Christianity 201

July 8, 2019

Worry

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

What Jesus Said about Worry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pray and Let God Worry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Secret to a Worry-Free Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

May 15, 2019

You Can’t Have Someone Else’s Faith Experience

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV.1Kings.19.11-13 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

For some, the Lord doesn’t come in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Rather, for some he comes in a gentle whisper.

It can be easy to covet someone else’s expression of their spiritual experience. Of feel spiritually inadequate by comparing the way we process our faith in comparison to someone else.

But coveting is sinful and so is comparison.

Maybe your faith life is simply different because you are uniquely created.

Faith and Rest (or ‘The Spiritual Gift of Not Being Excited About Jesus’)

by Aaron Wilkinson

I don’t really get ‘passionate’ about Jesus.

I was thinking about this while watching the worship leader at church Sunday morning, raising her hands and closing her eyes and singing very passionately. I’m always happy to see that, and there was a time that that was me, but it’s not really my experience anymore.

A few months ago my small group was discussing how to get excited about Jesus and I wasn’t feeling invested in the discussion. It felt heretical coming out my mouth, but when I chimed in and said that I don’t really feel that way, it occurred to me that how I did feel about my faith was rather remarkable.

I feel more relaxed about Jesus. While the worship leaders soulfully belt out songs that could move the most jaded old codger to tears, I’m just quietly grateful that God is bigger than my bank account.

It’s really easy to see the expressions of faith that are colorful and loud and active. I like those expressions of faith, but sometimes there’s too much colour and too much noise and too much activity. Sometimes you get anxious and you just want to slow down.

Sometimes you look for an expression of faith that calms the storms. That says “Come to me if you’re weary, and I will give you rest.” Sometimes you need less “mourning into dancing” and more “worrying into sleeping.”

When I let Jesus make me feel relaxed, it can feel like I’m not doing enough for him. I feel like I have to be doing, feeling, or expressing something. And then Jesus comes along and invites me to slow down.

I wonder what might happen if we, as the church, stopped trying to make Christianity fun and cool and started trying to make it restful.

None of these thoughts are especially new or profound or impressive, but I need to hear it more often and I figure others must as well. It’s okay if the name of Jesus doesn’t make you want to break out into dance.

Perhaps one of the best ways we can honor him is making him one of the few things we’ll slow down for.


NLTIs.30.15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength.

April 13, 2019

Worry and Anxiety Can Blind Us to God’s Sovereignty

This is from a book published in 2000, The Ways of God by Henry Blackaby and Roy Edgemon. (pp 67-68)

Sovereignty and Worry

God’s sovereign presence remains and is active in the midst of His people today. However, things that can blind us to God’s rule still surround us. Jesus declared the truth when He said,

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24).

You might think, Great! I know that money is not my master. But are you making important life decisions based on the presence or absence of money? Do you determine whether or not to obey God depending on practicalities, such as “overhead”? If you do not immediately think of “no!” as your answer, you may be ruled by money more than you thought.

Even if you were quickly able to rule out money as a barrier to your service to God, there are plenty of other “practical” candidates for the job of master. Even after ruling out the potential of kings and money, that still leaves another frontrunner – worry.

Sovereignty is clearly a way of God. Yet worry can be a sign of doubt, evidence that we are not trusting God as sovereign over everything. How well do we witness to His nature as sovereign Lord and Creator if we continue to worry? Jesus taught about the dilemma some find in trying to serve the Father by offering this advice,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:25, 33).

When believers worry, they actually may be trying to control a situation. They also may be revealing that they believe their situation is too difficult for God. But God has shown throughout Scripture that He has ultimate power over everything. He wants us to function under His lordship, trusting His sovereignty over this world.

God wants us to seek Him. The reward for seeking God, however, is His activity in and through our lives. When we serve our Sovereign, He will use us. Yet God never functions based on our will, but by His sovereign rule. God’s purpose in working through you is not to help you to be successful or even worry-free, but to use your life as a means by which He reveals Himself. He is not there to reveal you to a watching world. He is there to reveal Himself to a yearning, hurting and watching world.

March 4, 2019

The Greed/Worry Connection

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We’re back for a fifth time with Steven C. Mills at the website, Steve’s Bible Meditations. Click the header below to read at source and from there, browse other articles.

Worry is a Faith Matter – Luke 12:22-32

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing…. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:22-23, 32, NLT).

