Christianity 201

October 11, 2021

Thankful for Everything

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:24 pm
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This is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. After 30 minutes looking for an appropriate devotional to share with you, I came across Joy in the Everyday, written by Janet who lives on Canada’s east coast.

Click the header which follows to read this at source, then take a few minutes to check out more of her writing..

give thanks

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. 1 Chron. 16:34 NLT

Wishing all of my Canadian friends a Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m sitting here enjoying the aroma of roasting turkey and anticipating a lovely dinner with family and friends who are family. Pumpkin trifle is awaiting final touches and I am relaxing until last minute work must be addressed. Admittedly, the last couple of years have not been easy ones, but I truly have so much to be thankful for.

I re-shared the give thanks graphic on Facebook this morning and thought of this post from way back when…

Have you ever been challenged by this quote:

“What if you awoke today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?”

I am guilty of taking little things and big things alike for granted.  While I am thankful for my wonderful family, a roof over my head, food on the table and clothes on my back, I do not always remember to show my gratitude to my Heavenly Father.  He is the giver of all good gifts.  And these items would definitely be on my ‘good gifts list.’

What about the little things?  I have never read Anne Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts:  A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, though it’s on my mental list of books I’d like to read … I can imagine from the title and gleaning from the thoughts of others that she challenges us to see beauty in the ugliness, and in the commonplace.

I’ve seen this quote: “Gratitude for the seemingly insignificant—a seed—this plants the giant miracle.”  Am I truly filled with thankfulness in each magnificent sunset?  For a day filled with love and opportunities to fulfill His purposes for me and in me? For that first sip of morning coffee?  For that hug and “I love you”  from my boy?  For my husband who reaches over to hold my hand?  For mounds of laundry…because this means my home is not empty, and we have the necessities of life, and the benefit of brilliant imaginations so that I don’t need to do laundry by hand?  For the opportunity to serve a sick neighbour, to show the love of Jesus? I’m trying to learn this lesson well, as the name of my blog suggests.  I pray that I would not only find joy in the everyday, but I would be thankful in it. A life lived in thankfulness is a life that is content and full of joy.

It’s easy to be thankful for good things.  FaceTime with grandlittles.  Visits with friends and family.  The precious gift of salvation.  What about the hard things?

I Thessalonians 5:18 tells us “in everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  We’ve talked (here, here and here) about difficult circumstances being occasions for God to draw us closer and to make us more like His dear Son.  I can certainly be thankful that He hears me when I cry out to Him in those troubling times, He sustains me in my trials and walks beside me as I face those hard things.  I do not face them alone.

God is good. May my heart be filled and overflowing with thankfulness to Him.

October 8, 2021

Filling our Lives with Good

A year ago we introduced you to Michael Wilson who writes at Jesus Quotes and God Thoughts. Clicking the header which follows will take you there to read this, and then take some extra time to explore other articles.

Do We Want to See Good Days?

I must embrace life. I want to see my days fill up with good stuff.

God’s goal for us is to be honest. So, here is what I must do. I must say nothing evil or hurtful. Oh, the times I have said something and at once wished I could take it back. The better way is to not say evil and hurtful things.

I must cultivate discipline in my speech. I must be uplifting and encouraging. Then my days will fill with good.

For whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Master [Lord] are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Master [Lord] is against those who do evil.
English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Peter 3:10–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Peter quoted these statements from Psalm 34:12–15, so it would be profitable for you to read the entire psalm. It describes what God means by “good days.”

  • They are not necessarily days free from problems, for the psalmist wrote about fears, troubles, afflictions, and even a broken heart.
  • A “good day” for the believer who “loves life” is not one in which he is pampered and sheltered, but one in which he experiences God’s help and blessing because of life’s problems and trials.
  • It is a day in which he magnifies the Master Jesus, experiences answers to prayer, tastes the goodness of God, and senses the nearness of God.

We must deliberately decide to love life. This is an act of the will: “He who wills to love life.” It is an attitude of faith that sees the best in every situation. It is the opposite of the pessimistic attitude expressed in Ecclesiastes 2:17: “Therefore I hated life … for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”

  • We can decide to endure life and make it a burden, escape life as though we were running from a battle or enjoy life because we know God is in control.
  • Peter was not suggesting unrealistic psychological gymnastics that refused to face facts.
  • Rather, he was urging his readers to take a positive approach to life and by faith make the most of every situation.

We must control our tongues. Many of the problems of life are caused by the wrong words, spoken in the wrong spirit. Every disciple of Jesus should read James 3 regularly and pray Psalm 141:3 daily. How well Peter knew the sad consequences of hasty speech! There is no place for lies in the life of a saint.

We must do good and hate evil. We need both the positive and the negative. The Old English word “eschew” means more than just “avoid.” It means “to avoid something because you despise and loathe it.” It is not enough for us to avoid sin because sin is wrong; we ought to shun it because we hate it.

We must look for and pursue peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9).

  • If we go out and seek trouble, we will find it; but if we seek peace, we can find it as well. This does not mean “peace at any price,” because righteousness must always be the basis for peace.
  • It simply means that a disciple of Jesus exercises moderation as he relates to people and does not create problems because he wants to have his own way.
  • “If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18). Sometimes it is not possible! We are also admonished to work hard to achieve peace. It does not come automatically.

“But what if our enemies take advantage of us?” a persecuted disciple of Jesus might ask. “We may be seeking peace, but they are seeking war!” Peter gave them the assurance that God’s eyes are on His people and His ears open to their prayers. Peter learned that lesson when he tried to walk on the water without looking to Jesus. We must trust God to protect and provide, for He alone can defeat our enemies.

The next time you think you are having a “bad day,” and you hate life, read Psalm 34 and you may discover you are really having a “good day” to the glory of God!

October 7, 2021

Our True Home, Our Refuge from Change

Thinking Through the Life of Moses

by Clarke Dixon

Home is the one place where we are sheltered from the onslaught of change, right?

Everything else changes, our world changes, our society changes, people change, we change. Recently upon standing and seeing my hair on the floor I wondered why my barber has started only cutting the grey hairs. We change and we may not like it. We may not like any change.

Home is a refuge from all that change, it is the most stable thing in our lives, the one thing we can depend upon to not change, right?

Unless you are Moses.

Actually, unless you are most of us!

Let’s think about Moses’ sense of home for a moment. If we could ask Moses what he considered “home” what would he say? He might say it was his family and people of origin, among whom he was born. Or he might say that home is where he had his first memories, among the Egyptians that he grew up with. He might say that home is in Midian where he settled down with a wife and family from yet another people, having fled Egypt. Yet God called him from that new home, and that new people, to be at home among his clan of birth, God’s people, who had made a home in Egypt, to lead them to a new home, the Promised Land, a new home that Moses would never step foot in. Instead Moses spent the last forty years of his life leading the people around the wilderness.

