! People were not going to be able to find God’s Word anywhere.

Can you imagine how awful that would be? A famine of the Word of God? No word of forgiveness for your guilty conscience. No word of eternal life in the face of death. No word of comfort in the midst of strife. No Jesus. No peace. Wouldn’t it be awful to not have the Word of God? To walk through the valley of the shadow of death—alone… To deal with your sin—alone… To face everything—alone…

“God, may that never happen to us! God, may that never happen in our country!” May you and I take advantage of this incredible blessing that God has given us—the Word of God! Open you Bible each day and hear God himself speak to you. Memorize Jesus’ words of comfort, so that no one can ever take them away from you. Gather together with other Christians as often as you can. Who knows how long we’ll be able to worship openly together? These words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31). There is life in the Word of God, because God’s Word tells us about Jesus. There is no greater blessing in life.

July 11, 2021

The Holy Spirit Gives GPS-like Guidance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A year ago we introduced Jenny Lee Young who lives in Randburg, South Africa and describes herself as a “former Methodist local preacher” who writes at Coffee in the Rain. I found this to be a helpful illustration. Click on the header which follows to read this at source.

Driving with a GPS

My hairdresser moved about two months ago. Her business took a serious knock due to the lockdown and she could no longer afford the rent in a small shopping centre where she ran her salon. She decided to operate from her home instead.

I have always travelled about half an hour to have my hair cut. In the past I have seldom been happy with hairdressers and once I found one I liked, I stuck with her, even though she moved out towards the West Rand about five years ago. Her prices and pensioner’s discount are also the best I’ve found.

The first time I went to her home, I got lost. I had looked at the directions on Google Maps before I left and had a general idea of the first couple of kilometers. Then it was time to switch on the GPS.

I have two cell phones. The one that is connected to the cell phone network has limited connectivity (WIFI, Bluetooth and GPS) after it was dropped on its face and repaired. My backup, which is old, has limited battery life. I stopped at the side of the road to connect my main phone. Predictably, it gave me the first instruction then lost the GPS signal. I drove straight, hoping it would regain connection but it didn’t. There was nothing for it but to call on the backup. To do that, I had to pull over again, create a hotspot on my main phone and connect the backup. I connected the backup to my phone charger because I saw there was only 20% charge left although it had been fully charged just three hours earlier. I sent a message to my hairdresser saying I was running late but on my way.

By now I was in territory totally unfamiliar to me. After about five minutes, my backup phone gave me the low battery warning and then went dead. Obviously it was losing more power than it was gaining. I couldn’t switch it on again.

I was lost.

I looked at my WhatsApp messages to see that my hairdresser hadn’t read my message. I was about to phone her when she phoned me wondering where I was. In the end she came to fetch me and I followed her home and charged my flat phone while I had my hair cut so at least I could find my way home.

If we get lost using a GPS device or app, there are three possible reasons.

  1. We think we know better and ignore the instructions.
  2. Our reception of the GPS satellite is faulty or intermittent.
  3. We run out of battery on our device.

The spiritual life is like driving using a GPS device. The signal is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13 NIV)

Romans 8:14 says, For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (NIV)

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” (Galatians 5:18 NIV)

All Christians receive the Holy Spirit when they accept Jesus into their lives as Lord and Saviour. However, we can still get lost on our spiritual journey. This can be for similar reasons to getting lost with a GPS.

  1. We think we know better and ignore instructions.
  2. We do not hear the Spirit’s promptings because our minds are filled with too many other things. Our reception of the signal is faulty or intermittent.
  3. We have run out of power. We have not been in the habit of plugging into Jesus for daily prayer and scripture reading. We have not spent enough time with our Lord to recharge our batteries.

There is one other reason for getting lost, both in the physical drive and the spiritual walk. We misunderstand the instructions. The voice on my phone says turn right and I turn immediately into a building site when I was meant to turn at the next road.

Spiritually, it is when God calls us to something and we try to do it in our own strength immediately and run ahead of God.

I’m happy to say I have been to have my hair cut subsequently and I did not get lost. I took precautions. I made sure my backup phone was charged 100% and I plugged it into my car charger as I left. Moreover, I had gone to Google Maps on my computer and printed instructions to my destination.

I am sure there are precautions we can take in our Spiritual walk too. By constant communion with our Lord, we can make sure our spiritual batteries are charged.

My Prayer

Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground. (Psalm 143:10)

July 10, 2021

Why Did David Run?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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It’s been awhile since we’ve heard from Ruth Wilkinson. Armed with a Samsung phone and a strong desire to delve deeper into the Psalms, she’s been making teaching videos for a small church about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. The one we’re featuring today is part five in a series.

