Christianity 201

January 18, 2021

The Heavens are Telling

Don’t you wonder why
The stars are in the sky?
They’re telling you and I
Of the glory of God

And every flower and tree
Is there for folks to see
So that there no doubt can be
Of the glory of God

So let the words of my mouth
And the meditation of my heart
Do the same thing for Thee
And a witness be
To the glory of God
To the glory of God

In my younger days, I could name four different songs that were all based on Psalm 19, and as I consider it now, I can think of a few others which have lines which allude to it. There is something to be said for the theory that scripture verses are trending for a few decades and then are replaced by others. These days there is much repetition of

  • Be still and know
  • “For I know the plans I have for you”
  • I can do all things

Readers here will recognize that while these verses have brought much comfort to many people, each has a very specific context which is either not known or ignored by most of the people doing the quoting. (I may claim to be able to all things, but I can’t fly an airplane, dismantle a bomb, or perform brain surgery. I can’t even get the jar of apricot jam open, and I need to ask my wife for help finding the last place the roll of packing tape was cut.)

On the other hand, rediscovering a passage of scripture which had fallen off your radar is somewhat akin to meeting up with an old friend. (I don’t remember the title of the song I quoted above, but feel free to leave its name in the comments.)

Psalm 19 begins:

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
    The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
    night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
    their voice is never heard
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
    and their words to all the world.

God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.
It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding.
    It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race.
The sun rises at one end of the heavens
    and follows its course to the other end.
    Nothing can hide from its heat. (NLT)

David wrote this one, and in these first six verses he’s talking about what theologians call the general revelation of God. This is the evidence of God’s being in nature, what scientists who are Christians call the unveiling of intelligent design in the universe. And it’s a non-stop broadcast; verse 2 (NASB) says “Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” and this giving of speech is anthropomorphizing either the heavens and skies, or the entire general revelation itself.

Have you ever had a friend who looked at a beautiful scene and said, “It speaks to me.” Well according to verse 2, it really does!

The general revelation can introduce someone to deism, but of course Jesus is not named. Is it sufficient for someone unevangelized to respond to; someone who has never heard the name of Jesus? Objectively, I want to say no, there is no salvation apart from His name, but there have been a few anecdotal accounts of people who decided that not only did there need to be a God behind the skies and heavens, but that this God would want to make himself known; and then they started connecting the dots. These are however, the exception, not the rule; but never rule out anything in terms of God’s ability to get through to human hearts.

The rest of the Psalm — and you could easily try to argue this is a mash-up of two Psalms — concerns God’s law.

The Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much pure gold;
Sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, Your servant is warned by them;
In keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.
13 Also keep Your servant back from presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me;
Then I will be innocent,
And I will be blameless of great wrongdoing.
14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. (NLT)

Look at the words used: Law, precepts, commandment. It echoes the conveniently numbered Psalm 119. (I don’t want go down the rabbit trail of verse and chapter numbering — a system which sometimes breaks up our reading and can be more harmful than helpful — but there are some interesting things which occur as you study the Bible. I remember in our youth group looking at the interesting collection of “3:16” verse which one finds, but I wouldn’t look to start a new church based such numerical anomalies.)

David loves God’s precepts. He’s got them on his fridge, in posters and plaques on his wall, on bumper stickers on his car.

David loves the law. It’s as simple as that. We groan inwardly when the speaker says, “Turn with me to the book of Leviticus;” but not so David. When I did a consecutive reading of scripture a few years back and came to Leviticus, I remember very specifically praying that God would help me to see the reasoning behind the rules; an understanding of the purpose behind the many intricate details by which Israel would form a distinct identity and be set apart from neighboring nations.

It’s like David is saying, ‘I love traffic lights. I love speed limits.’ (One wonders if in our day he would say, ‘I love having to wear a mask. I love social distancing.’ If he felt that all these things were for our good, he might indeed say those things.) (Please don’t comment on this paragraph. Thank you.)

Then there what I see as a benediction for readers like us. I’ve already shown it here as the translation I used included it with the previous verse, but it could also stand alone.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (v14, NIV)

While David ends with this, I’ve used it before as part of prayer of invocation at the start of a worship service, or at the beginning of a sermon. You can use this personally as you start your day; as you go into your school or workplace; as you prepare for a Zoom meeting with family members; or as you are about to type that reply on Facebook or Twitter!

I’ll leave us with the first part of the verse in The Voice Bible:

May the words that come out of my mouth and the musings of my heart meet with Your gracious approval

 

December 28, 2020

A Quiet Place

We often end the devotional with a related music video, but today we want to the song to be the springboard for what follows…

For most readers here, the content would be described as devotionals or devotional readings. I have always taken the meaning to refer to this practice or spiritual discipline that we do out of devotion to God.

Working in the world of Christian publishing however, I frequently encounter people — a large number from a Catholic background or people who have had exposure to recovery programs — who refer to devotional books as meditations or meditational readings. I do like the idea that one doesn’t just read the words and close the book and walk away. Rather one ruminates or chews the text in their mind.

There is however a third term which, although I am very familiar with it, isn’t something we’ve used here: quiet time.

This song, written by Ralph Carmichael, was part of a collection* that for many people mark the beginning of what we call Contemporary Christian Music. But we’re here to look at the lyrics.

There is a quiet place
Far from the rapid pace
Where God can soothe my troubled mind

Sheltered by tree and flower
There in that quiet hour
With him my cares are left behind

Whether a garden small
Or on a mountain tall
New strength and courage there I find

Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind

A search for scripture verses about having a quiet time takes us to these:

…he delights in the teachings of the LORD and reflects on his teachings day and night. – Psalm 1:2 GW

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:6 NIV

…Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. – Mathew 14:22-23 NLT

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. – Mark 1:35 CEB

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. – Joshua 1:8a NLT

and finally

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. – Luke 5:16 NIV

UK writer Daisy Logan has offered sixteen different ways we can improve our quiet time. Not all of these may work for you, but I encourage you to click here to read her suggestions.

The website for CRU (formerly Campus Crusade) looks at several different elements your quiet time can contain, including opening your Bible and methodically studying a section of text, followed by four types of prayer. Click here to read their template for quiet times.