You could say that Moses spent most of his life pitching tents, and never really settled in one home. His life was a journey to his true home.

How would Moses have answered that question “where is your true home? Where does your sense of stability come from?”

There was one constant in Moses’ life, one thing that remained the same throughout, and remains the same for Moses even now; God.

One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”
When the LORD saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

Exodus 3:1-4 (NLT)

God first appeared to Moses in a bush which was burning, but not consumed by the fire. Is there anything in our lives that cannot be consumed by fire? Take a look around, in the event of a massive fire, would anything be left untouched and unchanged? There is a hint here, that everything in our lives can be taken from us or destroyed, but only with the presence of God can there be any hope of something that endures. Only with God can we find a home that cannot be destroyed or taken from us.

But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”
God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.”

Exodus 3:13-14 (NLT)

As we read through the Old Testament we often see the word “LORD,” written with all capitals, but not many people know why. It stands in for God’s divine name, which in Jewish tradition, would not be pronounced out of respect. When coming across the divine name in the Hebrew Bible, Jewish people say the word for “Lord” instead. We more or less carry on that tradition as Christians. The point is, God’s name has the idea of existence built right into it.

Only God has existence as part of His essence. God just is. Everything else and everyone else has been created. Everything that is created can also be destroyed. God cannot be destroyed because existence is part of God’s essence.

What is the the one thing we can depend on, the one thing that is not subject to change or can be destroyed, or taken from us? Only God can be our true home, the one constant in our lives.

God was, and continues to be even now, the one constant along Moses’ journey, his true home. Everything else was pitching tents. We may think we are building a home, some might even think they are building, or buying, a “forever” home, but we are always just pitching tents. Whatever home we think we are building will only last for the a season of life, for however long that lasts.

Being at home with God means that this life is a journey home. Being on a journey means saying goodbye, a lot. 

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to places. Having lived in eighteen different dwellings I am amazed when I meet someone who still lives in the home they were born in. This is now the longest I have lived in any one dwelling, at nine years. Yet whether nine months, nine years, or ninety years, these are nothing compared to being at home with God forevermore. This raises the question, how much do we really want to invest our lives in something we will be saying goodbye to? How much more do we want to invest our lives in being at home with God?

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to possessions. I have seen pictures of a motorcyclist being buried on his motorcycle. He won’t be riding that where he is going! We have possessions that may be very meaningful to us now, but when we stand before the Lord in the hereafter, when we realize how meaningful Christ is to us, the significance of much we invest in and concern ourselves with now will fall away. How much do we want our lives wrapped up in things we will say goodbye to? How much do we want our lives to be wrapped up in Christ?

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to people. People come in and out of our lives. Saying goodbye can be very difficult when close relationships are involved. Saying goodbye can be particularly painful when those goodbyes are unexpected and happen far too early. Grief is something we can depend upon experiencing in our journey. Let us learn how to manage it and lean into God through it.

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to particular ways of thinking.  To give an example, some people are raised, or come to Christianity, with the understanding that every word of the Bible should be taken as historically and literally true. However this does not give space to the fact that there are different genres of writing found in the Bible. Different genres require different approaches in understanding. To give an example, there are those who see a big gap between science and faith based on a very literal and historical understanding of Genesis chapter 1. Some of us, however, have an interpretation of Genesis 1 which sees no war between faith and science (please see this post from the past for more on that). While we make space for those who think differently, a life of faith is a journey of understanding, which means sometimes saying goodbye to ways of understanding that we may have treasured in the past. That can be difficult.

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to this life as we know it, these poor old bodies as we know them. There are those who get to the point of “goodbye and good riddance.” I remember one dear elderly saint who often said “I’d give anything for a slice of toast.” She lost her home, her health, her independence, and even the ability to eat. She was ready to say goodbye and told me so.

The apostle Paul was also ready to say goodbye:

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. 

2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NLT)

When we think of our home being with God in the here and now, we have courage for the journey, even that final journey home in the hereafter.

In conclusion,

Knowing that our home is with God means being on a journey, and a journey entails much change and many goodbyes. So let us hold onto everything lightly. Let us grasp onto God tightly, knowing that in Christ and through His Holy Spirit, God has a firm grasp of us.

Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.

Hebrews 11:13-16 (MSG)


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This sermon can be seen preached here.

 

October 6, 2021

Preaching in the Forest

It’s said that missionary statesman and Canadian pastor Oswald J. Smith would go out into the woods and preach to the trees. I am sure that some will say this is no different than modern preachers doing a midweek practice run in an empty auditorium, and I am 100% confident that when Oswald preached in the woods, the response rate was extremely low. No chipmunks or squirrels were saved.

Garrison Keillor tells a story of working a year at the campus radio station at his college, only to discover at the end of the year the transmitter had been shut off. The station ran a full schedule of programs, but they were doing it entirely for themselves.

Still, there are some who would say that many bloggers and podcasters — especially Christian ones — are also preaching, metaphorically speaking, to the trees, not because absolutely nobody is listening, but rather, because so many others are writing that it’s easy to feel lost in such a sea of voices. Or to feel like a ‘voice crying in the wilderness.’

That phrase is from Isaiah 40, and while there are narratives in the life of Christ which appear in all four gospels this is a case where all four use that exact Isaiah quotation to affirm the ministry of John the Baptist.

  1. Matthew 3:3
    This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
  2. Mark 1:3
    “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
  3. Luke 3:4
    As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.
  4. John 1:23
    John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

If John was using modern media today, I’m sure his wilderness experience would translate into low stats, or in church-related terms, low attendance. As he continued, the crowds came, but we know that while he preached his message of repentance with great conviction, and his prophetic word that The Messiah, the lamb of God had come into the world; we also know that later on he himself  had doubts as to the Messiah-identification being fulfilled in Jesus.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Matthew 11:2-3

The wilderness mentality was hard to shake.

So knowing that John spoke in faith and not certainty, and knowing that his experience was a wilderness experience, we can be sure that John had days where he felt he was preaching to the trees.

But tree preaching is not a bad thing.

The speaking out of anything is a good test of what is in the heart. This can reveal a good heart condition or a bad heart condition. One time a few years ago, I said something out loud for which I am thankful that not even trees were present. Where did that come from? It wasn’t something angry or rash or hate-filled, just something I might not have thought I was capable of thinking.

Luke 6:45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

It’s the same with writing. You reveal yourself to yourself when you write. Sometimes you mentally picture a three-paragraph outline, but end up with eight paragraphs because there were things in your heart and mind which overflowed as you sat at the keyboard.

You ask yourself, Is anyone reading all this?

There are people I’ve never met in person but I read them online regularly. I know for a fact that some of them only get 4 or 5 visitors a day. I’m sure they feel they are preaching to the trees. But they have been a great influence in my life. Some are major Christian influencers while others are people who faithfully post online in relative obscurity.

