Christianity 201

February 11, 2017

Truth and Honesty in Times of Depression

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Pastor Kevin Rogers has been one of the most frequent writers here since we began C201. In January, he ran a series of posts all containing the world Blue and words which rhyme with it.  In the introductory piece, Lonely and Blue he set up the series noting how depression peaks in winter (which it is here in the Northern hemisphere) and went on to write Blue, Take Your Cue before writing today’s piece:

BLUE, BE HONEST AND TRUE

Truth can be painful because it proclaims life’s situations as they are, and not as we hoped they would have been. An important step out of loneliness is to be honest with God and with others. If you are not being honest with yourself, there’s no way for you to be honest with God.

Sometimes we want to minimize our problems or live in denial. We may be too proud to admit that we have a problem.

There are many people who hide behind service to others. They will do things for all kinds of people, but leave their own needs unmet. Perhaps you find it harder to pray for yourself. This is a false belief that it is wrong to ask God or anyone else to take care of you. This lack of self-love will lead to isolation and self-loathing.

God will never belittle you for being honest with Him about your deep inner feelings. He really does love and care for you.

1 Peter 5:7

“Cast all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.”

God’s ability to work in our lives is dependent upon our openness to Him and allowing Him to absorb our deep inner hurt. His power to heal our fears and pains deepens with our honesty. He will not take away the anxieties that we keep from Him.

Many do not make themselves vulnerable to God. They hold back in fear. They think they are being childish, rude or selfish if they bring their complaints to God. It’s as if we want to keep our relationship with God on a professional, adult level. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work out too well. We need to let God see the hurt and immaturity that grips us.

1 Peter 1:13

“Prepare your mind for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

People of fate believe that they are lonely because it is meant to be, but people of faith believe differently. They do not take loneliness sitting down. People with faith cry out to God and look for an answer that will help them break free of their cycle of frustration.

 

October 18, 2016

When the Worry Package is at the Door, Don’t Sign for It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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When the courier company driver is standing at the door and says, “We have a package for Paul Wilkinson;” I have a choice. I can accept the parcel or I can refuse it. That was the spirit of today’s header; advice I also need for myself. Today we’re returning to Devotions by Chris, the blog of Chris Hendrix. Click the title below to read at source.

Refuse To Worry

Many of us struggle with understanding the difference between fear and anxiety. Fear is an emotion triggered by real danger. Anxiety is an emotion triggered by things that may or may not happen. Fear can save your life and anxiety can cause it to end prematurely. They elicit a similar feeling inside, but fear goes away after you’re out of danger. Anxiety continues to eat away at your energy, your mind, and your life if you don’t put a stop to it.

At work, I do an exercise with people to get them to stop assuming. I get them to admit that they don’t know the outcome. From then on, when they assume something, I ask. “But do you know?” Assumptions of the future are what cause anxiety. The truth is, we don’t know the future, but as Corrie Ten Boon says, “We can trust an unknown future to a known God.” When we allow assumption and anxiety to take over, we in essence are not trusting our future to God. The key to losing anxiety is to admit you don’t know and to trust God to take care of you.

The Bible says a lot about anxiety and worry. Here are some verses about it.

1. Therefore I tell you, stop being worried or anxious (perpetually uneasy, distracted) about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, as to what you will wear. Is life not more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Matthew6:25 AMP

2. Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.
Proverbs 12:25 NLT

3. Casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully].
1 Peter 5:7 AMP

4. Don’t give in to worry or anger; it only leads to trouble.
Psalm 37:8 GNT

5. Whenever I am anxious and worried, you comfort me and make me glad.
Psalm 94:19 GNT

6. Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Philippians 4:6-7 MSG

7. So refuse to worry, and keep your body healthy. 
Ecclesiastes 11:10a NLT

8. I am filled with trouble and anxiety, but your commandments bring me joy.
Psalm 119:143 GNT

9. To worry yourself to death with resentment would be a foolish, senseless thing to do.
Job 5:2 GNT

10. And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours].
Philippians 4:7 AMP

 

July 1, 2016

Unnecessarily Troubled

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Mary and Martha imgHeather is a former Mormon who doesn’t write often, but I had bookmarked this devotional many months ago and noted we still hadn’t run it here. Click the link below to read this at source and look around Jesus Is All, her blog.

Be Mary Not Martha

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, ESV)

To put this story into context, the “they” at the beginning is Jesus, his twelve apostles, plus 72 disciples who have just returned from traveling abroad and preaching.  This group of at least 85 have been invited into the home of sisters Mary and Martha. Immediately, Martha gets to work, as I think a majority of us would do.

Let me say something here, there is nothing wrong with WHAT Martha is trying to do, only HOW she is going about it.  The bible is full of calls to serve others; Jesus Himself praised the service of others (see John 6).  So why this time didn’t he praise Martha for her willingness to serve?