The website GotQuestions.org reminds us that,

Every believer needs a quiet time with the Lord. If Jesus Himself needed it, how much more do we? Jesus frequently moved away from the others in order to commune with His Father regularly…

The length of the quiet time does not matter, but it should be enough time to meditate on what was read and then pray about it or anything else that comes to mind. Drawing near to God is a rewarding experience, and once a regular habit of quiet time is created, a specific time for study and prayer is eagerly looked forward to. If our schedules are so full and pressing that we feel we cannot carve out some time daily to meet with our heavenly Father, then a revision of our schedules to weed out the “busyness” is in order.

I realize that for some people, the thought of pausing at a certain time each day, or even the use of the word meditation triggers thoughts of Eastern religions. Got Questions addresses this:

A note of caution: some Eastern religions that teach the principles of meditation include instructions on “emptying the mind” by concentrating on repeating a sound or a particular word over and over. Doing so leaves room for Satan to enter and to wreak havoc in our minds. Instead, Christians should follow the advice of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Filling one’s mind with these beautiful thoughts cannot help but bring peace and please God. Our quiet time should be a time of transformation through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), not through the emptying of them.

I want to invite you to listen to the short song one more time. This time think about what ought to be the result of our quiet time with God:

Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind

The fruit or benefit of time spent in study and prayer will come out in our lives in ways that will affect others as well as ourselves.


The original version of the song was posted at this link. (There’s also a “big band” version for those who like that style at this link.)

*Listen to the full album at this link.

 

 

 

 

November 21, 2020

Our Highest Desire for Our Children … and for Ourselves

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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If you’re a parent, grandparent, godparent or aunt/uncle, the spiritual aspirations you have for the children in your sphere of influence should also be the same spiritual aspirations you set for yourself.

Today for the first time we’re featuring the writing of Luke Wagner who serves as a volunteer pastor in Lawrence, Kansas, and writes at An Eternal Viewpoint.

Called To Influence

There is a prayer I have for all of my kids, and I think it’s one most parents who are followers of Jesus have for their kids as well.

God, empower them be the influence.

It’s simple. But it could change the world.

And honestly, being influential in the life of my kid’s beyond just being the parent is something I am still learning. Speaking life isn’t always the tendency I have, but it needs to be. Jesus gave the instruction,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Matthew 28:19-20

In essence, get out there and influence others for Me. Live a life that points others to Me. Tell them about Me with your words AND actions. When I see my daughter interacting with her friends and peers, I pray that she would be the influence in the group that points towards Jesus.

She doesn’t always get it right. But then, perfection isn’t the expectation.

Really, that’s the same position God takes with us. He knows perfection isn’t a reality for us in this life. But are we striving to be the influence in our circles? When guidance is sought, direction is needed; are you the one who steps up and points those around you in the right direction?

I love how Jesus begins this directive. In the verse before He says,

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Matthew 28:18

His basis for giving this directive is rooted in His ultimate and explicit authority over everything. And He doesn’t kind of suggest we do this, He commands it. This is what gut punches me, as a follower of Him, being a person of influence for the Kingdom isn’t an option. It’s not a task get to decide when and where I want to engage in.

It’s implied that this is an ongoing, constant expectation as a follower of Jesus. I mean, look at how He ends this command:

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:20

I’m pretty confident that my time on earth will end before the “end of the age” comes to pass. That leads me to conclude the expectation is to live a life of influence for Jesus. To strive every day to make an impact for His Kingdom through the interactions I have. To speak life.

That’s what I want to see in the lives of my kids.

But it has to start with me.

October 17, 2020

Reading the Bible’s Big Picture

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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Today we return for the 4th time to the writing of Sarah Jo who writes at Blind Insanity. Click the header below to read at source and then take a minute to look around the rest of her blog. (Scriptures today are as posted in the KJV; use BibleHub or BibleGateway to study these in other translations.)

The Bible is Not About You

The Bible is not about you.

You are not David, you are not Saul, you are not Paul, you are not Timothy, you are (insert your name here).

The Bible is not about you, it is all about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Godhead, three-in-one, and what He has done for His creation.

By His grace and by His power, you are (or can be) redeemed.

If you have believed on Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and trusted in Him to forgive you of your sins, then you have your own story. It is precious and it is even powerful, but it cannot compare to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As an example, when we look at King David’s story, we are not meant to get out of it that we can be a “David.” … “If we just practice enough and develop the gifts God has given, then we, too, can defeat a giant.” … One message we are meant to get out of David’s story is that God shows Himself strong through normal and weak people who live in submission to Him. No matter how much they practice, no matter how much they try, it will all be worthless without complete surrender to God’s sovereign control and power. He can, and does, use weak vessels like you and me for His glory and purpose; emphasis on “weak.”

Whenever we read stories of people in the Bible, we should be drawn closer to Jesus, not closer to those people… Whenever we hear a pastor preaching, we should be drawn closer to Jesus and not closer to that pastor…

God intentionally conveyed the moral failings of his greatest servants to show that it wasn’t about them at all, it was about how He loves them and how He chose them. It was not by their own merit, but by His grace, and we see that in so many stories in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Throughout the Bible, there is an overarching theme of God’s undeserved favor poured out over mankind; His unconditional grace.

Though God didn’t write our stories into His Word, what He does (or will do, when we receive Him) is write His redeeming Word into our stories.

One of the many beautiful parts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that He does a great work in those who trust in Him. He transforms, purifies, sanctifies, and builds His children up in the power of His Word and the comfort of His Holy Spirit.

Now, where is this message coming from?

Recently, I watched the movie “American Gospel: Christ Alone.” This specific issue in the American church was called out in that documentary.

There are some popular preachers who take Bible stories and reshape them into motivational speeches, which can often take the stories completely out of their intended context. In general, the messages are inspiring and encouraging and can leave a person feeling happy, yet no lasting fruit is produced from those messages.

The joy is temporal, but the harm can be eternal.

So, what I want to encourage you to do is read the Word of God in context. When a pastor is preaching, read the verses that they reference in their full context. They may just quote one verse or a piece of a verse, and it is your responsibility to read the context.