So we’ll say things like

We are responsible for the depth of our ministry and
God is responsible for the breadth.

which is very true.

But the depth of our ministry is cultivated sometimes in the secret and almost-secret places. What I’m saying here is that you should

  • keep writing even when it seems that no one is listening
  • keep sharing with that spouse, coworker or relative even it seems that nothing is getting through
  • keep teaching that Sunday school class even when the kids are fighting, fooling around and talking
  • keep recommending those books even when nobody buys them or borrows them from the church library
  • keep serving those meals at the soup kitchen even it looks like all you’re doing is freeing up money they can spend on drugs or alcohol
  • keep supporting that missionary even when his/her prayer letters contain frustration over a lack of measurable results
  • keep sending cards and birthday gifts to that wayward person who seems to have gone so distant from you and from God

Why? Because of what is forming in you as you remain faithful, even when it seems that your efforts are met by nothing but the wind blowing through the trees.

Phil 2:13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

The Message renders this section as:

12-13 What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

Be the voice in the wilderness, but let your voice resonate in social media posts, empty auditoriums and forest woodlands.

The trees are listening, and perhaps so are others, more than you realize at the time.


What if?

What if someone was preaching to an empty auditorium, not because they were doing a practice run, but because it was a regularly scheduled service to which no one had come, but they were determined to conduct the entire service anyway as an act of obedience, and an act of worship to God?

We happened upon this taking place when we were in Boston. Ruth Wilkinson describes it in this older C201 blog post from 2010: If a Tree Falls in the Forest.

October 2, 2021

Becoming an Oasis in a Spiritual Desert

I am amazed at how much one man’s “deeper” is another man’s “boring.” While some theologian types salivate over a discussion of some tertiary doctrine, and others start hyperventilating at the discovery of a lost document by an early church father; others can’t get past the second paragraph before their mouse is clicking them off to a Christian dating site, or an online vendor of Christian t-shirts.

The love and grace and mercy of God should never be boring. But theology for theology’s sake can be dry and lifeless.

Instead, God’s word should be the opposite to dry; the Bible should contain words that refresh us. It’s the world which is the desert; it’s the company of God’s people sharing God’s word that is the oasis.

Which brings us to rather different place today, Amos 8:11

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

The Message Bible couples that verse with verse 12:

12People will drift from one end of the country to the other,
roam to the north, wander to the east.
They’ll go anywhere, listen to anyone,
hoping to hear God’s Word—but they won’t hear it. (The Message)

How is that possible?

The website Never Thirsty (appropriately named for today’s discussion notes that,

…the rebellious and idolatrous Israel was doomed for punishment. Punishment was coming and it was unavoidable. Their sins were too great. In verse 3, God summarizes the pending punishment as songs of the palace that would stop and corpses that would be everywhere.

The songs of the palace will turn to wailing in that day,” declares the Lord GOD. “Many will be the corpses; in every place they will cast them forth in silence.” Amos 8:3 (NASB)

Then God proceeded to list their sins in verses 4-10. Verses 11-14 describes the horrors of the punishment that would follow.

Therefore, Amos 8:11 is part of God’s description of judgement upon the nation of Israel. Verse 11 contains the phrase “famine for hearing the words of the Lord” that we want to understand.

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD,
“When I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water,
But rather for hearing the words of the LORD.” Amos 8:11 (NASB)

The first act of punishment listed is that God would send a famine. But the famine was not one of no food or no water. The people would not suffer from a lack of food or water. Instead, they would suffer due to a famine of not hearing the words of the Lord. That is, they would not hear the words of Scripture which God wrote. The judgement would be an act of God withholding prophecy. There would not be any prophets. God would not communicate through a prophet.

1 Samuel 28:6 is an example of Amos 8:11. In this passage we discover that God would not communicate to Saul through a prophet.

When Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets. 1 Samuel 28:6 (NASB)

At a forum on eBible, someone asked how there could be a genuine famine for God’s word at a time we have so many copies of the Bible available in over 200 English translations. One reply reminds us,

…It could also be a statement about today’s world where people don’t understand God’s Word and are hungering for someone(s) to explain it to them.

Unlike the US, where atheism and other false gods (polytheistic religions) are drawing people away from God, many people in other parts of the world are desperate for answers to their problems which can only be found in Jesus and need to hear the Gospel message.

That reminded me of the passage where Philip encounters the Ethiopian official going to Damascus and asks him, ‘Hey, whatcha reading?’ Well he actually asks him,

“Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.“How can I,” he [the Ethiopian] said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. – Acts 8:30b-31 NIV

I think that now, more than ever, people in the world at large need people like you and me who can (choose a phrase)

  • explain the Bible passage to them
  • provide additional background commentary; understanding
  • exegete; that is, take them slowly, word-by-word through a particular verse or passage
  • read it with the understanding and passion of someone who understands the bigger picture; someone who has “met the author”

This is the heartbeat of Paul’s words to the Romans:

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? (10:14 NLT)

Sadly, in our time, as in the time of Amos, hearts have grown hard. The website Daily Verse tell us,

For multiplied centuries, the prophetic call to Israel was to return to the Lord. For generations of time, Israel consistently and continuously rejected God’s repeated calls to repent – a call for both individual and national repentance. But their collective disobedience finally resulted in the rejection and crucifixion of their promised Messiah, centuries later.

When a man or woman repeatedly refuses to acknowledge God’s Word and obey the truth, their proud hearts and unrelenting minds become seared and hardened, until God permits that inflexibility to become permanent – God gives them over to their rebellious heart.

The same is true with a people-group or nation, and Israel’s collective heart had become so de-sensitized to God’s Word, and so stiff-necked towards Him, that God finally gave them over to their lustful desires – pronouncing a famine for the hearing of the words of the Lord.

Lord, keep our heart always turned toward you; keep those around us from hardening their hearts toward you; and help us to be their oasis in a spiritual desert.


Worship song: Hungry


We recently touched on the Amos 8:11 passage briefly in two other devotionals:

Read the first part of A Famine of God’s Word from August, 2020 and the second part of the devotional What if Our Sabbath…? from just a few weeks ago (Famine of the Word).

September 23, 2021

Always Onward and Upward for the Christian, Right?

Thinking Through Abraham’s New Beginning

by Clarke Dixon

Everything is always upward and onward for the Christian, right?

We experience a new beginning with Jesus, a new life with God! So everything in life will always work out better, right? We have God’s presence to direct in every decision, so no more bad decisions. We have God’s power to help with every struggle, so no more struggles. We have God’s provision to provide for every need, so no more needs. So it is always onward and upward, right?

Well maybe not.