There are two key words in these verses, “distracted” and “anxious”.  Martha is so “distracted” with her busyness that she doesn’t have time to enjoy the presence of the Lord in her home.  She has made her “to do list” her focus, rather than being focused on Jesus.  She’s focused on feeding the crowd, while Mary is focused on feeding her spirit.  This is frustrating to Martha, she feels that she is doing something helpful and noble, while her sister is over there lazily lounging around doing “nothing”.  She eventually gets so frazzled that she asks Jesus to make Mary help her.

Of course this crowd in their home is probably tired and hungry, and Martha sees a need and wants to feed them.  However, Mary realizes that the Bread of Life, the Living Waters, is more satisfying to her soul than anything she could offer the Savior and his group.  She has chosen the “good portion”.

So back to my question…why didn’t Jesus praise Martha’s efforts?  Because Jesus knows our hearts, He knows our thoughts.  He knew that Martha had made herself “anxious” and “troubled” unnecessarily.  He could see that her joy wasn’t in serving but in gaining approval. She was using her service to validate her self-worth and her righteousness.  Knowing this, Jesus didn’t get angry at her or tell her to quit working, He lovingly pointed out that she had another choice, the one that her sister had already made.

If you are currently caught up in what you think you “have to do” or “should do” to prove yourself to God, please reconsider your actions.  Ask God in prayer if what you are doing is what He wants you to be doing.  Maybe you are distracting yourself and making yourself anxious doing things that aren’t necessary.  Any time you are faced with an opportunity to serve, ask yourself if you would be doing it simply because you love to serve, or because you are looking for approval from God or from other people.

There is NOTHING we can do to prove ourselves to God.  As it says in Isaiah 64:6 (KJV), “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”.  There is no checklist God asked us to complete for Him.  All Jesus asks for in return for redeeming us is for us to love Him and seek after Him. My personal goal is to be constantly seeking after God.  I don’t really care anymore what anyone else thinks of what I do or don’t do, only what God thinks of me.  It is very freeing to let God be your guide and do what you know He wants you to do, rather than trying to impress God by doing what you assume He might want you to do.  One of the reasons I haven’t blogged for awhile is I would’ve only been doing it because I felt I was “supposed to” and I felt guilty I hadn’t written. My writing has been sporadic because I wait for the times when I feel God is putting the desire to write and the message I should write about in my mind.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23, ESV)


Read more: We looked at Martha and Mary previously in March, 2015 in an article with a similar title, Troubled About Many Things.

March 2, 2015

Troubled About Many Things

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:17 pm
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“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things…” (Luke 10:41 NIV)

Most readers here are familiar with the story of Mary and Martha. (Click this link if not.)

On the one hand we have Mary, so willing to just sit at Jesus’ feet and take in each precious moment of teaching.

I had an experience once where I was talking to a pastor after a church service while he in turn was trying to listen to some things the guest speaker was saying to people near the door as they were leaving. He made it clear that he wanted to hear what was being said, even though, of all the two thousand people in the building, he had the most unlimited access to this man before, after and during his time in the city. What I got from that was the local pastor’s teachability; his desire to be ever learning.

On the other hand, Martha is making lunch for their guest, so willing to express love through an act of service.

As a very small child, we visited a church in Wisconsin which had a group called the “Lend-a-Hand Marthas.” While it grates me to type that (!) it was a group that clearly wasn’t dedicated to prayer (though I’m sure they prayed) and wasn’t dedicated to Bible study (though I’m sure they had devotional times) but was dedicated to getting their hands dirty and helping those who needed help. A similar group where we live today is called Love in Action.

Mary and Martha imgGenerally speaking, the takeaway people get from this story tends to castigate Martha and put Mary on a pedestal. The KJV many of grew up with says, “Mary hath chosen that good part…” after all, so clearly, if the story needs a hero, that would be Mary.

But the church needs Marthas as well, or nothing gets done. Andy Stanley focuses on this in his recent series Brand New, and especially so in the fifth of five parts which you can watch at this dedicated link. We can’t equate holiness with Bible knowledge or an ability to teach the scripture.

We can’t be too quick to jump to conclusions about this story. Luke places it just after the story of the Good Samaritan. The moral of that story is that the person who truly kept the commandment to love their neighbor was, as the expert in the law states, “The one who had mercy on him.” Obviously not the priest or the Levite. But then we have Mary, who chooses the better part.

Is this what is echoed at the end of I Corinthians 12 where Paul wraps up an entire chapter on the exercise and use of spiritual gifts by saying, “And yet I will show you the most excellent way” and then proceeds to speak about love?

I think what is called for here is balance.

I have friends who attend Mainline Protestant churches, and after describing a period of dryness or frustration I will simply say, “You need to take a month off and do the tour. You need to visit the Baptist church, and then the Pentecostal church, and then the non-denominational church and finally a Missionary Alliance or Salvation Army church.

To those in a similar position in an Evangelical or Charismatic church, I will say, “You need to take a month off and do the tour. You need to visit a Presbyterian Church, and then a Lutheran Church, and then an Episcopalian church, and then a Catholic mass.”

The idea isn’t that they’re going to leave the church they attend, the idea is that they will return with a fresh perspective.

The same applies to today’s text.