Please, go to church, but do not be a bump on a log. If your pastor is continually giving messages, where verses are used out of context, and their words cause you to look at anyone else other than your Savior, then get out of that church. When Jesus talked about giving us an abundant life, that had nothing to do with worldly things like health, money, or earthly loves, but everything to do with Himself.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

Jesus didn’t die, so that you could have a nice house, nice car, nice plane, or favor with man. He died, so that you could live abundantly in His unconditional grace and love. He is more than enough for you. Yes, He provides for His children, because He’s good, but why should we worry about the gifts or look for more gifts when the Giver, our Heavenly Father, has already given us Himself?

So, let me conclude with this.

In many prayers over offerings, I have heard something similar to this;
“May God reward the giver with abundance in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.”
That is in reference to this verse below.

Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. (Luke 6:38)

This verse is one of many used to encourage people to give to a church or organization, because you will surely receive in abundance if you give in abundance… The reason we give should not be to receive more money back, but in the hope that God will use that money for the strengthening of His kingdom. If our motivation for giving is not solely the glory of God, then it would be better for us not to give. If we give to a church that has no lasting fruit in its members, and its outreaches are built on doing good, but not sharing the Gospel, then it would be better not to give to that church at all.

So many people give for the sake of giving, not paying attention to what their gift is going to. So many people go to church for the sake of going to church, not paying attention to the fruit that is being produced, whether in their life or in their community.

Pay attention. Don’t just float along because you don’t want to be confrontational. The “gospels” being preached today are harmful to people, and actually draw people away from the One True God! True followers of Christ need to stand up for His Word, especially in the church. Maybe we are not all meant to be apologists, but we are all meant to know God and know His Word. So, if we should deny what we know, or go along with what is false, what does that say about our integrity or our seriousness about God’s calling on our lives? Only His view matters.

So, let us boldly stand up for Jesus and keep Him at the center of our lives and the center of His Word.

And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:10‭-‬11)

And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.
And this is love, that we walk after His commandments. This is the commandment, “That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.”
For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.
Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.
If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.
(2 John 1:5‭-‬11)

[some suggested resources and contact info appear here; click through to the original article to read]

Though the Bible was not written about us, yet it was written for our benefit.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16‭-‬17)

September 15, 2020

Salvation: A Continuous Imperative

If I were to leave you to keep an eye on my office, and just before walking out the door, I pointed to the back and said, “Shut the door;” what would I expect? Namely that you would shut the door. That’s it.

But if I were to turn around and say, “And answer the phone;” what does that imply? It implies that if the phone rings, answer it, and if it rings again, answer it, and if it keeps ringing, keep answering it. It’s what is called a continuous imperative.


Today we’re back with a visit to the blog Brothers of the Book, written by Bill Hood. While the column is directed at men, there is application here for everyone. (Also, with so many printed devotional resources directed toward women, here is a site you can recommend to a male friend or relative.) As always, click the header below and read this there instead of here.

You Are Being Saved

1 Corinthians 15:1–11

God’s work of salvation pre-dates your existence, is on-going in your life, and will be witnessed again in eternity. You are saved; you are being saved; you will be saved.

Today’s reading is a re-presentment of the Gospel.  Paul shares the facts of salvation with the Corinthians.  It is important for us to remember what we believe.  It is so easy to be led astray.  A little twisting of the truth produces a lie – not an alternate truth.

Changing subjects, I found the comparison of various translations of the following verse to be rather interesting.

1 Corinthians 15:2

ESV
“and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.”

NIV
“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”

KJ
“By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.”

Most translations refer to the Gospel as something by which they “were saved” while the English Standard Version (ESV) refers to the Gospel as something by which they were “being saved”.  Did the ESV get this wrong?  I don’t think so.  I went back and did a word study in the original Greek, and the word translated “you are being saved” by the ESV does give a sense of something that is on-going; at least it gave me that sense.  My pastor, several times, has said from the pulpit “you are saved, you are being saved, you will be saved”.

This sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it?  Try this on for size.  God chose to save you before He even created the World.  Moving forward in time, if you are a Christian, there was a moment in your past when you submitted your life to Christ, and at that moment you were saved as God had already determined you would.  Can you lose your salvation?  Christ says He will lose no one whom God places in His hand.  Did the Son of God get this wrong?  Can He lose you due to your own choices?  No brothers, it is His grace and presence in your life that keeps saving you every moment of every day.  God doesn’t save you and walk away hoping you’ll make the right choices so you can keep what He gave you.  Your salvation is a complete work of grace on the part of God Himself.  You had nothing to do with it.  God saved you and He is saving you.

One day, you will stand before the righteousness of God.  Jesus will step forward and say “Abba, he is with me.  I paid for his sin.”  You will be allowed to pass in to eternal fellowship with God. At that moment, you are saved anew.  You will be saved.

Salvation is an amazing thing.  It is beyond miraculous.  It is beyond comprehension.  Brothers, you are not alone in your wanderings in this desert called life.  If you truly submitted your life to Christ, Jesus goes with you in the form of His Holy Spirit.  He lifts you up.  He carries you through.  In the Good News of Jesus Christ, you are being saved!

Vivere Victorem! (Live Victorious!)

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

 

 

August 20, 2020

Have You Moved?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Clarke Dixon is away this week, so we’re diving deep into his blog archives for this article from August, 2011, long before we started carrying his articles here on a weekly basis.

by Clarke Dixon

Have you moved? This is a question that I could answer ‘yes’ to many times. While we did not change church families too often (my Dad being the pastor), we did move house quite often, so much so that I cannot recall how many homes I have now called ‘home.’ But on last count I attended six different public schools (in two different nations), three different high schools (in three different towns/cities), one college and two universities. And since then, I continue the life as a nomad… So yes, I have moved, and got quite good at it! In fact I now have little patience when helping others move who don’t know how it is to be done. Ever heard of boxes?

But the question put to the congregation recently… was not ‘have you moved house?’ It was really ‘has your soul moved?’ As Christians we are led by the Spirit of God:

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” Galatians 5:25 (NIV).

As we are led by the Spirit of God, we should expect to see change in our character:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV).

Now sometimes this strikes Christians as being somehow either unrealistic, or unfair. “We can’t expect people to be perfect.” “We should accept people just as they are.” “People cannot change, nor should we ask them to.” That kind of thing. True enough, we accept people just as they are, but we should be asking ourselves, and each other if we are really watching out for one another, ‘have we moved?’ Have we seen a change in character? Is it evident to others, so evident it is like fruit on a tree, easily visible, and attractive not to mention life giving?