Jesus told a parable about greed to a crowd of people (vs. 12:13-21). Then, in stark contrast to the greed story, Jesus turned to His disciples and proceeded to tell them not to worry about their daily needs for life, specifically food and clothing, because God will provide everything they need.

Jesus said that ravens don’t plant or harvest crops yet they have enough food (vs. 24). He said King Solomon was never dressed as beautifully as a lily (vs. 27).

Jesus concluded that if God takes care of both the birds and flowers, how much more will He take care of human beings (vs. 28).

What’s interesting is after Jesus admonishes His disciples to quit worrying about their basic needs for life, He indicts them for a lack of faith.

Jesus links worry to faith! In other words, when you worry you are demonstrating a lack of faith.

So, worry is a faith matter! And, the best way to reduce or eliminate worry from your life is to build your faith in God.

And the way to build your faith in God is to seek His Kingdom more than you seek the necessities of life.

As a result of seeking God’s Kingdom first each day, your daily needs (and more!) will be supplied as a result or benefit of seeking His Kingdom (vs. 31).

When your main priority is seeking the Kingdom of God, the other work you undertake each day will serve to supplement your main vocation of building God’s Kingdom.

And then you won’t have to worry about all your other needs because you belong to God and He takes care of you by blessing what you do.


And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, NLT)

January 3, 2019

2018 “Bible Verse of the Year”

by Clarke Dixon

What was the most popular Bible verse of 2018? According to the popular Bible app YouVersion, the verse of the year was not John 3:16 or Romans 8:28 as you might expect. It was Isaiah 41:10.

Unfortunately, this verse is an indicator of what was on the hearts and minds of people around the world in 2018; fear and discouragement. We had many reasons for fear in 2018, such as changes in society and changes in our world with movements toward nationalism and various kinds of fundamentalism. We saw changes in relationships between nations, thinking especially of renewed trade wars. Most of us saw changes in ourselves. I am one year closer to the big five-O. Perhaps you are one year further away from it. Aging can be a great cause for fear. Then there are the things that stay the same; wars and rumours of wars, continuing oppression, natural disasters. There were reasons for fear in Isaiah’s day as well. Israel was a small nation surround by strong nations. That can be cause for fear in any age, but certainly back in the days when empires were eaten up by bigger empires.

What do we humans do when we are afraid? Isaiah tells us:

5 The lands beyond the sea watch in fear.
Remote lands tremble and mobilize for war.
6 The idol makers encourage one another,
saying to each other, “Be strong!”
7 The carver encourages the goldsmith,
and the molder helps at the anvil.
“Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. Isaiah 41:5-7

The New Living Translation makes clear what most other translations don’t. The artisans and goldsmiths are making idols. We have a tendency of turning to idolatry in the midst of fear. In Isaiah’s time people thought idols could control the future. Are we any different today? What do we think controls the future in our day? In answering this we tend to either run toward superstition, or away from it so far that we run from the supernatural altogether.

It amazes me when I check the news headlines using the Internet on my tablet as to how often the daily horoscope shows up among the headline news. Here we are as very sophisticated people with great technology in our hands, and yet people are still looking to the stars for their future.

Superstition can sneak into Christianity very easily. I have often used an app on my phone called IFTTT which means “if this, then that.” I program this app so that when I do the right “trigger,” it will automatically do the right action. So, for example, I can say “time to eat,” and text messages are sent to our boys that dinner is ready. People often treat God that way. If I do this, then God must do that. I can control the future by doing a certain “trigger” which will force God to do the right action. Problem is, God is not an app or a phone that he must operate according to our scripts. God is sovereign. I am reminded of a prominent Christian couple who walked away from Christianity in 2018. God had not responded to them as they thought He should have. People do not tend to walk away from Jesus. They do, however, walk away from superstitious expressions of Christianity. Unfortunately, people tend to walk towards superstitious expressions of Christianity in times of fear.

While some, in thinking of the future, rush headlong into superstition, others will go the opposite extreme and become anti-supernatural. Nothing controls the future, it just all unfolds according to mechanistic processes. Even the process of thinking is said to be just a matter of one thing causing another, like a line of dominoes falling. Anti-supernaturalism can be found in certain expression of Christianity where people appreciate the benefits of religion such as structure, morality, and community. However, they don’t really believe in a transcendent and immanent sovereign God. The world is what it is and the future will be what it will be.