Today we will think through the life of Abraham who was arguably one of the most God-connected persons on the planet in his day. He had the privilege of a great new beginning when God called him with an incredible calling. So let us see how life worked out for Abraham and if it was always onward and upward. Here are a few things of note:

First, Abraham’s call to go was also a call to leave.

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.

Genesis 12:1,2 (NLT emphasis added)

Abraham was called to live out a big, unsettling change. There would have been the experience of grief and loss. There was not even a clear vision of what is coming up.

God’s call to a new beginning with Him is often a call to experience change, loss, and upheaval.

We may be called to let go of some old habits, some old ways of thinking, including favourite “security blankets.” We will soon discover that these were better left behind anyway. However, it can mean upheaval for a season of one’s life. For some, that may be a long season.

We may be called to let go of relationships. I remember a fellow seminarian sharing how receiving Jesus meant leaving his family, or rather being disowned by his family. While that happened to him in another culture in another place, even here in Canada following Jesus might mean losing respect from peers.

The experience of change, including loss, can be part of walking with God, and that can get messy and be difficult. In fact if we are never experiencing any kind of change, maybe we are not walking with Jesus, but just sitting with religion.

For Abraham, responding to God’s call did not mean that life was always upward and onward, indeed it began with loss, grief, and upheaval. It may not always be onward and upward for us either.

Second, Abraham waffled his way through life, quite a lot.

Geographically, Abraham did a lot of wandering about between Genesis chapter 12, where we first meet him, and chapter 25 where we learn of his death. He went to the promised land, but then he also did a stint in Egypt and upon return seemed to live here, there, and everywhere. Life was anything but straightforward.

Abraham also waffled about in life decisions. Twice Abraham got his wife to say she was his sister. Perhaps not the best thing to do? Abraham and his wife Sarah also tried to ensure a descendant through Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar. While such arrangements were accepted within society in those days, that decision later led to great family dysfunction. Again, not the smartest idea, especially when God had a better plan.

If we feel like we are waffling about in life decisions, we are in good company. Abraham waffled about terribly also.

The Christian life is sometimes spoken of as if every day we can expect clear direction from the Lord in every decision. We are led to believe that there is always a clear path forward, a right path, and if you are a good Christian, you will see it, you will hear clearly from the Lord about it.

Reality is, life gets messy, even with God in it. We might need to adjust our expectations of ourselves and our ability to discern God’s will moment by moment. Abraham did not seem to have moment by moment direction from God. We might need to adjust our expectations of God.

If God made every decision for us, we would never learn to make a decision. We would never learn wisdom.

God, in his providence, worked it out for Abraham and his family despite the messiness of it all. God can work it out for us too. In the meantime it is not always onward and upward. Sometimes we waffle about.

Third, Abraham had questions for God.

So the LORD told Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know.”
The other men turned and headed toward Sodom, but the LORD remained with Abraham. Abraham approached him and said, “Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?”

Genesis 18:20-25 (NLT)

Abraham was not afraid to question God when God’s ways seemed, well, . . . questionable. And it was entirely appropriate. A relationship with God is exactly that, a relationship, which can include conversation and questions.

So when life gets messy and God’s ways seem questionable to us, shouldn’t our prayers get messy and honest? With God, life is not always onward and upward, with God’s ways always appearing to be crystal clear. Sometimes we have questions.

Fourth, it was never really about Abraham.

The call of God disrupted Abraham’s life. But Abraham was not the one who would receive the greatest blessing from his obedience:

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.

Genesis 12:1-3 (NLT emphasis added)

Are we aware that the call of God is not really about us? Christianity can become quite self-centered, especially as it often starts out centered on ourselves, beginning with “how do I get to heaven?” This is often the starting point, then the next question becomes “how can I get God’s power to work in my life, for my benefit?”

Ironically, Jesus calls us to deny ourselves!

Are we willing to respond to that call, to make our connection with God through Jesus and His Spirit, be for the benefit of others? Are we leaving space for the generosity of God toward others in how our call plays out?

When we grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, others are blessed. When I respond to God’s call to be a good husband, my wife is blessed. When I respond to the call of God to be a good father, our sons are blessed.

If it was all about us, might we expect the perfect life? Now if God handed us the perfect life on a silver platter, would we grow? Would we ever really learn empathy and compassion? Might we not instead become even more self-centered?

The Christian life is not always onward and upward with respect to our feeling blessed. Sometimes it is about others being blessed through us and the changes God is bringing to us. Sometimes those changes come about precisely because it is not always onwards and upwards.

Fifth, Abraham was not in the driver’s seat.

There are moments where Abraham shows initiative and living with purpose. He did get up and move, he did show his willingness to do what God asked of him. But as for building a great nation through whom all nations of the earth would be blessed, only God could accomplish that! And it could only be done in God’s timing. There is no way Abraham could make it happen, no amount of effort, passion, or talent on Abraham’s part could bring it about.

We are called to walk with Jesus, not just now, but forevermore. Only God can make that happen, through Jesus, his death for our reconciliation, and through His Spirit.

The question is not “are we bringing about the call of God in our lives?”, as if it is something we can accomplish, but “are we cooperating with God in His call on our lives?”.

The Christian life is not always onward and upward as we do this, that, or the other brilliant thing, but sometimes it is resting in God, in His brilliance.

Conclusion

As we read through Genesis chapters 12-25, it becomes clear that for Abraham, life was not always onwards and upwards. However, it was a life of being faithful, and of depending on God to be faithful. Abraham is lifted up in Hebrews chapter 11 as an example of faith and faithfulness. The Book of Hebrews was originally written for a group of Christians facing persecution. Despite their new beginning with Jesus, life was not always onward and upward for them either! But it was a life of learning faithfulness to the God Who is faithful.

Let us remain faithful to and hopeful in the call of God, even when the path is anything but straightforward, even when life feels far from always onward and upward.

You can watch the preaching of this sermon here.

September 9, 2021

New Beginnings! Thinking Through Adam and Eve’s Experience, and Ours

by Clarke Dixon

[read and comment at source: Click here]

When we think of new beginnings, we may think of things like a wedding, the birth of a child, or winning a lottery. For most of us a new beginning may come with much less celebration. A new beginning might be a divorce, a broken relationship, the loss of a job, a fire, a bereavement, a health crisis, a mental health crisis, or some unwelcome, really bad news. COVID was a new beginning for all of us, so too are the faltering steps we are taking towards a post-COVID world, if that is indeed what we are doing.

For many people, their new beginning might be described as Adam and Eve may have wanted to describe their new beginning, as cursed. Perhaps you were thinking Adam and Eve’s new beginning was in their creation and placement in the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis chapters 1 and 2? Nope, that was their beginning, their new beginning was the experience of being kicked out of the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis chapters 3 and 4. Not exactly the kind of new beginning we would like either. Let us think through their new beginning and discover what can help us with ours.

There are four things Adam and Eve could say if they took a step back and looked at the big picture of their new beginning.