Yes we accept people as they are, but we can no more be led by the Spirit of God and remain the same, than the Israelites could be led by the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night and remain in Egypt (see the book of Exodus). If we are led, we are moving. If we are not moving, it is not because God has stopped leading us, it is because we have stopped following. Perhaps we like Egypt too much. Perhaps we have found a comfy spot in the wilderness short of the promised land and have decided to settle in the desert. Perhaps we mistakenly thought we were being baptized in the Jordan, with the promised land just over there easily within reach, when really we were baptized back in the Nile, with quite the journey ahead of us.

There is a Spirit-led journey ahead of each of us. And I don’t believe any of us ever really reach the ‘promised land’ of Christ-like character in this lifetime. But the question is not “have you arrived?” The Lord knows I have not. My wife knows too. And so do those who need my help moving and who have not packed properly, as previously mentioned. The question is ‘have you moved?’ Are you different now than you were ten years ago? Five years ago?

Whatever your answer is, I know what mine needs to be: Let’s get moving!


Adapted from a sermon preached August 2011 in Ottawa, Canada. Today, Clarke is a pastor in Cobourg, a city on the north shore of Lake Ontario in Canada. Church website.

July 22, 2020

A Word About Caution

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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A year ago this month, we discovered that Air1, the Christian radio network with stations across the U.S., had a devotional blog. Today we’re back again for another visit. If you listen to Air1, check out their devotional. And if you enjoy the devotional, check out the music play through a broadcast station near you or streaming the station live. Click the header below to read this at source.

Safety or Surrender?

by Scott Savage

Jesus isn’t primarily concerned with your safety.

I know this might seem surprising or maybe even offensive to some. Many of us were raised in environments where we heard the cliché “the safest place in the whole world is the center of God’s will.” We were raised with prayers about hedges of protection, traveling mercies, and “God, please keep them safe.”

Once I picked up on this theme, I started listening to other people’s prayers more intentionally and my own prayers more reflectively, because our prayers are windows into our values and our mindsets.

Safety isn’t a bad thing to pray for occasionally, but it’s a sad thing to live for perpetually. When I stand before Jesus on judgment day, “I was really safe” is not the phrase I want to share with my Creator. Safety makes for a good wish, but a terrible life goal.

We get confused into thinking that our primary concern, safety, is God’s primary concern when it’s not. Jesus isn’t primarily concerned with yours or my safety; He’s concerned with our surrender and the advancement of His Kingdom.

The men and women whose stories are showcased in the Bible embraced risks and accepted dangers in their pursuit of God’s will in their lives.

One of the best examples of this is the Apostle Paul. Paul pulled no punches in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 when he described what following God’s calling led him into throughout his ministry. He tells the church at Corinth,

“I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. 

I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.” 

Paul treated his adversity as a badge of honor and a sign that he was a genuine apostle, while those who were “false apostles” had not endured what he had.

Another incredible account of this kind of boldness comes in 1 Samuel 14. Jonathan and his armor-bearer were scouting out an outpost of their enemies, the Philistines. In verse 9, we read that Jonathan set up a way of discerning God’s will that positioned the more dangerous path as the one God ordained. Jonathan tells his armor-bearer, “If they say to us, ‘Stay where you are or we’ll kill you,’ then we will stop and not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come on up and fight,’ then we will go up. That will be the Lord’s sign that he will help us defeat them.”

When the moment came, the Philistines challenged Jonathan and his armor-bearer to come up to them. So they did! They killed 20 Philistines and instilled a great panic in the rest of the Philistine army…

…Wait! There’s more! Click here to read the ending of Safety or Surrender?

 

July 20, 2020

Incomplete Devotion

Today we’re introducing a source which is new to us, Meanderings of a Minister by Pastor Jack Jacob. (I tried to learn more, but couldn’t 100% map his name to a church site which mentioned the blog.) There are some great articles here which fit in well with what we do here, though we only repeat authors every six months. I hope you’ll click through to his site and read one or two more. Click the header below to send Jack some traffic and encouragement and read the article there.

Not Complete

The Lord said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in executing what is right in My eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in My heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart; he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel sin. (2 Kings 10:30–31, NASB95)

Many people do not know the name, Jehu.  Jehu was king in Israel and was used of God to do some disturbing and amazing things.  Years prior, God had told King Ahab that his sins would cause his family to be decimated and he would no longer have a male descendant to be on the throne after him.  Ahab had repented and God said He would relent until the life of Ahab’s son.  Jehu carried out that punishment.

Jehu went even further in carrying out God’s plans for revival of true worship by destroying idols, tearing down shrines to other gods, and killing those who were leading Israel to worship other gods.  He went throughout the land leading a revival.  He even got a young man to go with him to witness the purifying of religion in Israel.  In 2 Kings 10:30-31, God told Jehu that he had done well in executing the justice and judgment of God on Ahab and in leading the people to do right in their worship and individual lives.

With all the good and big things Jehu did for God, 2 Kings 10:31 tells us that he was not careful to walk in the Law of the Lord, the God if Israel, “with all his heart.”  In other words, while he had been faithful in the public, external, or “big” things, he was not careful to let that be translated into devotion with his heart.  He had failed to follow God in his own personal devotion to God and in the consistency of his walk with God.  How could this be?

When Solomon died, Rehoboam became king of Israel.  When he failed to use wisdom, and in accordance with God’s warning to Solomon, the kingdom split in two with ten tribes following Jeroboam and retaining the name of Israel.  The remaining two tribes remained loyal to the house of David and became Judah.  Jerusalem was in Judah.  That would mean for those who had sided with Jeroboam, they would have to travel to Jerusalem to worship to obey the Law.  Jeroboam did not want this to happen probably from fear of losing control of them or a desire on the side of the people to reunify after a while, so he had two golden calves built and placed them in the cities of Bethel and Dan.  He told Israel that these idols were the god that had delivered them from Egypt and insisted they worship the idols instead of going to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple where God had told them to go.

As good as Jehu had done on the bigger, more public issues, he had allowed this to continue and was inconsistent in the reforms he had instituted.  God’s evaluation is in 2 Kings 10:31.  He had done great in the bigger things, but not in his heart or the things of personal devotion.