According to Isaiah, neither superstition, nor anti-supernaturalism speaks to our future. Who really holds the future? We find out in Isaiah 41:8-10

8 “But as for you, Israel my servant,
Jacob my chosen one,
descended from Abraham my friend,
9 I have called you back from the ends of the earth,
saying, ‘You are my servant.’
For I have chosen you
and will not throw you away.
10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:8-10

God holds the future. Notice how Isaiah points to the past, present, and future. God’s people could look back and see a long standing relationship with God, “I have chosen you.” They have been his people for a long time. They can look to the present “I am with you, don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.” They can look to the future, “I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Nothing could provide hope and help in times of fear like God Himself. In thinking of the future we do well to leave behind our superstitions and our anti-supernaturalism and turn to God. He holds the future as surely as He has held the past and now holds the present.

The theme of “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you” will sound familiar to the Christian. We can think of the angels announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds:

9 They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! – Luke 2:9-11

That God had become present through Jesus was good news, and so “do not be afraid”! We are also reminded of the last words of Jesus to the disciples in the Gospel of Matthew:

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:20

Like the people of Isaiah’s day, we can look to the past to see the relationship God has been pursuing with us. We can look to Christmas, we can look to Easter and the reconciliation that He has offered at the cross. We can also look to God’s presence in our lives now. We can look forward to God keeping His promises in the future.

2018 may have been a year marked by fear and discouragement for you. Perhaps Isaiah 41:10 is a verse you want to memorize for 2019.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

May your New Year be blessed and happy!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. All scripture references are NRSV.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

…or, if you prefer, all his articles here at C201 can be seen at this link.

Scripture references today are taken from the NLT

December 29, 2018

Thunder! Lightning! Shaking!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is our fourth time featuring the writing of David Kitz at I Love the Psalms. David has served as an ordained minister with the Foursquare Gospel Church of Canada. For several years now, he has toured across Canada and into the United States with a variety of one man plays for both children and adults. For further information visit: http://www.davidkitz.ca/

LORD of the Storm

Reading: Psalm 29
A psalm of David.
Ascribe to the LORD, you heavenly beings,
ascribe to the L
ORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the L
ORD in the splendor of his holiness.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders,
the L
ORD thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
The voice of the L
ORD breaks the cedars;
the L
ORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon leap like a calf, Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD strikes with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the L
ORD shakes the desert;
the L
ORD shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
The voice of the L
ORD twists the oaks and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD is enthroned as King forever.
The L
ORD gives strength to his people; the LORD
blesses his people with peace (NIV).

Reflection
In Psalm 29 we see and hear the LORD, the God of the storm. There is an evocative poetic style to this psalm that helps the reader to picture the fury of the approaching tempest. But we not only see the flashes of lightning and the power of the wind, we also hear the booming thunder as it shakes the desert. The voice of the LORD twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

Nine times the psalmist repeats the phrase the voice of the LORD. In this psalm, the voice of the LORD is a very active force. The voice of the LORD thunders, breaks, strikes, shakes, twists and strips. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.

The voice of the LORD spoke the world into existence, set the planets in their orbits, and scattered the starry hosts across the heavens. A thunderstorm sweeping down from Lebanon is as nothing to Him.

But the LORD of the storm is also the LORD of peace. One day on the Sea of Galilee Jesus our Lord brought peace to the storm.

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm (Mark 4:37-39).

Response: You are the LORD of the storm and the LORD of peace. When storms arise in my life help me to trust you completely. Lord Jesus, grant me peace in the midst of the storm. Amen.

Your Turn: Jesus says to us, Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? (Mark 4:40). Are you hearing him?

December 15, 2018

The Garment of Praise

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Almost exactly a year ago we introduced you to homeschool curriculum writer Anne Elliott . At that time we had discovered a much older article by her, and decided this time around to feature something more recent. Click the title below to read on her site, and then navigate from there to check out other articles.

The Garment of Praise for the Spirit of Heaviness

Sometimes we start to feel very sad. Circumstances seem overwhelming, and promises from God take too long to come to pass. Tears flow when we don’t want them to. We lose our desire to work, to eat, to be with our loved ones. We just want to crawl into bed. The Bible calls this a spirit of heaviness.