It’s impossible to copy and paste from a video, so I’m hoping that all of you will click through and watch this in full. It runs about 11 minutes.

Teaching notes for the video:

LORD, how my enemies increase!
There are so many who attack me.
So many who talk about me, saying, “There is no help for him in God.”
Selah

But You, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, and the One who lifts up my head.
In full voice I cry to Yahweh, and He answers me from His holy mountain.
Selah

I can lie down and sleep; I can wake again because Yahweh sustains me.
I do not fear the arrows that fly against me on every side.

Rise up, Yahweh! Save me, my God!
Oh, that you would strike my enemies on the jaw; that you would break the teeth of the wicked.
Oh, Yahweh–Salvation!
Oh, Yahweh–on Your people, Blessing!
Selah

__________

Psalm 3 written about arguably the worst day of David’s life.
-running from Absalom
—asked before… David is brave. David is strong. David is a fighter.
Then why did David run?

___________________________________

If I were making that movie…
**opening shots:
-messenger running up the hill, into the palace, shouting.
-out of breath, panting out his warning “Absalom is coming!”
-David, after the first shock, looking out the window of his palace, the hills beyond… Any sign yet?
-then down over the streets, the markets, the homes.
-women carrying water, the children playing and learning, the men working.
-what Absalom’s army will do to the city in order to get to David.

My movie…
-David walking fast, giving orders.
-first stunned silences, then moving on… explosion of organization…
-packing… rounding up kids… directing servants….
-what and who to leave behind.

My movie…
-overhead travelling shot…
-David at the head of the evacuation, leading his people through the city,
-still giving orders, making plans, staying at the front…
-guessing, maybe, that if Absalom might try to block the exit (David needs to be first to meet him.)
-guessing, maybe, that in the narrow streets of the city, his people are safest behind him.
-guessing, maybe, that most people didn’t know why the king is leaving, and it’s better that way.

-David leading his wives, children, servants and supporters, military forces to the gates, the way out.
-open space, wilderness, salt flats, Jordan River, a chance at survival.
-hoping Absalom doesn’t get there first.

My movie…
-David passing through the gate, looking around, walking to the last house on the edge of town and stopping. Stepping off the road.
-looking around for any sign of ambush, seeing nothing.
-gathering his courage, taking a deep breath and smiling as he waves on past–wives and children to keep on down the road.
-waving past his servants, his armed men – go – go – go –

-David waiting until the last straggler, last soldier has gone ahead, before he follows, watching over his shoulder.
-guessing, maybe, that once out of the city, Absalom is more likely to catch up from behind.
-David needs to be last in line to meet him.
_________________________

First time we meet David, he’s a shepherd. Called in by his dad from the fields with sling tucked into his belt, oil under his fingernails, dust in his hair, smelling like sheep.

Now years later, decades from those pastures,
—–King David, husband, father, soldier, killer David is still a shepherd.
Providing for his flock.

Why did David run? So that he would be followed.
Shepherd. Sheep knew his voice, and they followed.

Knew David would lead.
-Bringing up the rear when the rear is where the danger lies.
-Standing between them and the predator.
-Being the target. Being the bait.

________________________

My movie…
-David walking, weeping, barefoot, breathing in the dust raised by those who relied on him.
-down into the Kidron Valley – down away from the holy mountain, where God’s presence.
-up the Mount of Olives where once he had worshipped YHWH God, but where he cannot stop.
-again down and down and down into the dusk and the sunset, his mind full of words.
-until finally he has to pull himself together, walk back in among his people, and be their shepherd.

____________

My movie…
-closing scene for that day….
-stars in the sky, sound of the Jordan River, the comfort of the narrow green strip between the burning hot salt flats and the cool of the water; smells of food and a fire burning, encircled by exhausted people with just enough energy to eat, and to worry.

Out of the darkness
-David would walk into the crowd, through the circle of people who were here because of him, carrying his harp. and carrying his courage.
-He would stand where everyone could see him and he would sing.
-He would sing his fear – enemies, and what if God doesn’t help?
-He would sing his faith – His shield, his hope, and the voice that echoes still from that far-away high and holy place.
-He would sing in the knowledge that Absalom and his troops were in the city, taking over everything and everyone that David’s people had had to leave behind.
-He would sing his trust into the shaken hearts of those who trusted him…

“I can lie down and sleep. I will awake again.”
“I can lie down and sleep. I will awake again.”
“I can lie down and sleep. I will awake again. Because YHWH sustains me.”

My movie…
-David the shepherd sings his exhausted flock to their rest.

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