If we are not careful, we will be tempted follow the same pattern.  We will do well in the larger, public issues like teaching our Sunday School classes, singing in the choir, or serving as a deacon and miss out on consistency in our private devotion to God.  We do not have to be hypocrites for this to settle into our lives.  Sometimes, it is just a matter of losing focus and beginning to be drawn into habits or patterns of behavior that are less consistent than the full devotion God deserves from us.

What “gods” have crept into your heart, your home, your habits, your health, or other areas that are not as consistent as your church attendance, giving, or service?  Let’s pray God will work in us to make us complete and filled up with Him and His Holy Spirit.


Unrelated: Earlier today our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud posted an article about the Bible translation used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the New World Translation. Although the article was a somewhat superficial look at the translation, and not their doctrine, some of you may be interested in reading it and comparing the wording of popular verses. If so, click this link.

July 19, 2020

Builders and Wreckers

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
 – 1 Thess. 5:11 NIV

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
 – Eph. 4:29 NIV

So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.
 – Rom 14:19 NLT

Looking today at some of the earliest posts on our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud, I discovered an item of poetry which was also shared once here in 2011, but never repeated. I thought it was definitely worth another look, especially in light of the hyper-critical spirit we see on so much social media, as well as the polarization which takes place when people have an opinion different from our own. If you post something, and enough people see it, someone will find something objectionable about it.

As a parable for our times, I think this couldn’t be clearer or more powerful…

I watched them tearing a building down,
A gang of men in a busy town.
With a ho, heave, ho and a lusty yell
They swung a beam and a wall fell.

I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled?
Like the men you’d hire if you had to build?”
He laughed as he replied, “No, indeed,
Just common labor is all I need.

I can easily wreck in a day or two
What builders have taken years to do.”
I asked myself as I went away
Which of these roles have I tried to play?

Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Or am I a wrecker who walks the town
Content with the labor of tearing down?

Oh Lord, let my life and labors be
That which build for eternity.

…At the time it was posted I found some accompanying comments on websites carrying the poem, but unfortunately didn’t link them at the time. Here they are…

■ Why do so many of us find it gratifying to be sideline cynics smothering ideas in a relentless barrage of “what ifs” and warnings? As the poem points out, it’s much easier to be a wrecker than a builder.

■ Of course it’s wise and necessary to challenge assumptions, test theories and predict problems, but that should be the beginning not an end. We should measure our value by the number of balloons we helped launch, not the number we deflated.

■ A builder sees problems as challenges and seeks solutions; a dismantler sees problems in every solution. A builder sees flaws and tries to fix them; a dismantler sees flaws in every fix.

We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things… We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer.
– Hebrews 10:24-25 CEV

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up…May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
– Romans 15: 1-2, 5-7 ESV

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
– Ephesians 4: 11-13 NRSV

 

 

July 18, 2020

J. I. Packer Quotations

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Yesterday the Christian world learned of the passing of the man Wikipedia describes as an “English-born Canadian theologian;” J. I. Packer. His books — numbering over 50 — have been staples in Christian bookstores for decades. But his name may appear elsewhere in your library, as John Stackhouse noted a few years ago, “Perhaps no one in history has written more endorsements and prefaces to the books of others than Packer did.” He was 93.

One tribute noted, “In Knowing God, he quoted Jeremiah 6:16, with its image of the ‘ancient paths…where the good way is,’ claiming that his book was a call to follow those old paths.

ESV.Jer.16v6a Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.

Read these slowly and allow each to percolate inside you!


“In the New Testament, grace means God’s love in action toward people who merited the opposite of love. Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means God sending his only Son to the cross to descend into hell so that we guilty ones might be reconciled to God and received into heaven.”


“A God whom we could understand exhaustively, and whose revelation of Himself confronted us with no mysteries whatsoever, would be a God in man’s image, and therefore an imaginary God, not the God of the Bible at all.”


“Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better. Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are.”


“I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him, because He first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, One who loves me; and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted for me, and no moment, therefore, when His care falters.”


“To know that nothing happens in God’s world apart from God’s will may frighten the godless, but it stabilizes the saints.”


“Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”


“Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep.”


“Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.”


“The healthy Christian is not necessarily the extrovert, ebullient Christian, but the Christian who has a sense of God’s presence stamped deep on his soul, who trembles at God’s word, who lets it dwell in him richly by constant meditation upon it, and who tests and reforms his life daily in response to it.”


“Not until we have become humble and teachable, standing in awe of God’s holiness and sovereignty…acknowledging our own littleness, distrusting our own thoughts and willing to have our minds turned upside down can divine wisdom become ours.”


“Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.”


“‘Wait on the Lord’ is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.”


“Martin Luther described the doctrine of justification by faith as the article of faith that decides whether the church is standing or falling. By this he meant that when this doctrine is understood, believed, and preached, as it was in New-Testament times, the church stands in the grace of God and is alive; but where it is neglected, overlaid, or denied, … the church falls from grace and its life drains away, leaving it in a state of darkness and death.”


“Historical exegesis is only the preliminary part of interpretation. Application is its essence. Exegesis without application should not be called interpretation at all.”


“All true theology has an evangelistic thrust, and all true evangelism is theology in action.”


“God uses chronic pain and weakness, along with other afflictions, as his chisel for sculpting our lives. Felt weakness deepens dependence on Christ for strength each day. The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away. To live with your ‘thorn’ uncomplainingly—that is, sweet, patient, and free in heart to love and help others, even though every day you feel weak—is true sanctification. It is true healing for the spirit. It is a supreme victory of grace.”


Sources: GoodReads, Gospel Coalition, AZ Quotes, Inspiriting Quotes, Logos Talk, Heartlight, Quote Tab.

June 24, 2020

Help for the Journey

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Ps.121.1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

We’re often hear of people being told told that they need to “shelter in place.” David Jeremiah’s newest book, Shelter in God: Your Refuge in Times of Trouble (W Publishing Group) is a very timely reminder of where our refuge ought to be. This book is an amended, updated version of When Your World Falls Apart. Today’s devotional appeared in a slightly longer form at the website Devotions Daily at the link in the title which follows:

Lord — Help!

by David Jeremiah

Life often catches us short. It’s embarrassing to find ourselves needing help, but we all need all the help we can get, especially in times of crisis. We all need grace — grace that’s more than sufficient.