“To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3, NKJV).

Other times we start to feel very hurt. People accuse us of things we didn’t do. Our hearts feel bruised, and we react in anger when our thoughts merely turn to the words said. We struggle to be with them, and to restrain unkind words, and our faces turn red with passion when they aren’t even in the room. The Bible calls this a spirit of bitterness.

“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” (Job 7:11, NKJV).

Other times we feel paralyzed with worry. We know God loves us and has done good for us in the past, but this time feels different. The giants look bigger, and we feel deserted. Our hearts pound, our stomachs hurt, our eyes widen. We can’t think of anything else. The Bible calls this a spirit of fear.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7, NKJV).

As the Scripture clearly says, these spirits do not come from God! I’ve been pondering this. How do thoughts like these ever enter our minds, causing emotions and reactions in my body, when they do not come from God? They originate from the deceiver, who plants them in our hearts and minds.

“And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him…” (John 13:2, NKJV).

So let me give you a picture of something I’ve been pondering. My husband has been teaching about how the Spirit of God has been given to us as a down payment and a guarantee of the promises to come, especially of the resurrection.

“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).

“Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 5:5, NKJV).

The Spirit of God sets up His residence within our hearts, so that His presence can go before us, giving us strength, guarding us, empowering us, and leading us each day.

This reminds me of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. They received the covenant at Sinai, but shortly after, they sinned terribly by building the golden calf. Shortly after, YHVH told them that He would send a messenger before them to lead them to the Promised Land, but that His own presence could not go with them because they were stiff-necked and He would destroy them (Exodus 33). Moses interceded on their behalf, and YHVH relented.

“Then Moses said to [YHVH], ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?’

“And YHVH said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name’” (Exodus 33:15-17).

Right after this, YHVH gave the plans for a Tabernacle to Moses, along with all the regulations for the worship of YHVH in the Tabernacle. The basic premise was that YHVH would dwell in the midst of His people, but they would need to be very clean in order for Him to remain there. Any uncleanness would separate them from His presence.

In the same way, the Spirit of God wants to dwell in our hearts and minds, but if His presence is to guide us, we have to get rid of any uncleanness.

We have to cast out the spirits of heaviness, bitterness, and fear.

It makes so much sense, then, why the Enemy wishes to attack us in our minds. If he can plant anxiety and anger and panic — and if we allow him to do this — then we will not be guided by the presence of God!

If we wish to hear His voice, then we have to cast out the voice of the Enemy.

If we wish to be distinguished from all the other people on the face of the earth, we must stop listening to their advice and counsel, heeding only the voice of the Presence of God.

If we wish to please Him, we must keep the outer courts of our hearts clean.

“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Faith is an action. Here are some actions we can take when we identify that the thoughts in our minds are not from God:

  • To cast out the spirit of heaviness, we must gird ourselves with a garment of praise.
  • To cast out the spirit of bitterness, we must bless others and not curse.
  • To cast out the spirit of fear, we must remember what God has done for us in the past, and how He has shown Himself strong on our behalf.

For myself, these things are easier when I set up some simple disciplines for my life. Just as the Tabernacle was to be maintained daily, always staying clean, we must maintain our hearts daily. It’s not enough to just passively wait for the Enemy to arrive.

  • Start the Day with Scripture. Write down some key verses, then speak those verses all day long. The Word is truth, and when we speak it, the angels of God do His bidding and both guard our “tabernacles” and go before us to destroy the enemy.

“So is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

“Praise YHVH, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word” (Psalm 103:20).

  • Pray in the Spirit. As we come into His presence with our requests and petitions, reminding Him of His promises by praying the very Scriptures themselves, then our own faith is built up and renewed.

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

  • Sing and Praise. This is one of the hardest points for me, even though I love to sing. My flesh tends toward grumbling and complaining, and I often tend to focus on my problems rather than all the ways in which He has delivered me. It seems that I have to trick my body by singing aloud with a smile, with my foot tapping and even with dancing. If I am with other believers (even my kids or husband), then it can be easier.

“I will greatly praise YHVH with my mouth;
Yes, I will praise Him among the multitude.
For He shall stand at the right hand of the poor,
To save him from those who condemn him” (Psalm 109:30-31).