There are some Marthas who need to set aside the service for a period of time and do the tour of Bible study and learning. Buy a few good Christian books; perhaps two recent ones and a couple of classics. Watch some sermons online from some of today’s top communicators. Immerse yourself in a deeper study of a particular book of the Bible using study notes, commentaries or a fill-in-the-blanks type of outline.

Then there are some Marys who need to do the tour of getting their hands dirty. Do some volunteer work downtown. Help out on the church Spring cleanup day. Sign up for church nursery duty. Offer to deliver hot lunches to shut-ins.

I am writing this today partly with one individual in mind. He runs around his church like the proverbial headless chicken, often tied up in some backroom activity while the rest of us soak in great teaching in the church’s main auditorium. I watch him and sometimes wonder if we even follow the same God (seriously) because his expression of his faith on Sunday mornings is so demonstrably different than anyone else in the building.

But perhaps you know someone who is so quick to quote chapter and verse and understands vast bodies of knowledge about doctrine and theology and church history and hermeneutics, but comes off like the clanging cymbal Paul writes about in I Cor. 13.

The key is balance.

While this may be slightly out of John 21:6’s context, let me encourage you to cast your nets on the other side.

 

 

February 24, 2015

A Cross-Carrying Kind of Life

cross at Grace ChurchThis is one of two posts in a series by Deb Wolf who blogs at Counting My Blessings. This is her third time appearing here at Christianity 201 and we do appreciate the work she does on her site; the tag line is “Encouraging you with stories of faith, hope and love.” Click the title below to read at source and/or read part two, “Jesus Answer to the Fear of Cross-Carrying.

When You Don’t Want a Cross-Carrying Kind of Faith

There is a verse in the Bible that did anything but give me peace and contentment. I tried to pretend I was obedient, but my heart knew it terrified me.

Then He [Jesus] called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8:34–35

[Last Wednesday] was Ash Wednesday—the beginning of Lent. For the next six and a half weeks followers of Jesus will fast, pray, and ponder His journey to the cross.

Followers who are called to deny themselves, carry their cross, trust and obey . . . lose their life for Jesus.

I didn’t want to carry my cross. I liked my comfortable safe life. Sure there were some problems and pain, but life—my life, my kid’s lives, my husband’s life, complete trust and obedience . . . what could happen to a life lost to cross carrying.

My doctor and a counselor said I was “high-strung,” anxious.

Lack of Faith

I knew I was a fear-filled worrier. Seriously, I turned worry into an art form. Not surprising. Look around. Have you seen all the truly terrible things that can happen?

I didn’t want to admit it, but I knew it was lack of faith.

But that verse and others like it:

But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” Acts 9:15–16

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in His steps. 1 Peter 2:21

 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. Matthew 10:38

Giving Up Fear for Faith

“I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith . . . I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

It’s true. In this world there will be trials and sorrows. Worry doesn’t prevent it. Fear won’t keep it out of reach.

Trials and sorrows did happen, but.

What a small yet important word.

“You will have trials and sorrows. But take heart, because.

Take heart [don’t lose your faith], because…

I have overcome the world
I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.
Be sure of this: I am with you always.

Through trials and sorrows Jesus was faithful, and because of His faithfulness my faith grew. Faith that was greater than my fear. Faith that was impossible when I focused on my fears, but grew when I kept my eyes on Jesus.

Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Hebrews 12:1–2

October 10, 2013

Stressed People Make Bad Decisions

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:10 pm
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This is a reblog of an article from Created to Give God Glory, the blog of Prentis McGoldrick. You can read the article at its original source at this link.

We live in a moment-by-moment news reporting world. I get updates on my phone for each “Breaking News” story. Many of these stories are upsetting.

A young man begins to shoot people, a young woman is shot while using her car like a weapon, another person sets himself on fire, a group of bikers violently beat a man- each of these stories flash across my phone. The news reports look for a reason why. Often they chalk it up to some sort of mental illness.

Shouldn’t we be concerned why these people became ill rather than looking at the illness as if there is nothing that can be done? Nearly every case reveals that those who commit these acts have been under long term significant stress. They lost their jobs, were bullied, live in depression or somehow believe they have been denied something they deserve. This stress multiplied by time has caused them to become mentally ill if even for a moment. They are stressed and have no outlet for relieving that stress.

Think of Saul in the Old Testament. He didn’t believe he should be chosen as king. He was of the tribe of Benjamin, the humblest of the tribes. He hid among the baggage when called out to be recognized by the people. Later, he would offered a sacrifice that was not his to offer because he was afraid that Samuel the priest wasn’t going to get there before he lost to the Philistines. He kept the best spoil from a group of people whom God told to destroy with everything that belonged to them because he was afraid of the people. He opposed his best general when he wasn’t given as much praise as that general. He lost his kingdom because he made bad decisions. He was a man under stress.

Each day I watch people burst into road rage. I believe that most of these people are normally good neighbors and good citizens. What causes them to explode over the insignificant slights of others? I believe they are under such stress that any added stress sends them over what they are able to take. It is like a balloon that can’t take an ounce more air. It simply explodes.