First, we are still here!

God had said “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Genesis 2:17 (NRSV). Some translations interpret “the day you eat of it” as emphasis on the fact that death would happen. Hebrew language and thinking does not quite work the same way as ours, so we should not get too caught up in the fact that Adam and Eve did not die that very day. The reality of death certainly did, however. Still, God did not say “when you eat it, you will live outside the garden, then die.” To be still alive would have come as a welcome surprise. They could say “we are still here!”

Second, God is still with us!

While we do not hear too much more about Adam and Eve, as Genesis 4 gets going, God is as available to Cain outside of the Garden of Eden as He was to Adam and Eve inside the Garden. There is conversation, there is presence, there is guidance. Though humans were now stuck outside the Garden of Eden, God was not stuck in it.

Third, there are signs of grace!

Adam and Ever were not just still alive, they were also experiencing further signs of God’s grace. Consider the births of Cain and Abel. There was the promise of death as the consequence of taking of the forbidden fruit, yet before we see death, we see the gift of life. In fact even the curse given in Genesis 3:16; “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children,” (NRSV) is a sign of grace. There will be life, there will be future generations.

Fourth, there are opportunities!

For starters, Adam and Eve would have the opportunity to fulfill God’s call to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 2:28). God’s call on humanity still stood. God still had, and still has, a plan for us!

Though we are not told much about Adam and Eve and their relationship with God and each other, we can suppose they also had increased opportunities for supporting each other in ways they did not have opportunity to do so before. They would also have had the opportunity to lean on God more than they ever had to before. Things were great back in the Garden. Not so anymore, so leaning on God and others, and being available for others to lean on, became opportunities to help and be helped.

When we face a new beginning.

When we are facing momentous change, a new beginning, whether one anticipated with great excitement and celebration, or one that is thrust upon us, we can look at the big picture.

But before we go there, there are two very practical matters we learn from life. First, change brings stress. New beginnings are stressful whether they are anticipated with joy, or experienced with dread. Let us watch for stress and the need for strategies to cope, things like getting enough sleep, eating well, exercise, breathing exercises, mindful moments, prayer, and the enjoyment of hobbies. Second, change brings loss. New beginnings require grief. We have all faced loss one way or another in this COVID era. Let us watch for signs of grief, like anger and denial, and consider a strategy to deal with grief.

Now back to the practical matters that we learn from Adam and Eve. When we face momentous change, a new beginning, especially one that might be perceived as a curse, there are four things we can say.

First, we are still here!

You are still breathing, so breathe a sigh of relief. God is not done with you yet. And in fact, God never will be done with you. So even when you wake up someday and you are not here, that will be an even greater blessing! Paul knew this when he said,

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NLT)

Second, God is still with us!

In the very last words of the Gospel of Matthew we read the promise of Jesus: “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 8:20 NLT)

We need not face our new beginnings alone. God’s presence is available through all the change we experience in life. In fact God’s presence is available to us even if we brought about the disastrous change we may be experiencing. God is not stuck in the Garden of Eden. In perfect love, God offers help to the imperfect.

Third, there are signs of grace!

We may have trouble seeing them, but they are there. We can pray for eyes to see them. They are the assurance of God’s presence, not just His presence, but His presence and love. There is no greater sign of God’s grace than Jesus, his being with us, his teaching, his death, his resurrection, and his presence now through the Holy Spirit. The bread and the cup we receive through the Lord’s Table are constant reminders, signs of God’ grace.

Fourth, there are opportunities.

Here again, we may have trouble seeing them, but they are there, and will be there as some come later. Again, we pray for eyes to see the opportunities, but also for the the courage to take them.

Our new beginning may feel like a curse, but it may turn around to be a blessing somehow to us, but potentially, for others.

Let me give a personal example of a new beginning we have faced and of the opportunities that have come though it. When one of our sons came out as openly gay, that was a new beginning for our son, and for all of us. With that new beginning comes opportunities. There is the opportunity of being in a relationship based on honesty, rather than our son feeling he has something to hide from us. There is the opportunity for my wife and I to be on a journey of understanding, challenging the usual story of fear, exclusion and broken relationships when there is a “coming out.” My wife and I have been on a journey of walking with our son as we continue to walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. Going forward, I have no doubt that I will have the opportunity to grow as a person and as a pastor, to be a better pastor than I have been, to those who are, or those who have connections with the LGBTQ+ community. For some people, a child coming out as gay might seem like the end of the world. We are still here, God is still with us, there are signs of grace, and there are opportunities.

New beginnings in our church.

Every church family has faced momentous change, a new beginning in these days of pandemic. As society falteringly moves from a COVID era to a post-COVID era (hopefully?!), we can say we are still here, God is still with us, there are signs of grace, there are opportunities.

What about you?

Are you facing momentous change, whether an anticipated blessing, or something you would rather describe as a curse?

Are you taking care of yourself, watching for stress and creating strategies for coping, naming and grieving your losses?

Are you aware of the bigger picture? You are still here! God is still present! There are signs of grace! There are opportunities!

(Thanks for reading. You can watch me preach this sermon here.)

August 30, 2021

Two Characteristics of Followership | Voyaging in Peace

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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The first writer we’re introducing and featuring today is Pastor John Jakes who writes at Calvary Baptist Church in Indianola, Iowa. (Yes, I thought it would be in Indiana, but I guess they already have Indianapolis.) Clicking the header which follows next will take you there to read this as it appeared earlier today.

The Test of Commitment

In today’s world we lament a lack of commitment.  We applaud and show excitement when people last long in in their job or position.  Why? We applaud because we don’t see it very often!  We lament that people just can’t stay committed.  We complain.  Yet, when talking about encouraging commitment to God’s church we get shy about it.  We sometimes say we can’t push for it because it will drive people away. This makes me ask – What does it mean to be a disciple?

When Jesus was asked what it meant to be a follower of His, He described discipleship in two ways.  First, He described it as a type of love.  In fact, the type of love we were to have for Him was supposed to make all other loves look like hate.  He said, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26)  No shying from commitment there!  In fact, this teaching almost offends us, doesn’t it?

The second way Jesus talked of being a disciple was in cross-carrying.  He said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)  Two words leap out at me from that description: cross and daily.  Both of those words speak of commitment.  A cross is tough to carry.  It is especially tough when you think about the end of the journey: death.  Doing anything daily is a conscious decision that requires commitment.  Put the two together, and you and I receive this call – commit permanently to a hard choice: follow me.

As we consider what is necessary in the Christian life, we must take a close look at the type of commitment we are giving Jesus.  Without a Jesus-level of commitment, what are we saying about Him?  What are we saying about this truth upon which we say we are risking our lives?  If His call doesn’t demand much from us, then what is it? It is past time for God’s people to commit to His purpose for them. Are we committing to that purpose?

Something to think about.