  • Bless and Not Curse. Our Master Yeshua told us to bless others, especially when they try to harm us. This breeds a spirit of forgiveness, of understanding, of empathy. My desire to see harm come upon others is replaced with genuine concern for their well-being. The key is to remember that our true enemy is Satan himself, never another person created by God.

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

  • Give Thanks. This discipline is something that needs to be done all day long, so that we can stay in a place of rejoicing. Boy, this one really takes discipline, doesn’t it? However, like all exercise, the more we do it, the easier it becomes.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Messiah Yeshua for you. Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19).

Our adversary will certainly try to plant thoughts of evil in our hearts, but with these strategies, we can cast him out and instead see the fruit of living in communion with God Himself, His Spirit guiding us and empowering us.

“You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

 

October 11, 2018

The Road of Thanksgiving (Leads Through Enemy Territory)

by Clarke Dixon  [returning to a study in the book of Esther where we left off a few weeks ago.]
What happened to our “happily ever after”? Jesus came to rescue the world, yet it still seems to need a rescue. You came to Jesus for salvation, yet life still feels messy. At the end of chapter 7 in the Book of Esther, we may have expected a “happily ever after” summary. Haman’s evils plots have been exposed, Haman himself hanged, and we expect  God’s people should now be able to live happily ever after. Indeed there is great celebration:

For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor. 17 In every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict came, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a festival and a holiday. Esther 8:16-17

While thanksgiving is not specifically mentioned, it could hardly be missing from the celebrations.

However, the story is not done. There are battles ahead. There will still be fighting, there will still be violence:

The king’s secretaries were summoned at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day; and an edict was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded, to the Jews and to the satraps and the governors and the officials of the provinces from India to Ethiopia,  . . . . By these letters the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to assemble and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, with their children and women, and to plunder their goods on a single day throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. Esther 8:9-12

Bible scholars point out that chapter 8 reflects chapter 3, even using the same language in parts, to demonstrate a great reversal. There is the giving of a ring (3:10; 8:2), the summoning of secretaries (3:12; 8:9), the writing and sealing of letters (3:12; 8:10), the instruction to kill people including women and children (3:13; 8:11), the publishing of a decree (3:14; 8:13), the speed of couriers (3:15; 8:14), the response of the city of Susa (3:15; 8:15), and the clothing of Mordecai (4:1; 8:15).

With a wonderful reversal, there is much for God’s people to be thankful for. However, this is no “happily ever after”. The road ahead would not be easy. The former edict to wipe the Jews out could not be simply undone. That is not how things were done in Persia. As foolish as it seems, what the king writes is final. Instead, a new edict was provided to allow the Jews to assemble an army together, to give them the right to defend themselves. Their road of thanksgiving would lead through enemy territory.

As Christians we celebrate a great reversal, we have the greatest reasons for celebration and thanksgiving. Instead of heading toward death, we are headed toward eternal life. We celebrate God’s grace. But like God’s people in Esther’s day, the road of thanksgiving leads through enemy territory. In Esther’s day God’s people were not simply removed from the Persian empire with all its quirks. The Christian today is not simply removed from a broken world with all its troubles. There is great thanksgiving, but the road of thanksgiving leads through enemy territory.

The teaching of the New Testament encourages us to be ready for this road.

Jesus teaches us to rejoice in the midst of trouble:

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12

Jesus teaches us to pray for deliverance:

And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13

Paul teaches us to put on the full armour of God:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:10-17

James tells us that the devil will be tempting and inviting us:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. . . James 4:7-8

Peter tells us that troubles will come:

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7

Peter further tells us that we the devil will come at us:

6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:6-11

Anyone who tells you that God will lift you out of all troubles when you follow Jesus is being selective in their reading of the Bible. The road of thanksgiving leads through enemy territory. Expect trouble. Prepare for it.

There was great celebration for God’s people in the Book of Esther, they knew all would be well, it was a time for thanksgiving. But it was also time to prepare for battle. In Christ we have a great salvation to celebrate, all shall be well, it is a time for thanksgiving. But it is not a time to let our guard down. It is time to prepare for battle, to prepare for the road that leads through enemy territory. The road of thanksgiving leads through enemy territory, but God leads us through it.

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Read Clarke Dixon’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

September 19, 2018

Where Does the Object of Your Faith Reside?

Elsie Montgomery is one of the most faithful devotional writers I encounter when preparing these articles to share with you. She’s now in her 12th year of writing and this is her 15th time being highlighted here at C201. Click the title below and read it at her blog, Practical Faith.