This is so unnecessary. The Bible tells us to pray and turn it over to God. The Bible tells us that God loves us so much that He wants us to give Him our fears and anxieties. But I have observed that few Christians are having Quiet Times with God. They aren’t turning those things over to Him and, therefore, are carrying their stress on top of everything else that stresses them. Eventually the balloon must pop.

So, I urge you to make a very needed decision today before you make a bad decision. You may not do something violent but the decision may be just as harmful. (You might continue to bite your husband’s head off until you have added so much stress to him that he leaves- another bad decision!) Tell your stress to God. Put all of it in His hands. Trust that He will take care of it and you.

Then, laugh for He has healed you from your bad decision.

Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

1 Peter 5:7 (ESV)
7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

If you enjoyed this, here is another article from the same writer: Carefully Choosing Words to Bless.

If your internet surfing takes you past any articles our readers would be interested in, or you wish to try writing devotional/Bible study content yourself, please see the guidelines at right and then click the “Submissions” page.

September 3, 2013

Trusting God in a World of Fears

In the hunt for great devotional and Bible study content, today we introduce a new writer, David Rupert who blogs at Red Letter Believers.  This appeared recently under the title, How Real is your Fear of Failure?


There are at least two thousand known phobias. From Novercaphobia (fear of your step-mother) to Pogonophobia (fear of beards) to Syngenesophobia ( fear of relatives,) there’s a named fear for nearly everything in our lives.

fearfactor_240But for babies there are really only two measured fears – fear of falling and a fear of loud noises. Everything after that point is learned.

After a stint in my crawl space and another in the attic, I found my fear. Stenophobia, a fear of narrow places. Or perhaps it’s Claustrophobia – a fear of confined spaces. I don’t know where I got those fears, but they are real. I remember being locked in the trunk of my mom’s 69 Oldsmobile once, courtesy of a little brother who dared me to jump in. That might have had something to do with it.

I have a few other fears that pop up every once in a while, but the fear of failure is a biggie. And this is a terrible thing for a writer to have. “Will anyone read this. Will they like it? Will it make sense? Am I using the right voice? Am I using too many question marks?” Failure dogs every step of the writer’s life.

Our learned fears come from letting someone down at some point, of not living up to lofty expectations of a coach, a parent, or a teacher. It comes at the hand of imperfect man or woman living in a narrowly defined world of rules and regulations. It comes from letting myself down.

I could name off a half-dozen events in my life that seem to be markers in my mind – failures. The fence fell, the train came off the track, the cork blew, or whatever expression you want to use – I let others down. I disappointed God. I failed myself.

But Eric Parks, preaching on failure, said this. “You are not defined by your mistake – or series of mistakes. That’s not who you are in God’s eyes.” According to Eric — and God – the battle for failure is less about reality, and more about perception.

This is isn’t some feel good philosophy. It’s the truth. Satan loves to dig in and whisper in my ear, repeating the same tape in my brain of failures, disappointments, and bombs that I’ve lobbed into my life.

That’s why, every day, I have chance to start again. I have a chance to “be transformed by the renewing of my mind.”

Now, I won’t be a success at everything. I can’t slam dunk a basketball. I can’t start a fire quicker than Bear Gryliss. I can’t grow a Duck Dynasty Beard. But just because I can’t do something well – – or at all – doesn’t make me a failure.

What are you afraid of?

———

What He Said

Consider these verses:

Philippians 4:8 

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

2 Corinthians 4:16 

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

Ephesians 4:23 

And to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,

Philippians 4:6-7 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 3:2 

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

May 28, 2013

From My I Can’ts To God’s I Can

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:49 pm
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There are certain ‘go-to’ blogs where I know I can always find good content. One of those is Claire in Auckland, New Zealand who writes at One Passion, One Devotion.  This appeared there at last week’s Five Minute Friday feature.

Psalm 121:1 I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from?Psalm 123:1  I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven.

2 Corinthians 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Colossians 3:1  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

There is just “something” about lifting our eyes, about looking with a different perspective and vantage point. 

i will lift my eyes from my i cants, to God’s i can

i will lift my eyes from my limitations, to God’s nothing is impossible

i will lift my eyes from my flaws, to God’s gift of forgiveness and righteousness through Christ

i will lift my eyes from my loneliness, to God’s promise that He is with me

i will lift my eyes from my exhaustion, to God’s invitation to come

i will lift my eyes from my excuses, to God’s encouragement that i can do all things through Christ who strengthens me

Sometimes we may never know the WHY something happens. But we can always know the WHO. And we can be confident that God is always with us. Always. 

He is our view.  Let us fix our eyes upon Him, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice!
Have mercy also upon me, and answer me.
When You said, “Seek My face,”
My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.” ~ Psalm 27:7-8

 With so much instability and fear in the world today, we must cling to Jesus and fix our eyes on Him and view life through the eyes of trust and faith. God is always good. In every challenge and every circumstance, He is good. He can always be trusted. He is in the business of turning anything bad into everything good. He breaks open prison doors, He sends whales as coast guards, He tells the paralyzed to get up and walk. And He raises the dead to life.