NIV.Mark.4.39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

The second new writer we’re featuring today is Scott Dixon of Eagle, Idaho, who writes at Exploring Jesus. Clicking the header which follows will also allow you to see some graphic images which go with this short devotional.

Peace in the Storm

Jesus was always on the move, so when He said, Let us cross over to the other side” (Mark 4:35), the disciples set sail… and then a great windstorm arose. Storms are common on the Sea of Galilee and these were experienced sailors, but we learn from the original Greek that this was an exceptionally violent wind-tossed sea that threatened their boat.

I wonder if the disciples anticipated smooth sailing just because Jesus said, “Go.” Herein is a lesson for every child of God.

To voyage with Jesus is to voyage in peace, even in a storm.

In the presence of Jesus, we can have peace in the wildest storms.

In desperation, the disciples turned to Jesus. He rebuked the wind, and its fury ceased. He commanded the sea, “Peace, be still!” and there was tranquility. At the sound of His voice, the tempest quieted, giving them infallible proof: He is LORD over ALL.

He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven.”

Psalm 107:29-30

Do you belong to Jesus Christ? Have you followed Him only to experience wave after wave of trouble? Are you being tossed by fear and doubt over how it will end? Then insert your name and circumstance into this account and its eventual outcome because the same LORD is with you today.

Rest in His power alone and trust Him to take you over to the other side.

August 26, 2021

Making a Fall Commitment Reset

With regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon still on holidays, we mined his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon for something we had not presented before. This one appeared on the Labor Day weekend of 2021. Clicking the link in the header below takes you there directly.

When We Feel Not So Into It

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1st Corinthians 15:58 NIV)

Here is a verse we may read and think “I could not be described as a person who gives myself fully to the work of the Lord.” And of course this does not mean we should all quit our jobs and become pastors or full time missionaries or ministers of some sort. If we all did that I’d have to wonder where my salary was coming from. I depend on people committing, or in the case of the retired, having committed, themselves to regular jobs. We all do! And we should not make the mistake of thinking that Paul here is only speaking to the full-time professional minister. All Christians are called and invited ‘excel’ in the Lord’s work as another translation puts it. This means serving the Lord with passion in everything we do, including our ‘secular’ jobs, or put another way, serving the Lord as sacred people in the midst of a secular world. So what happens we find ourselves lacking in Christian spunk and fervor? What might we do as we read this verse and find ourselves faithfully serving ourselves and our own ambitions, or those of another person rather than our Lord?

First thing is to check your faith in the resurrection of Jesus. We do well to read the rest of 1st Corinthians where we find it all begins with teaching on the resurrection of Jesus. The ‘therefore’ that introduces verse 58 is key, as is the concluding reminder that the resurrection hope means our service to the Lord is not in vain. We serve a risen Saviour, to quote a familiar hymn, precisely because He is risen.

The 20th century was a time when many church goers got quite vague on what the resurrection was all about. Many turned their backs on anything sounding supernatural in the Gospel accounts right up to and including the resurrection of Jesus.

This leads naturally to a very vague kind of faith where one might say “I believe there is perhaps some sort of God, who I guess loves us”. Theology becomes very vague as the Bible fades into the background (taking Jesus with it) and faith is built only on reason, tradition, and experience, becoming a “build your own” kind of thing. And how easy it is for the Christian today to forget that our faith, our theology, and therefore our ethics are all founded upon and center around the resurrection of Jesus.

If Jesus was not raised from the dead, Christianity is dead. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, I wouldn’t bother being a pastor, indeed I wouldn’t even bother with being a Christian. Many in my own generation think likewise, and some, not having a solid sense of the resurrection of Jesus, are leaving the pews empty today. All the contemporary music in the world won’t help a church that has forgotten that Jesus lives.

So if you find your dedication waning, or your commitment lacking, check the place the resurrection of Jesus takes in your faith. Paul could always be described as giving himself “fully to the work of the Lord”, and little wonder when you consider his experience of meeting the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. The fact that Jesus is risen changes everything, and for Paul, and millions since, everything changed.

If you find you are not “fully giving yourself to the work of the Lord”, perhaps it is time for a fresh encounter with our risen Saviour.


Bonus scriptures for today’s theme:

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
 – Galatians 6:9 NLT

But those who trust the LORD will find new strength. They will be strong like eagles soaring upward on wings; they will walk and run without getting tired.
 – Isaiah 40:31 CEV

Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged… Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day.
– 2 Corinthians 4:1,16 NET

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
 – Romans 12:11 NIV

 

July 22, 2021

Abraham’s Faith Never Wavered

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

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

Weak Faith? Strong Faith? Keep Pushing Forward!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 7, 2021

When We Learn Our Lives Mattered to Others

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Pastor and author Greg Laurie is featured here at least once a year. Click the header below to read this on the devotional blog of Harvest Church in Riverside, California. You can also listen to a reading of this devotional at this link.

An Eternal Impact

When the Rapture takes place, not only will we meet the Lord in the air, but we’ll also rejoin friends and loved ones who have already gone on to be with the Lord.

Isn’t that wonderful to know?

If you’ve lost loved ones who were believers, then you will see them again. That’s a great comfort for anyone who has ever lost someone they cherished in life. Death is the great separator, but Jesus Christ is the great reconciler. Jesus will bring together those whom death has separated.

The Bible also reveals that we’ll not only be reunited with Christian relatives and loved ones, but we’ll also be reunited with those who trusted in Jesus through our witness.

For example, the apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Thessalonica, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19 NKJV).

Paul was saying that his spiritual children would be his crown of exaltation in the Lord’s presence when He returns. From this it would appear that in Heaven, each of us will have those whom we helped to believe in Jesus grouped around us. Think about that.

Understand, God gives the increase in evangelism. I’ve never saved anyone, and neither have you. But God, by His grace, does allow us to participate in the wonderful process of seeing people to come to faith.

You might have sown seeds of the gospel in someone’s life, or you may have had a key role in watering a seed that another Christian had sown as you shared your faith in the Lord.

Ultimately, when we get to Heaven, we’ll be able to see what kind of impact that our lives on Earth have had.


Several times at Christianity 201, we’ve looked at what I’ve heard described as the chain of grace and how we can be play a part in it. Although we just ran it in October, 2019, I love telling this story over and over.

One of the best stories I ever heard in church a youth service where a girl, got up and (I’m changing the names at this point, I am sure) said, “My name is Amanda…” and then went on to tell the story of how her life was changed because of a friend named Brittany. Then the next one stepped up and began, “My name is Brittany…” and told her story of coming to faith because of the influence of a girl named Crystal. Next — and you’re probably guessing the pattern already — a girl stepped to the microphone and started with “My name is Crystal…” and told her story which included being invited to an event by her friend Danielle.