So many of the psalms are written for pilgrims needing help on the path of life. As we read Psalm 121, we can hear the psalmist crying out,

Lord, I need supplies for my journey. I need help. I need guidance. I’ve lost my way. Can’t You show me the right way to go? Can’t You meet my needs?

…In spite of all the perils we encounter, the mountainous crags and the desert wastelands, we can trust the Lord. Yes, He is awesome and we feel small and insignificant, but the psalmist assures us that God bridges the gap. He is never too great to care; we are never too small for His caring. The psalm reflects on a God who soothes us in our anxiety and watches over us as a shepherd with his sheep…

God’s Word reminds us that we are pilgrims and strangers in a foreign land whose roads are filled with hazards. The road is long, weary, and dangerous. It winds through veils of tears and acres of muck and mire; but the long and winding road finally comes to the City of God, the place of joy and feasting. Simply stated, that’s the biblical view of life in the world.

…The psalmist says, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills” (Psalm 121:1). He has prepared for his journey through the mountains to Jerusalem. As he enters the road, he takes a moment to gaze up to the horizon. He thinks of the miles ahead, the twists and turns and surprises, the old friends and new ones whose acquaintances he will make. He thinks of the dust and the heat, the darkness and the thirsty miles. He admires the graceful line where the mountains embrace the sky.

Listen to Isaiah 55:12:

For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you.

Psalm 125:1–2 captures the same idea:

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.

There are many passages in the Old Testament that describe the mountains as a place of blessing, but we know all too well that mountains can also be a place of danger. Rarely does a winter go by that we don’t hear of someone being lost in the mountain terrain. The snow cover cuts off the navigation of outdoorsmen, who cannot retrace their steps out of the wilderness.

In ancient times, mountains were sites of danger and hardship. Their rocks and caves hid wild animals and blood- thirsty bandits. Pagan cultures built their temples in the mountains. Godly pilgrims found a sense of majesty in the high country, but they also found a sense of danger and a fear of the unknown. It was a place of fear and of hope, of danger and of salvation. The Lord God could be sought there, but pagan gods were enshrined there as well.

The psalmist must have thought of these things, reflecting on the many meanings of mountains. He gazed upward at the outset of the journey and said, “I will look to the hills.”


► More information about the book is available at this link.

Taken from Shelter in God: Your Refuge in Times of Trouble by David Jeremiah Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

June 20, 2020

When Things Feel Hopeless

I’m currently reading The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies About God That Sound Like the Truth by Jared C. Wilson (Nelson books). For a formal review I’ve written, click this link.

The book is centered around eight statements which each of us at some time have heard voiced by people with a loose connection to Christianity. Perhaps you’ve even caught yourself echoing one of these yourself, hopefully at an earlier stage of your Christian pilgrimage vis-a-vis where you are today.

  • “God just wants you to be happy”
  • “You only live once”
  • “You need to live your truth”
  • “Your feelings are reality”
  • “Your life is what you make it”
  • “Let go and let God”
  • “The cross is not about wrath”
  • “God helps those who help themselves.”

This is an excerpt from chapter five which looks extensively at the Book of Job and the subject of hope, and how people are sometimes ruled by the apparent reality of what is actually subjective feelings. The link in the title below takes you to a page at the publisher’s website.

Your Feelings are Reality

In my days as a pastor, I would often find myself sitting across from people overcome with hurt. The most common question they all wanted answered was “Why?

“Why had God allowed this? Why is God doing this to me?”

As the designated religious professional, it was expected I might have an answer to that question. As it pertains to people’s specific trials and tribulations, I did not. But I would ask a question of my own, and it usually went something like this: “If you weren’t going through this would you be as close to God as you are right now?”

In all my years of asking that question, I never heard anyone say, “Yes.”…

…Christians don’t hope as the world hopes. When the world hopes, they are engaging in wishful thinking. “I hope this or that happens,” they think. They think that when a man dies, as Job says, he just fades away; he breathes his last. “You only live once.” That’s it. That’s all they can see.

But Christian hope is not like that. It defies what we can see and it is ripe with the promise of what cannot be seen.

  • We do not grieve as those who have no hope.“–1Thessalonians 4:13
  • And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will also share in the comfort.“–2Corinthians 1:7
  • There is hope reserved for you in heaven.“–Colossians 1:5
  • Christ in you, the hope of glory.“–Colossians 1:27
  • Christ Jesus is our hope.“–1 Timothy 1:1 (emphasis added)
  • We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure…“–Hebrews 6:19
  • Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.“–Hebrews 11:1 (emphasis added)

See, the world’s hope is hollow. The believer’s hope is firm. Because the believer’s hope is Jesus! And just because you can’t see him doesn’t mean he’s not real. Just because you don’t see him now, doesn’t mean you won’t see him then.

Satan wants you to believe that you are all alone, that when you are stripped down to your essence and left with only pain, that’s all you have. He does not want you to see the reality that Jesus will never leave you or abandon you (Heb. 13:5), that he will be with us all the way to the end (Matt. 28:20)…

…Everything may look bleak, our reality may be that we feel that all is lost, but if we have Christ, we defy what is visible. And we cling to hope, which demands what is invisible.


Taken from The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies about God that Sound Like Truth by: Jared C. Wilson Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

June 17, 2020

Drive In Service: Stuck Inside a Car, But Experiencing Freedom

Today another new author for you, and an unusual devotional format as well. Marjorie Wingert’s focus on her blog is Prayer Over Our Children. On her ‘About’ page she explains,

…As a new parent seeking to raise her child up in the Lord while recognizing the power of prayer in my family’s life, I hungered to proactively pray on behalf of my child. Oh, how my mother’s heart beat to pray against the temptations and struggles that will inevitably bombard our children as they grow. Moreover, I desired to pray in a way that would deepen my walk with our Heavenly Lord while feeding my soul with the meat of Scripture.