Burdens can reveal the object of my faith

A Christian perspective can be easily misinterpreted. Because I know that God is sovereign and able to govern the world and all that it is in it, I can be calm regarding the stuff that happens because I know God is in charge. This calm reliance on His love and power can be misinterpreted; people might thing that I don’t care about the mayhem and tragedy in this world. Sometimes I misinterpret my burdens though. I can feel deep concern for the mess out there because God cares about the suffering going on in this world, but I can also be in a flap because I don’t believe that He does care. One burden comes from having His heart of compassion; the other is based on fear and panic.

Tozer said that warm hearts and cool heads should belong to Christians. His reason? We are seated above earthly circumstances and can calmly look down without being moved in spirit over the happenings in this world. He points to this passage:

“Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.’” (Hebrews 8:1–5)

Even though Tozer’s conclusions are often a stretch from the Scriptures he uses, this passage did remind me that the Lord God is on the throne. He is the High Priest of heaven who is sovereign, even when I cannot understand what He is doing.

Why then the burdens? The weight in my heart for a world gone crazy can have two sources: fear or faith. I can panic over floods, hurricanes, typhoons, crime, fires and so on because they are tragic and God’s creation is suffering. I can feel the heart of a caring God who knows and cares for even the sparrows that fall (Luke 12). Yet if my burden is the burden of the Holy Spirit for pain and loss, it is not excessive because Jesus said, “My burden is light” (Matthew 11). It is also evidence that the Spirit who lives in me is conveying to me His heart for the needs of people.

However, those burdens can be fearful and overwhelming, without trust in God’s sovereign power and even rooted in fear and pride. I start thinking that I must do something even if it is only identifying with the pain of others. Fear is anxious about the outcome and acts without waiting on the Lord for direction. With fear, I try to run the world even though I know He is the only one who can.

The burdens of faith are rooted in humility. They are the result of a heart willing to bear whatever the Lord puts on it, then praying to give it back to Him. It is obeying what I know — that God can deal with it. He might give me an assignment but humility assumes nothing, not even that my prayers will ‘fix’ these issues. They belong to God, not my will. Faith in Him knows Jesus will ‘win’ even when everything looks very black. Fear runs in circles; faith attaches itself to God.

Jesus, when the burdens of the world start getting me down, I realize I must pray lest my faith slip into fear. Forgive me for letting that happen and quickly let me know so I will be praising You instead of banging my head against a wall.

September 10, 2018

Just As You Is

A few months ago we introduced you to a new source of devotional material. First 15 is designed for the first 15 minutes of your day, and can be delivered direct to your phone or tablet. The devotional’s main partners are: All Shores Wesleyan Church, First Baptist Church Universal City and Mississippi College.

Each day’s devotional is divided into six parts including a worship music video. The one that follows is kicking off a series for this week on the nearness of God and our awareness of his presence. We’re featuring just the text content, so you’re strongly encouraged to click the title below for the full experience.

God Cares About the Present

Scripture

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

Devotional

I used to view my relationship with God as a straight line of spiritual progress. My goal in spending time in the secret place with fellow believers at church and at work was to try and make the movement across this line of spiritual growth as quickly and painlessly as possible. I would get frustrated any time I got hung up on some issue or sin and couldn’t experience freedom quickly enough. My time spent with Jesus was more about how he could change me than how deeply he already loves me.

We unfortunately live in a day and age where speed and progress is everything. We lose our patience as soon as a waiter takes too long to get us our check, a light takes an extra thirty seconds than we want it to, a driver holds us back five minutes from our destination, or a conversation interrupts the jam-packed schedule of our day. And painfully, we have allowed our culture to shape our perspective of God’s heart for us rather than allowing his word and Spirit to reveal how incredibly patient he is.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 says, Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Every one of these aspects of love finds its perfect fulfillment in the heart of our Father. Our God is patient and kind. He bears our imperfections with love and grace, believes wholeheartedly in us, is filled with hope over who we are, and joyfully endures our process of sanctification.

You see, our heavenly Father cares deeply about you presently. He isn’t waiting until you get a little holier to pour out the full depths of his love and joy over you. He isn’t holding back the satisfaction he feels in simply living in relationship with you until you finally get over a certain sin. He loves and longs for unveiled communion with you right now.