You might think this all sounds too contrived to be true, but when the last girl got up and said, “Hi, I’m Danielle…” I swear there wasn’t a dry eye in the church. You could hear a pin drop.

In today’s devotional, Greg used the phrase “we’ll also be reunited with those who trusted in Jesus through our witness.”

Will there be people in eternity because we modeled life in Christ?


For a complete list of devotionals here where we’ve used the phrase “the chain of grace,” click this link.


Acts 2.42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

July 5, 2021

Gifts Used to Bless Others Can Also Edify Yourself

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:44 pm
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A year ago we introduced Mutsawashe Chipuriro who writes at Grace Unmatched. Her articles are often inspired by videos she sees on YouTube or conversations with friends. Great devotional writing finds its themes in real life living! Click the header which appears next to read this one at her page.

Working in ministry

One morning, after I completed my chores, I started singing a song. Mid-way through the first stanza I stopped and just thought, “wow.” The way I had been singing just really blended in with the lyrics and it was beautiful. It had quite the healing effect because I was tired from the chores.

God blessed me with the gift of singing, among the many other gifts He bestowed upon me. Whenever I share the voice with others, they indicate that the voice has a certain presence to it. I never believed it until a few years back when I truly started listening my voice.

The Holy Spirit gives gifts according to how He sees fit, so that they are used well to minister to the world and, in turn God is glorified :

Now there are [distinctive] varieties of spiritual gifts [special abilities given by the grace and extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit operating in believers], but it is the same Spirit [who grants them and empowers believers]. And there are [distinctive] varieties of ministries and service, but it is the same Lord [who is served]. And there are [distinctive] ways of working [to accomplish things], but it is the same God who produces all things in all believers [inspiring, energizing, and empowering them]. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit [the spiritual illumination and the enabling of the Holy Spirit] for the common good.

To one is given through the [Holy] Spirit [the power to speak] the message of wisdom, and to another [the power to express] the word of knowledge and understanding according to the same Spirit; to another [wonder-working] faith [is given] by the same [Holy] Spirit, and to another the [extraordinary] gifts of healings by the one Spirit; and to another the working of miracles, and to another prophecy [foretelling the future, speaking a new message from God to the people], and to another discernment of spirits [the ability to distinguish sound, godly doctrine from the deceptive doctrine of man-made religions and cults], to another various kinds of [unknown] tongues, and to another interpretation of tongues.

All these things [the gifts, the achievements, the abilities, the empowering] are brought about by one and the same [Holy] Spirit, distributing to each one individually just as He chooses.

1 Corinthians 12:4‭-‬11 AMP

I’ve noticed, however, that many who posses gifts, use them to edify others but don’t believe that these gifts can in turn edify themselves as well, because at the end of the day it is actually not the person at work but, the Holy Spirit. The person is just a vessel. Therefore, if the individual is just a messenger, even the message they carry can also be delivered to themselves!

There are many people out there who are laboring for God’s kingdom. They pray for others, preach, teach, motivate and encourage, among other things yet they’re overwhelmed and troubled within. I believe that, this is why:

When you minister to others, you are pouring out. As with any vessel that empties out its contents, it has to be filled up again. Yet we’re not doing that. We go on to edify others and that’s the end! Very few go back to their tools for edification to understand why it had the power to edify.

The Holy Spirit’s gifts are for edification of the body of Christ. The parts of the body of Christ are you and I, among countless others :

For just as the body is one and yet has many parts, and all the parts, though many, form [only] one body, so it is with Christ. For by one [Holy] Spirit we were all baptized into one body, [spiritually transformed—united together] whether Jews or Greeks (Gentiles), slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one [Holy] Spirit [since the same Holy Spirit fills each life]. For the [human] body does not consist of one part, but of many [limbs and organs].

1 Corinthians 12:12‭-‬14 AMP

If you believe that your neighbor, your friend, your colleague or any other person deserves to be edified through your use of your gifts, why do you think that you are exempt?

Next time you edify someone, take time to revisit that situation. You will be amazed just how much you can be ministered unto as well!

July 2, 2021

We Will be Replanted in Different Soil

Eleven months ago we introduced you to a writer simply goes by the (lower case) name appolus at his blog is titled A Call to the Remnant, with the subtitle, Scottish Warriors for Christ. There is a richness to the writing in the style of classic devotionals and after considering four different possibilities, I chose this one for us today.

Shall The Flower Bloom Again?

When my wife and I came back from vacation, we discovered that one of the plants that stands guard at our door, had been over-watered. The one on the left was fine, and flourishing, the other had wilted and the blooms were dying or dead. When we researched what had happened, it seems that if you over-water a plant to this extent then the soil will be rancid and the roots themselves will be rotting from the bottom up. There is a slight chance that you can save the plant, but only slight. It involves uprooting the plant and laying it to one side, removing all of the soil, cut away as much of the roots that you can, then replace all of the soil and replant it.

We did this and just as the research suggested, the soil was rancid, so bad that we had to wear masks as we removed it. The roots were rotten almost all the way to the top, we cut them away. And now the replanted plant will either live or die, no one knows. Can I suggest that the Western world is over-watered. We are rancid as we drown in our abundance. The very roots that held us are rotten from the top on down. The flowers of our culture are dying on a rotten vine. There is drastic change to come. There is an uprooting so that which can be saved and shall be saved. The soil which has held us will be removed. The roots of everything we know is being cut away. We shall be replanted in different soil.

Will you survive the cutting brothers and sisters? Shall you resist it? The old soil is being shoveled away as we speak. The saints of God shall be ripped away from this world and all its hold upon us. We shall be laid bare and put aside while the Master deals with what is left of this world. We shall not be watered for a time. It is vital that we “dry out.” Think not that we have been abandoned. We have not, but it will seem that way. This time of of our troubles is for our saving.

The new soil will be rich and deep. It will be watered by the blood of the martyrs. The name of the new soil is persecution. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. Can you hear the drumbeats of war brothers and sisters? A war that for all intents and purposes will be one that we shall lose. For a time it shall seem that all is lost. Not just for a day or a week or even a month, this season shall be much longer than that. It will be long enough to make you doubt everything that you have ever believed. You will be tried in this.

Yet God has cultivated a people for Himself. They have a few banners that fly over their lives and the battles they have waged. One of the banners that flutters in the wind of the Spirit says “Even if He kills me, yet will I trust Him.” Another banner reads “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” There are two more banners. One says ” And they loved not their lives unto death,” and the last one reads “If God does not deliver us from the fire, let it be know, we shall never bow down to the gods of this world.”