Perspective matters. Perspective changes death into life. Perspective changes hopelessness into hope. Fear into faith. Crisis into opportunities to grow and trust God.

Instead of letting difficulties draw you into worrying, try to view them as setting the scene for God’s glorious intervention.

May 17, 2013

Comfort From the Word

I tend to read the scriptures for instruction and teaching. I’m looking for passages that engage my intellect and illustrate the inter-connectedness and symmetry of scripture; not to mention scriptures I can share with personal contacts and blog readers.

I wrote about that in a blog post that has actually run twice here, sharing a popular verse of scripture, II Tim 3:16,  in three translations and then ending with my paraphrase:

All scripture has its point of origin in God’s mind, and

  • shows us the path God would have us walk
  • highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
  • points the way back to the path
  • gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

But while this list includes four benefits of studying the word, it is not inclusive. The point is that whatever we think of when we think of the Bible, it is always so much more.

In Ps. 23:4 we read:

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

What is the ‘rod and staff’ spoken of here?  Most translations, including The Message preserve this imagery:

Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.  (The Message)

Matthew Henry affirms that this imagery is pertinent to the phrase that precedes it; that the protection of the Lord described here is that needed in the face of death:

It is a comfort to the saints, when they come to die, that God takes cognizance of them (he knows those that are his), that he will rebuke the enemy, that he will guide them with his rod and sustain them with his staff. The gospel is called the rod of Christ’s strength (Ps. 110:2), and there is enough in that to comfort the saints when they come to die, and underneath them are the everlasting arms.

Ultimately, our comfort is God Himself. The Voice version, which tends to add things to the text, simplifies it in this verse:

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.  (The Voice)

This echoes Psalm 46:1

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (KJV)

a verse which in many ways parallels the first verse of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my Shepherd…

This itself echoes Psalm 121:2

My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.  (NIV)

This comfort should sustain us at all times; not just as we reach the end of life; though it is often at the end of life that people turn to God.

Now going back to where I started, many times in my day, both here and in my personal Bible study time, I find myself engaging scripture more as an intellectual pursuit than to seek comfort, solace and strength from its pages. My faith is way up in my head somewhere and isn’t penetrating my heart.

Or there is also the “This is really deep stuff; who can I share this with?” mentality that sees the truths about God more as a type of theological email forward to be sent on to ten people who must promise to send it ten others.  “This is so good, I must send it to Bob.”

The result of this is what I am experiencing as I write this: In times of anxiety, stress or fear, I sometimes feel I have woefully inadequate resources at my immediate internal disposal because I have not “banked” the truths of God’s comfort and life-giving strength. I find myself totally broken because I have studied God’s Word enough to know the comfort of God is there to be taken, but living in the middle of a disconnect, not being able to draw on it as I should.

I don’t need God’s rod or staff to drive away 3rd party oppressors as much as I need to be hit over the head with it as a reminder, “Hey…I am right here; I am the strength you need.”

Do some of you resonate with this? Is it possible you’re attracted here to the “201” nature of this page — perhaps even looking for Christianity 301 or Christianity 401 — but are missing the “Christianity pre-Kindergarten” principle that Jesus loves us?

Yes, we need to search the scriptures and study to know the core doctrines and history that we learn from its pages. But we also need to know how to find comfort from the Word; because in those times, all our Bible knowledge and ability to explain theology will not hold us up. We need to know the reality of  “still waters” spoken of elsewhere in the 23rd Psalm.  

I know I do.

April 1, 2013

When Panic Strikes

I have always been a very nervous person. I worry, and I worry that I worry. It seems inconsistent with the life of abiding in Christ we should be living. But sometimes the circumstances of life seem overwhelming. So when Pete Wilson spoke on this verse yesterday, I was all ears. (I watch Pete at 7:00 PM EST Sundays at this link.)

Sometimes in Bible translation, there is consistency from version to version as to a particular passage, and at other times there are a wider variety of terms at the translators disposal.  This is one of those.  This appeared earlier today at Thinking Out Loud.

Last night I was watching the online version of Cross Point Church’s Sunday service; the one where Pete Wilson takes live questions after he preaches.  He mentioned that he reads a chapter of scripture a day and is always amazed at how timely it is to whatever circumstance he is facing. Then he told a story of how God used a scripture reference in an unlikely place to meet a need in his own life.

But Pete’s sermon also had something I needed — and still need — to hear. One of those verses that arrests you in your tracks. It’s the rendering of Isaiah 28:16 in the updated NIV:

16 So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.

It’s that last phrase, which I underlined, that really got me.

The Message makes a rare use of capital letters here:

And this is the meaning of the stone:
A TRUSTING LIFE WON’T TOPPLE.

The ESV has:

‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’

The CEB:

…the one who trusts won’t tremble

The Amplified:

..he who believes (trusts in, relies on, and adheres to that Stone) will not be ashamed or give way or hasten away [in sudden panic].