One evening as my husband and I were joined in prayer, the Holy Spirit whispered softly to my heart. Why not pray Scripture over her? Why not read a chapter a day from the Bible and use the content from each passage to form your prayer? My eyes popped open. What a great solution!…

So, for example, in its original formatting, following the scripture verse, today’s sample blog post begins,

Prayer Over Our Children
Call my child to You, oh Lord, and surround her with an abundance of Your joy and love. I pray that You will keep her from unbelief, sexual immorality, perversion, slander, and ungodliness. May she not grumble, boast, flatter, fault find, or follow evil desires. Instead, I pray that You will buildup in her a most holy faith and help her to learn to pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. Keep her in Your love, oh God, as she waits to be brought to glory. May You also help her show mercy and intercede for others. Oh Lord, keep my little one from falling but help her to stand before Your glorious presence without fault and with great joy. Amen.

Parents might want to read more prayers like this as a model for something you can do in your homes.

…Currently, Marjorie is in a series on Revelation. So I scrolled back to this post-Easter article to find you something that would work as a stand-alone devotional. Please, click the header below to read this at source, and consider subscribing to her blog, marjoriewingert.com


Jude

“But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”
Jude 1:20-21, NIV

Living Hope

The day dawned like any other. The sun rose, people slumbered in their beds, and quiet tip-toed through the neighborhoods. Birds chirped their greetings and winds rustled the leaves clinging to tree branches. Young children scrambled to start their day while their parents groaned for more sleep. Today, however, was different. It was Easter Sunday!

My own family tumbled out of bed for the early service. To a nearby fast food restaurant, we headed. Our special Easter breakfast comprised of egg, bacon, and cheese muffins. Hash browns rounded out the meal with small cups of orange juice. Armed with an arsenal for our growling bellies and music blaring from the radio, we nibbled our way to the Easter “drive in” service.

Having participated in sunrise Easter services, never did I dream that Easter “drive in” services would also be added to my repertoire. We sat in our vehicles with one parking spot in between each car to ensure social distancing. Everyone remained in their vehicles and each radio tuned into the same low frequency airwaves. Some engines idled while others remained off.

Here, in this unlikely gathering of dusty vehicles, the Holy Spirit fell strong and vibrant upon this unconventional Easter service. Surrounded by fast food wrappers, empty water bottles on the floor, and neighboring cars instead of people in pews, our souls feasted on a message of hope. In noisy procession, geese banked high above us, raining down their honks of hallelujahs. Even sun rays which crested above the rooftop painted the perfect backdrop to the morning.

Yet, while hearty “Amens” flashed by flickering car lights and hands clapped or raised in praise, two truths unfolded in my brain. The thoughts made my spirits soar and deepened my gratitude. For although our gathering today was far from the traditional Easter service, devoid of Easter lilies, decorative bows, and fancy dresses, something new and beautiful unfolded before me.

Clothed with anonymity within the privacy of our cars, a new freedom of the Spirit emerged. No longer was I hindered by the self-consciousness of what others would think. No longer did I suppress the joyful bubblings stirring for expression. Vibrant Amens frequented my lips. Even my husband flashed multiple Amens with his flickering car lights. A new freedom in worship washed over us.

Though surrounded by rows of cars, the seclusion which our individual vehicles afforded, produced a freedom in the Spirit I had never known. Freedom to dance in my seat. Freedom to wave my hands in praise. Freedom to shout jubilations. Freedom to whoop, holler, or yell agreements and affirmations. Freedom to raise a hallelujah!

Although many of us have felt the stirrings of the Holy Spirit prompt expression from the inside out, I suspect many of you are like me. We have tamped down the stirrings of the Spirit due to social etiquette and convention. We have opted not to give expression to our praise and adoration due to self-consciousness and worry of what others may think. However, here, in the privacy of my own car, I experienced the freedom to worship as the Spirit led. The freedom to dance as David danced. The freedom to let go of pride and self-restraint. The freedom to engage in authentic worship.

Interwoven amidst this dawning light, another truth spoke life. Hope. Yes, a hope that this virus will recede. A hope that someday soon we can emerge from our houses. A hope that a cure will be found. This is a good hope. This is a shared hope. However, what struck me is that we were hearing in the Easter message of a different kind of hope. This hope which bound us together and stirred in our very souls was not just hope. It was Living Hope.

A hope bound by earthly measures is not complete. It is like a cup that is half full. It awaits the richness of its potential, not fully blossomed into the abundance of its splendor. When this hope stands beside the crowning riches of eternal glory, it pales in the light of true Living Hope.

Living Hope is exactly that. It is living, it is breathing, it is palpable. It is firmed through the beatings, the blood, and the bruises. It is pounded through by nails driven deep into flesh. It was heard with the anguished yet triumphant cry, “It is finished.” It was seen in the darkness of the land and felt in the quaking of the ground. It was fulfilled with the veil torn top to bottom and the tombs of saints cracked open. It is marked by an empty tomb. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Oh death, where is your sting? Oh grave, where is your victory? No longer does death have a hold over us. No longer does death have the final word. It is conquered. It is defeated. It is overcome.

Unlike earthly hope, Living Hope is not grounded in the visages of this world nor is it an emotion, desire, or wish conjured from within. It is derived from the eternal truth of the sacrificial act of the One who came to save. Living Hope is found in the person of Jesus, the Son of God who clothed Himself in human flesh, was crucified, died, buried, and raised on the third day. Jesus is not dead. He is alive. He is the Living Hope. He is our Living Hope.

June 6, 2020

Times of Trouble

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Your devotional life in times of lockdown

For many of us, it’s coming up to the three-month mark of the world becoming something we’d never experienced before.

I obviously know only a very small percentage of the people who read this devotional/Bible study page each day, but I do know that three things are true of most of you during this time of worldwide pandemic:

  • You have more time. While for some this time has been increasingly hectic — especially front-line medical workers and parents who suddenly found themselves homeschooling — most people have had activities greatly curtailed or suspended. This gives you more time for devotional studies, Christian books, Christian sermons online, and Christian podcasts. More time to consider eternal things. “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” (Mark 6v31a) “…I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself…” (Ps. 131v1)
  • You have a better understanding of human vulnerability. Who would have thought, even six months ago, that we would be living in a time of worldwide plague? Weren’t plagues something for Old Testament saints, or people who didn’t have our access to medical technology?  “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” (Ps. 144v4 BSB)
  • You have increased dependency on God. Hand in hand with the above is recognizing our utter dependency on the one who made the stars above and the lakes and rivers below. Again, this is a time to consider eternity, but not just the vastness of it, our personal place in relationship to it. Where does our help come? From the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. “I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Ps. 121v1-2 CSB)

A year ago we introduced you to Jack Garrott, a “Third Culture Kid” which describes someone who when they think of ‘home’ in terms of a country, it is not the same as the country on their passport!  His website is Virtual Vitamins. Click the header below to read today’s article there.