It is these saints that shall survive the uprooting. All others shall die in the rottenness that is this world. This mindset of the saint is to glorify God. It is to yield and to surrender to His will for their lives. It is what the Master wants that is all important. It is His desires that fill the hearts of the saints. It is their blossom that causes color to exist in another-wise black and white world. Shall the flower bloom? Shall it survive the trauma of the uprooting? Some will, most will not. In the end, the heart of the matter is revealed as everything is stripped away. It cannot be otherwise. The heart of the matter, the only heart that matters is the Heart of God the Father and Christ His Son. Let us be found there, even if He slays us. For the things that we see are temporal and of little value, but the will of God is eternal and flowers in the heart of His children.


By the same author:

 

June 30, 2021

Prayer: Have You Reached the Stage of Saying “What’s the Point?”

Today we have two alternative articles for you, but this one, while perhaps seeming elementary to some of you, is a good review and as we reach the end of the month and the halfway point in the year; I sense someone needs to read this.

The U.K. blog author, who we’re featuring for the first time, simply goes by “The Godly Lady” and the blog has the title, Christian Lady After God’s Own Heart. Click the header below to read at source, and then explore!

What’s the use of praying?

Ever found yourself in a place where you feel angry, annoyed, frustrated, downhearted, and feel a little bitter towards God? Well I have, and I’m sure that several other Christians have also felt this way too. It’s not abnormal to express emotions of annoyance over why God let a specific circumstance, pan out the way it did. My encouragement to you today is that you’re not alone in your feelings of frustration, although our experiences are different we all encounter pain, joy, and happiness in our lives.

So what’s the use in praying or striving to live a life of righteousness? If God has already determined my future, and there’s no changing what has been predetermined, why bother to pray, and pursue holiness? I can confirm that I’ve asked myself these questions, and God has recently brought two major points to my attention.

First point being an analogy. I know that my parents would do whatever they can to help me live a great and fulfilling life, and I’m also aware that if I desire something within their means to obtain, they will not hesitate to give me that thing. Now just because I know my parents will help support me doesn’t mean that I should stop speaking with them altogether, because they’ve done their job as my earthly guardians. What my parents desire most, is to have a deep, loving, and meaningful relationship with me. And we all know that a key ingredient to maintaining a good relationship is GOOD COMMUNICATION.

Now even if an answer to prayer seems delayed, it doesn’t mean that we should stop praying to God, because God desires intimacy with us, and wants us to pour out our hearts to Him. He desires for us to speak with Him! We mustn’t forget that prayer is a form of communication. Be honest and real with God, and pour out all your complaints before Him. God cares about everything that bothers your mind, no matter how small or big your concerns may be, God cares! So what’s the use in praying? It’s about building a better relationship with God, and enhancing our level of closeness with Him.

Psalm 27:8 ~ My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

Psalm 55:22 ~ “Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.”

Secondly one should not do good (pursue to live righteously) in order to get from God, or to be seen by others. Remember God freely gives to us, not based upon our works or performance, but simply because that’s part of His loving nature! We should pursue to live godly lives, and mustn’t give up on doing good, purely because of our love for The Lord. The great act of love which God showed us through His death on Calvary, should motivate us to love Him through our actions, because He first loved us!

Galatians 6:9 ~ “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”

So let us not give up on praying, and let’s not throw in the towel because of challenging circumstances. And let us not forget that when the going gets tough, we should strive to use it as an opportunity to build a better relationship with God!

Luke 18:1 ~ “One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up.”


Bonus items for today:

Today we have two suggested articles. These are opinion pieces, not Bible studies, but ones we would carry here if the format were different.

The first is by Michael Frost and just published today, If Jesus Planted a Church, What Would it Look Like? Highly recommended.

The other is by Chris Tiegreen and deals with the online disputes often carried out in the name of doctrinal purity; Disagreement or Heresy?

Both of these are respected Christian authors. Enjoy.

June 28, 2021

Spiritual Formation is Becoming Like Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Jesus: “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” – John 14:12 NLT

Today we’re again highlighting the writing of a new-to-us author. Jamin Bradley is an author and a pastor in the Free Methodist Church denomination in Michigan.  You can read more at his eponymous blog, or click the header below to read this one there.

Yes, You Can Be Like Jesus

Because Jesus is God-in-flesh, we often act as though it’s impossible to live up to his example whatsoever and so we should all just get used to living in grace. This seems to be the feeling of many Christians as Barna Group has found that, “Among people who believe Jesus was a real person, 16 percent claim they make the ‘greatest possible effort’ to follow His example; 10 percent claim they come ‘very close’ to following His example.” (Barna, George. America at the Crossroads. p. 67.)

The theological difficulty for many is that Jesus feels, as Paul Wallace says,

a lot like Superman: he’s an alien, an immigrant from an unearthly realm sent to us—yes, by his father—from the heavens. He looks like one of us but is not really one of us. Like Clark Kent, his humble exterior is merely a cover for out-of-this-world powers. He’s essentially distinct from the general run of earthly creatures. He is the Messiah of Steel.

Paul Wallace (Stars Beneath Us: Finding God in the Evolving Cosmos. p. 114.)

When I was younger, Jesus was unrelatable to me because of his miracles. I thought I could never be like him in that regard. But the more the Holy Spirit revealed himself to me over the years, the more I started to see miracles happen through the church, my friends, and even myself at times. I was now confronted with the fact that people I knew could prophesy, heal, perform miracles, cast out demons and much, much more. And in that revelation, I learned that Jesus didn’t do miracles simply because he was God-in-flesh—he did miracles because He was empowered by the Holy Spirit, just like we are.

Yes, of course, there are some things Jesus did that we’ll never be able to do. We’re not God-in-flesh, nor are we the Messiah and we’re not going to save the world from sin. We’re also not going to die without ever having sinned, but we certainly can be more like Jesus than our standard Christian upbringing taught us.

And we can be like Jesus not just in the supernatural ways of the Holy Spirit, but in human ways as well. For when we memorize Jesus, we realize that we’re a lot more like him than we thought we were. After all, he had friends and siblings; he had parents he obeyed; he grew and learned, asked questions and didn’t even know a few things; he fasted and was hungry; he was tempted; he worked a job; he paid taxes; he celebrated holidays; he got angry and frustrated; he was troubled in soul and spirit, cried, and was sorrowful; he had friends die and go back on their word; he was mocked; he was rejected, denied, betrayed, abandoned, and even felt abandoned by God; and he even died.

We can relate to Jesus in all of these characteristics and we must learn how to handle such human experiences in the ways that he did. He is the ultimate example of what humanity can be like when empowered by the Holy Spirit and he is therefore the ultimate role model of the Christian faith. Said another way, he is the true image of God that humanity is to image themselves.

The idea that it’s impossible to be anything like Jesus and so we shouldn’t even try is antithetical to the gospel; for when the resurrection comes, we will be made exactly like him. Being like Jesus is, indeed, the ultimate goal to which we are headed. And since resurrection life has already begun now in the “already, but not yet,” we should (by the grace and growth of the Holy Spirit) start becoming more and more like Christ everyday, here and now.

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