The NLT:

It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on.
Whoever believes need never be shaken.

Finally, the NASB:

A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.
He who believes in it will not be disturbed.

Part of life in the modern world is the potential for fear and anxiety.  The translators use: disturbed, panic, shaken, trembling… This is a verse to claim for those who know what it means to panic.  Am I trusting in the cornerstone? Positionally, generally yes, but we live in two worlds and there are times I don’t allow my faith to permeate or penetrate my circumstances.

Blog Update:

While Thinking Out Loud continues to be my most visible blog project, Christianity 201 is fast becoming the more active franchise. Each day more people sign on for this potpourri of Bible study discussion and devotional thoughts culled from the widest variety of the Christian blogosphere.

At the same time, going on a daily “hunting and gathering” routine can be exhausting, so I’m looking for someone who is already familiar with the WordPress platform who might want to eventually have editing privileges here. To start, needed is someone who has been blogging regularly for at least a year themselves, so I can see where they are coming from, and then they need to be able to source out material suitable for C201 subject to the guidelines posted in the sidebar.You also need to be able to generate appropriate post tags; and need to work with HTML in terms of setting blockquotes within quotes and adding color to scripture passages and subheadings and adding to superscripts on Bible references. (Note: This particular theme is not H1, H2 responsive so you have to change font sizes.) Initially, submissions would be emailed in coded text.

A needle in a haystack person, basically; but if you feel that’s you, start by contacting me at the address on the “Submissions” page. Anyone who does not feel up to this task, but wants to send a particularly strong C201 guest post is welcomed to do that anytime by email.
 

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

January 31, 2013

Coming Forth As Gold

This was sent me for reasons that are entirely personal and not for the blog. So if the sender sees it here, I want to be clear that I wasn’t missing the point. But now I want to share it with everyone here. It’s from The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s daily devotional website, where it appeared as Lost.

Job 23:10-11 – But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. My feet have closely followed his steps; I have kept to His way without turning aside. (NIV)

Fog! Thick, swirling, engulfing fog! And I was hopelessly lost. I had decided to take a shortcut home to save time, but now I had absolutely no idea where I was. My GPS was in a drawer somewhere in my house, and I no longer carried maps because I had a GPS. How ironic!

I crawled along slowly, for fear of running off the road or meeting another car in the middle of the road. As I squinted through the ghostly tendrils curling across my window, I noticed a cross-road ahead, but I couldn’t make out any signs. Feeling a sense of panic beginning to build up, I decided to pull off onto the shoulder, and putting on my flashers, I did the only thing I could under the circumstances: I began to pray.

Suddenly, a verse from the Bible popped into my mind:

Isaiah 30:21 – Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (NIV)

For a moment, I was stunned. Was that God telling me that I should follow this side road? Which way? Now I was really confused and more than a little scared.

Suddenly, out of the fog, a whirling red light appeared behind me, its rays wavering through my back window, and I heard a muffled voice on a loud hailer: “You there, in the car. Are you all right?”

The next thing I knew, there was a person standing beside my window, shining a light on his police badge. I let out a relieved sigh of gratitude. It was probably the only time in my life when I would be so happy to see a flashing red light shining through my back window!

As I began rapidly pouring out my predicament, the officer kept patiently nodding his head. I didn’t realize how uptight I had been, and I could feel the tears of relief threatening to spill out. The officer evidently saw my reaction, and he quietly asked me where I was headed.

When I told him where I lived, he said that he would drive ahead of me, and when he honked his horn, I was to turn left at the traffic lights. Then I would be on familiar ground and soon be home. It happened exactly as he had promised, and as I pulled into my driveway, I quietly bowed my head in a prayer of thanksgiving to the One who had promised so often to direct our paths.

Sometimes, when we are faced with difficult situations, we may feel that our minds are in a kind of thick fog, a state of utter confusion, possibly even to the point of panic. We know that we must make some important decisions that will affect our lives, but how do we begin? It is then that we need to stop and “pull off the road”, as it were, and be still in God’s presence, in order to calm down and hear His voice. We must turn the entire matter over to the One who has promised to guide us in the way we should go, because He knows the way.

When we follow His leading, it won’t be long until we can see clearly what we are to do, and we can move confidently in the right direction towards the goal.

Prayer: Lord, help us to rely on You every day to guide us in the way that You have planned for us. Teach us not to lean on our own understanding, but in all our ways to acknowledge You, knowing that You will direct our paths. Amen.

Sharon Greer

December 12, 2012

Anxiety, Depression and the Hope of Christmas

Fear, worry and anxiety are strongly linked to depression; and at this time of year, when everybody else is celebrating, depression seems to get larger, not smaller, for some people. Today is a double-post from Ben Nelson at the blog Another Red Letter Day.  I thought it significant that he dealt with both of these issues a few days apart. Links to the individual articles are in the titles, and you’re encouraged to read these there, leave comments, and browse other articles.

The Catch

Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. (Matthew 6:31-34 NASB)

In Monday’s post [Much More] I told you that God provision was not a principal or a promise, but more of a forgone conclusion.