Trouble

Psalm 30:4-5 Sing to the Lord, you saints of his;
praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may remain for a night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.

The last two lines of this passage are very famous, and have comforted and encouraged many down through the centuries. It is much like Jesus’ statement to His disciples just before His cross: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) David was indeed a poet, as well as a prophet, and the imagery here is very poetic. The Japanese has it as, “In the evening tears may come to spend the night, but in the morning there is a shout of joy.” Life on this fallen world is hardly an uninterrupted picnic, but by the grace of God it isn’t an uninterrupted slog, either. When it feels like an uninterrupted slog, we need to lift our eyes to the Lord!

Several friends of mine are dealing with the death of their spouse, and more than one are being very open about their journey as they write on Facebook. Others who have been through the same journey respond, and the interplay is very educational and edifying. I don’t like thinking about facing such a scenario myself, but I know it’s a real possibility. I have long considered Jesus’ words in John 16:33 to be something of a touchstone in my life, so that I am not surprised by the trouble I encounter. However, there are moments of joy in it all that overshadow all the trouble, and I am deeply grateful.

In balance, I enjoy life indeed, and people take notice. I think that is the sort of thing Peter was talking about when he said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15) I need to be careful that people understand that I am eternally optimistic not because “I have a good personality,” but because I have a hope that lets me see in faith beyond the current trouble, whatever that is.

Right now the whole world is suffering because of the pandemic, and then on top of that the US is having riots that take advantage of protests over a horrific killing that was caught on camera. That is trouble indeed, and the racial animus behind the killing is very hard to erase. I am not to despair, but rather trust my God and look forward to the “shout of joy” that David wrote about. That may not come until Christ’s return, but it will most certainly come then!

Father, I do pray Your grace and mercy, not just for the US but for all mankind. We act out in ignorance, unbelief, and mistaken belief, and the result is a mess indeed. I pray that Your children would be bold and consistent in speaking out, and acting out, Your truth in love, so that Your name may be acknowledged as holy and Your kingdom come as Your will is done, as perfectly here as it is in heaven, for Your glory alone. Thank You. Hallelujah!


We ran this worship song in October, 2013. It came to mind as I prepared to today’s devotional:

 

May 30, 2020

God’s Sacrifice and What it Means to You

In the daily quest to highlight new devotional writers to you, I often find articles which are very well written but shorter than our usual format. For that reason, today I’m introducing two new websites. Click the headers to read the respective devotionals.

The first is from the website of CTCI, Christian Training Center International.

Does Jesus innocence allow for him to sacrifice himself for us?

I have missed God’s goal for my life (aka sin). A penalty must be paid. Jesus, the innocent lamb of God, takes my place as a sacrifice. Now that is some very good news.

When Jesus is called the Lamb of God in John 1:29 and John 1:36, it is referring to Him as the perfect and ultimate sacrifice for sin. In order to understand who The Messiah was and what He did, we must begin with the Old Testament, which contains prophecies concerning the coming of The Messiah as a “guilt offering” (Isaiah 53:10).

The whole sacrificial system established by God in the Old Testament set the stage for the coming of Jesus The Messiah, who is the perfect sacrifice God would provide as atonement for the sins of His people (Romans 8:3; Hebrews 10).

The sacrifice of lambs played a very important role in the Jewish religious life and sacrificial system. When John the Baptist referred to Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), the Jews who heard him might have immediately thought of any one of several important sacrifices.

With the time of the Passover feast being very near, the first thought might be the sacrifice of the Passover lamb. The Passover feast was one of the main Jewish holidays and a celebration in remembrance of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.

The slaying of the Passover lamb and the applying of the blood to doorposts of the houses (Exodus 12:11-13) is a beautiful picture of The Messiah’s atoning work on the cross. Those for whom He died are covered by His blood, protecting us from the angel of (spiritual) death.

  • Luke 23:41 — And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
  • John 12:32 — And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.
  • Hebrews 4:15 —  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.
  • Hebrews 7:26 — For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens;
  • 1 Peter 2:22 — who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth;
  • Isaiah 53:9 — His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

The second reading for today is from Dennis at the site Luke 252. (I love the analogy here!)

Is Your Life A Derailed Train?

Revelation 3:15-16 says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold or hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

There are a couple of reasons why God would prefer Christians to be cold rather than lukewarm: First, it is important to realize how much God loves each of us as individuals. John 3:16 teaches us that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for me! When I live a lukewarm lifestyle, it hurts Him when I only want part of what He sent His Son to die for.

He came that we may have life more abundantly! But, there is even a greater reason why our lukewarmness bothers God enough that He would spew us out of His mouth. That reason is that He see a much larger picture of mankind and he sees the destruction caused by being halfhearted. Yes, Jesus dies for us individually, but He also died for all of us. 1 Timothy 2:4 says, “He desires all men to be saved.” The problem is that halfheartedness and inconsistency in our lives cause other people to fall away from God.

Let suppose we are in an area of the world where the main avenues for commerce are by rail. Suppose a train on a major railway were to halfway derail, part on the track and part off. In most cases it will take at least 3 days to get a crane to the area to clear away the wreckage, so that the track would be usable. But suppose this same train had completely derailed. Other trains could immediately continue on schedule. The first situation would probably not seem so bad, but it could cause 30 to 40 trains schedules to be cancelled and affect business all over the country. Hospitals could be waiting on blood or medications, and some waiting on food. In the second situation, although the train totally derailed, the only train affected was that one.

Your friends are watching and you cause the most harm to God’s kingdom when we are living a life that is partly on the track and partly off. In other words, are you keeping them from wanting to get closer to Christ? Live a life that would honor Jesus Christ. Reflect His glory and love to others today. God bless!

 

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