If we wait until we have it all together to settle into the pace of this life, find peace, and fully enjoy God, we will never experience the wealth of abundant life available to us this side of heaven. Matthew 6:34 says, Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Have patience for yourself and others the way your heavenly Father does. Take time to receive his perfect perspective for today. Give your relationship with him all the energy you have and waste nothing on the frivolous cares of tomorrow.

Take time in guided prayer to allow your Father to overwhelm you with the love he feels for you right now, as you are. Experience today the peace and joy that can only be found when you surrender the entirety of your life, spiritual development, and future plans to your faithful Shepherd and simply follow him to green pastures and still waters. He promises there will be more green pastures tomorrow. He promises to guide you faithfully every day to the fullness of life he died to give you. Your only job as his sheep is to trust him, let him love and care for you, and follow his perfect leadership. May you drink deeply of the living waters of God’s love today as you rest in the presence of your loving Shepherd.

Prayer

1. Meditate on God’s patience and love for you in the present. Allow Scripture to guide you to a desire to encounter God fully and openly just as you are.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:31-34

2. What burden are you carrying that is grounded in the future instead of the present? What are you striving toward that is not found in the green pastures Jesus desires to lead you to today?

You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. James 5:8

3. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into a lifestyle of living presently. Ask him what it looks like to cast off fear over tomorrow and experience the abundant life meant for you in the present. Take time to rest in the presence of God and discover his patience over you.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.James 1:4

Go…

Your heavenly Father is most definitely molding and shaping you to look more like Jesus through a process of spiritual development. He has perfect plans for your sanctification that you might have a greater sense of his love at the end of every day. But that process is defined by daily living in the present and engaging with him fully in each moment. Leave the planning and leadership up to him, and simply follow him to green pastures and still waters every day. Seek relationship with him and allow daily, consistent encounters with him to mold and fashion you into a greater reflection of your Good Shepherd. May you find peace, joy, and patience by living in the present today.


Extended Reading: James 1

July 7, 2018

When Jesus Comes in the Storm

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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NIV.Matthew.14.22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Doubtstorms

by Max Lucado

On Sundays I stand before a church with a three-point outline in my hand, thirty minutes on the clock, and a prayer on my lips. I do my best to say something that will convince a stranger that an unseen God still hears.

And I sometimes wonder why so many hearts have to hurt.

Do you ever get doubtstorms? Some of you don’t, I know. I’ve talked to you.

I think you are gifted. You are gifted with faith. You can see the rainbow before the clouds part. If you have this gift, then I won’t say anything you need to hear.

But others of you wonder…

You wonder if it is a blessing or a curse to have a mind that never rests. But you would rather be a cynic than a hypocrite, so you continue to pray with one eye open and wonder:

– about starving children

– about the power of prayer

– about the depths of grace

– about Christians in cancer wards

– about who you are to ask such questions anyway.

Tough questions. Throw-in-the-towel questions. Questions the disciples must have asked in the storm.

The light came for the disciples. A figure came to them walking on the water. It wasn’t what they expected. Perhaps they were looking for angels to descend or heaven to open. Maybe they were listening for a divine proclamation to still the storm. We don’t know what they were looking for. But one thing is for sure, they weren’t looking for

Jesus to come walking on the water.

“‘It’s a ghost,’ they said and cried out in fear” (Matthew 14:26).

And since Jesus came in a way they didn’t expect, they almost missed seeing the answer to their prayers.

And unless we look and listen closely, we risk making the same mistake. God’s lights in our dark nights are as numerous as the stars, if only we’ll look for them.

When the disciples saw Jesus in the middle of their stormy night, they called him a ghost. A phantom. A hallucination. To them, the glow was anything but God.

When we see gentle lights on the horizon, we often have the same reaction. We dismiss occasional kindness as apparitions, accidents, or anomalies. Anything but God.

“When Jesus comes,” the disciples in the boat may have thought, “he’ll split the sky. The sea will be calm. The clouds will disperse.”

“When God comes,” we doubters think, “all pain will flee. Life will be tranquil. No questions will remain.”

And because we look for the bonfire, we miss the candle. Because we listen for the shout, we miss the whisper.


Excerpt from In the Eye of the Storm (1991)


Ryan Stevenson: In the Eye of the Storm:

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 word 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.

 

 

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