Today there is actually another shoe about to drop.

There is a condition – a catch – one itty-bitty proviso.

And that goes back to the last paragraph – Who’s your master?

Here is the thing – If Jesus is your master, you have nothing to worry about – really –nothing.

Worry is a total waste of ‘redeemed time.’

The time you have is a gift of God. He gave it to you with a plan and a purpose.

Worry is a waste of that precious commodity.

Remember this guy?

And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. (Luke 15:13 NASB)

We call him the prodigal son. Do you know why we call this young man prodigal? (yes it is an adjective) Prodigal means wasteful.

So are you a prodigal when it come to your time – wasting it on worry? 

I pray today you would come to your senses like the prodigal son, and run home to Papa who is more than willing to take care of ‘what you will eat’ and ‘what you will drink’ and ‘how you will clothe yourself.’ And He has your tomorrow well in hand.

So get yourself comfortable in the role of servant, and our Wonderful Lord and Master will sweat the details.


Got Gloom?
Check this out

We all know this Christmas verse thanks to GF Handel:

The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them. (Isaiah 9:2 NASB)

But look what comes right before it:

But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. (Isaiah 9:1 NASB)

I love this – Jesus growing up in Galilee of the Gentiles making it glorious – but check the beginning

No more gloom for her who was in anguish.

Are you in anguish?

Are you living in gloom?

Are you stuck in a dark land – a dark place?

Christmas is here to break the gloom – break the anguish.

Ok – that was a bit mushy – how ’bout this:

Jesus was born, lived, and died a cruel death to break the gloom with an astonishing light

~ Ben Nelson

After posting this I discovered we had already borrowed an article from Ben just a few months ago, which I try not to do. But obviously this is a great source of devotional thoughts  which you might want to bookmark.

November 5, 2012

Peace… Be Still

If I’m really honest — and I’m going to be today —  I would have to admit that I approached last Monday night’s storm with a great deal of apprehension. Part of it was due to the media buildup and part of it was due to general anxieties being brought on by a variety of circumstances.

As it turned out, the media’s anticipation of the storm was not hype, and people in New York City who failed to heed the warnings to evacuate ended up needing rescue.  If September 11th, 2001 represented the day that war came to America, then October 29th, 2012 was the day catastrophe came to New York City.

Stephen and Brooksyne Weber have had storm-themed devotions at Daily Encouragement all last week, though it’s interesting that the Friday before (26th) they chose this verse:

 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

The day after (30th) they chose this passage,

“And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’” (Mark 4:37,38).

The passage continues,

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

We sleep at night with a fan on in the room (for the white noise background), but even with that the winds were howling. I’m sure that we’ve had worse winds in several Canadian winters, but this time around I entertained the possibility of the top half of the house blowing away.

So I laid there and in my heart prayed “Peace, be still.” My lips didn’t move and my vocal cords didn’t engage, but inside, the prayer was a scream. I wasn’t expecting the storm to stop so much as I was praying for a stillness of the winds of anxiety and the rains of adversity.

I was praying for a stillness, a calm to inhabit my heart and mind.

And while that was going on, I thought of a song that’s based on the same passage in Mark, Master the Tempest is Raging. There are a few versions of it online, but nothing that matches the passion and intensity that I remember when, in my teen years, I heard it performed by the 120-voice choir at my home church in Toronto.

These are the lyrics, though I had no memory of the 2nd or 3rd verses until I looked them up today:

Master, the tempest is raging!
The billows are tossing high!
The sky is o’ershadowed with blackness,
No shelter or help is nigh;
Carest Thou not that we perish?
How canst Thou lie asleep,
When each moment so madly is threat’ning
A grave in the angry deep?

The winds and the waves shall obey Thy will,
Peace, be still!
Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea,
Or demons or men, or whatever it be,
No waters can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean, and earth, and skies;
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will,
Peace, be still! Peace, be still!
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will,
Peace, peace, be still!

Master, with anguish of spirit
I bow in my grief today;
The depths of my sad heart are troubled—
Oh, waken and save, I pray!
Torrents of sin and of anguish
Sweep o’er my sinking soul;
And I perish! I perish! dear Master—
Oh, hasten, and take control.

Master, the terror is over,
The elements sweetly rest;
Earth’s sun in the calm lake is mirrored,
And heaven’s within my breast;
Linger, O blessed Redeemer!
Leave me alone no more;
And with joy I shall make the blest harbor,
And rest on the blissful shore.

I think it is significant that in 1874, the writer, Mary A. Baker, chose to take the direction in the second verse that most likely applies to us today, and most certainly applies to me. The winds of fear and the rains of troubles and trials really never stop, but “no water can swallow the ship.”

As I did Monday night, and several times in the days since, reach out your hand toward your circumstances and whisper, ‘Peace … be still.’

~Paul Wilkinson


A more contemporary song that came to me this week was posted here previously, check out Psalm 91 by SonicFlood.

Hurricane Sandy devastated Cuba, Haiti, The Dominican Republic; but all we tend to hear about is New York City. Here’s an examination of the inequities of media reporting.

September 25, 2012

Allowing Anger to Diminish

NIV Matthew 5: 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

James Bryant Smith currently has three of the top ten titles at InterVaristy Press: The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community. I discovered this excerpt in the July 7th issue of the Salvation Army magazine, The War Cry (U.S. edition).

The very first issue of the heart Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount is anger (Matthew 5:21-22).  Many people believe that righteousness is determined by external actions, and therefore if we have not outwardly broken a commandment (e.g., struck or killed someone) we have kept the law and are therefore considered righteous.  But Jesus goes deeper, into the heart, the place from where all actions spring.  he says, “If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”

Why?  Is He making it harder to be righteous?  Is he raising the bar so that no one can make it?  Is He more strict than Moses?  No. Jesus understands the human heart – and the heart is His primary concern, not merely outward actions.  The heart full of anger, the heart that hates, is not far from the heart that would murder.  In fact, it is essentially the same inner condition.  All that is missing is the actual act.  Jesus understands that an angry person would actually harm someone if he or she could get away with it.

When Jesus commands His apprentices not to be angry, He is showing us the way to a good and beautiful life.  His command implies that we can actually do it.  Many people cannot imagine living without anger.  But it is possible, otherwise Jesus would not have instructed us to live without it.  Unfortunately, if we hear the command “do not be angry” and think we must do this on our own strength (i.e., in the flesh) we will fail and begin to resent Jesus for commanding it.  For an explanation of how we learn to live without anger, we have to look at the rest of Jesus’ teachings, His overall narratives.

The narratives of the kingdom of God are quite different from our own false narratives.

These kingdom narratives are based on the reality of the presence and power of God.  For Jesus, the kingdom was not simply a nice idea, but a very real place – life with God, which is available to all.  Outside the kingdom we are on our own.  We must protect ourselves, fight for our rights and punish those who offend us. Inside the kingdom of God, life is much different.  God is with us, protecting us and fighting for our well being.  Knowing this, much of our anger will diminish.

James Bryant Smith
In The Good and Beautiful Life

July 29, 2012

The Three ‘C’s of Temptation

(The Message)I Cor 10:13No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.

I love David Peach’s blog name: Genuine Leather Bible. This is his first time being featured here at C201, be sure to click through to read: All Temptation is Common, Controlled and Conquerable.

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.—1 Corinthians 10:12, 13 (KJV)

I am often amazed at how God works in the lives of some people. They may have been heavily involved in certain sins before their salvation. But the day they got saved God took that sin out of their lives and they had victory over it immediately. When talking with them they say that they are no longer tempted by that old habit. It is amazing to see God’s power in their lives over sin.

However, we know that God does not always work that way. In fact, many of us struggle constantly with besetting sins. It seems like if we could just get victory over that sin then we would never have any problems.

Why doesn’t God work the same way in everyone’s life? When talking to those who do get immediate victory it seems like they think everyone gets the same type of victory “if they are truly saved.” Do they think I am not saved because God didn’t work the same way in my life as He did in theirs? While they would probably say “no” to that question, I have seen some who act as if that is the way they believe. God’s great grace can become a source of pride in their Christian walk.

Certainly not everyone who has had immediate victory over a sin act this way. Many give great praise and honor to God because they know God has worked in a special way in their life.

[Recently,] the pastor in church was dealing with 1 Corinthians 10:1-14. He pointed out three great truths that we can draw from verse 13.

Common

First is that temptation is common. Your case is not unique. While we may not all be tempted in the exact same way, we all endure temptation. We must fight the sinful thought of, “God, I know what Your Word says, but my situation is special.” No, we need to simply trust God and obey Him. This great truth helps erase self-pity. God doesn’t hate you. God is not putting you through something you cannot overcome with His help. He is there right beside you.

Controlled

The second truth is that temptation is controlled. God is faithful. He will be with you through the temptation. He knows what you are going through and His goal is to bring you through it in holiness. The Bible says multiple times to be holy because God is holy. He wants us to become more like Him. He is with us each step of the way to bring out holiness in us. This truth erases our fears. Temptation itself can inspire fear, but we don’t have to be afraid because a faithful God is with us according to this verse.

Conquerable

Finally, temptation is conquerable. By His grace we have the power to overcome the temptation. Not in our own power, but through the power of Christ (Philippians 4:13). He has provided a way of escape. We don’t always see that way of escape. We begin to feel hopeless. However, when we remember a faithful God has promised to provide a way out of the temptation and testing, then this truth erases our doubts.

We should be grateful to God for the way He has worked in our lives. Whether that is an immediate conquering of sin, or a slow process of sanctification we should be thankful. Don’t take pride in the grace God has given you. Nor should you feel defeated if you don’t get that immediate victory. Remember that a faithful God knows everything that is going on in your life today.

[Adapted from a message by David Cross at Faith Baptist Church in Jefferson City, TN.]

Scripture portions quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green because the Scriptures have LIFE!

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