Christianity 201

April 16, 2021

Current Events Remind Us We Need Jesus

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Sin in this world is nearing critical mass
– from today’s article

Today another new writer to highlight for you. Bernie Lyle blogs at Musings from an Idle Mind. Because this just posted a few hours ago, I encourage you to click the header below and leave comments at his site.

Broken

O LORD, You are my God. I will exalt You, I will praise Your name, For You have done wonderful things; Your counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.

For You have been a strength to the poor, A strength to the needy in his distress, A refuge from the storm, A shade from the heat; For the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall.

He will swallow up death forever, And the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces; The rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; For the LORD has spoken. And it will be said in that day: “Behold, this is our God; We have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the LORD; We have waited for Him; We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.””
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭25:1, 4, 8-9‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Broken

There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed. The world we live in is irretrievably broken

I watched the last moments of the life of a thirteen year old boy, shot by a Chicago policeman. It was the tragic summing up of many evil moments, that came together to destroy a young life.

There was an older twenty-one year old who fired shots, who allegedly passed the weapon to the young boy so he himself wouldn’t be caught with the gun. Charges are less for juveniles, and it is common practice for criminals to use them.

There was a chase down an alley, with eternity bearing down. The boy tossed the weapon in an opening in a fence, raised his hands as he turned toward the officer. Eternity invaded as the adrenaline and the inertia of the moment, propelled finger against trigger and a life ended. It is going to be a long, painful, spring and summer.

We will hear the multitude of justifications and condemnations, along political lines, as pundits spout off on what happened. There will be riots, mostly peaceful protests, that seem to consume the nation. In the end all will be more broken, and still people will die.

In the midst of it all, there will be one all consuming truth: we need God more than ever.

Isaiah 25:1 entering my eyegate this morning as I prepared the meme for my church. It was a refreshing sight, as God invaded the sadness in my flesh and reminded me of His sovereignty. I felt compelled to worship. Our God is beyond the brokenness of this present world. Because I have been forgiven, I have a reality that is not fixed in the here an now, but eternally powered and my future is Heaven.

Sin in this world is nearing critical mass, as down is up and up is down. All people are being affected, as lost and saved alike entertain ideas that are evil. The sin that has broken our planet, is spreading like a virus, as people go about doing what they think is right in their own eyes.

There seems to be little consciousness of the evil that is being perpetuated, or any concern for the long term consequences. We have become a society of reactors, seemingly shocked when unintended consequences come.

“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”
‭‭II Timothy‬ ‭3:1-5‬ ‭NKJV

We are in those days.

We need Jesus!

All the brokenness that we are seeing should be prompting us to go forth and preach the Gospel. It is only the transforming power of the Holy Spirit that change things. It is the transformation of each individual heart, of each individual mind, to help us to see as God sees.

Instead, we are drawn to political and march about finding no solutions.

The biggest problem that is infecting humanity, is our tendency to not see the human in front of us. We miss the creature just like us. We see only opposing forces, dehumanized. We have become a nation and world full of targets, and shooters, taking aim at each other as the evil one picks us all off.

For those of us who are in Jesus, we must stand apart from all the strife and be faithful to share the Good News of Jesus, who went to the cross, died for the sins of all mankind, was buried and rose again. We must endeavor to love across the battle lines.

It can easily seem as though the Gospel message will not be heard as our world is loudly careening to the abyss. There is so much noise!

People are consumed and distracted, just as the evil one intended. He knows his time is short, but we must be about the Father’s business. Souls are in the balance.

“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
‭‭II Timothy‬ ‭4:1-5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

In these dark times, I must keep looking up, focusing on Jesus. I cannot fix this world, but I know that Jesus will. He is coming again. There are so many things happening in our broken world.

“Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place. “Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.””
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭22:6-7‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Come Lord Jesus!

https://www.allaboutgod.com/the-roman-road.htm

 

January 30, 2021

Living in a Post-Everything World

Today’s article is by Alec Zacaroli and appeared on the website Burke Missions, which we’re visiting today for the first time. There’s two reasons today to click the header which follows and read this there, and not here. First, it’s the beginning of a series you might want to bookmark and follow. Second, because this particular blog post is just hours old, we’re going to close comments here so that you can comment on the original site.

Though this first item in the series is introductory, it poses some questions I had never considered before. What does it mean to live at a time that is “post” so many things? Or more particularly, to live in a world where everything is temporary, transitory or (to use a word increasingly popular) fluid? And what does it mean to join this journey with a vow of never turning back?

Leaving It All In A Left-It-All Culture

This is the first in a series of blog posts in which we will look at sharing and living out the gospel in a post post-modern and post-Christian culture.

“When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.” – Luke 5:11

Let’s face it, folks. We like leaving stuff. Metaphorically speaking, we are like a teenage girl, moving on from one outfit to another in search of the ultimate (yet unattainable) look. We were once modern, but that got old.  So we became post-modern. It appears the bloom is now off that short-lived rose, so we’re moving on to post post-modern. Once we figure out exactly what that is, we’ll probably leave it too. We’re post-Christian, post-religion, post-race, post-gender, post-family, post-marriage… you name it, we’ve moved on from it.

Maybe we’re really just post-commitment.

Whatever we call our condition, the truth is whenever one moves on from one position, one moves into another.  You can’t go from somewhere to nowhere, some place to no place, or something to nothing. In that case, you still would be moving into something. It’s called Zen Buddhism. But I digress. The point for believers is that we need to understand the times we are in and what that means for our faith and witness. And for non-believers, I think the time has come to settle the question of where you will park your life. Because you can’t just circle the lot forever.

So we live in a post-everything world. Where does that leave us? Well for one thing, luckily, for those are believers in Jesus Christ there is no such thing as “post-belief.” He told us: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” John 10:27-28 (NASB) Thus once you have placed your faith in Jesus, you can’t just move on from Him. Though many may try, believers cannot simply purge themselves of the Holy Spirit once He has come into them. This is important, because it means you are never lost in a sea of confusion without any mooring. The issue, in a time when everything is always in question, is how do you lay hold of that anchor? Put another way, how do Christians live out the gospel and share its remarkable and undeniable good news in a post-everything culture?

In this series, we are going to explore this question by delving into a series of other questions. Questions like what did it mean to be modern? Or how do we understand the concept of modernity?  In turn, what does it mean to be post-modern?  And what are the characteristics of the post-modern culture that replaced modernity? And now that it appears we’re done with that experiment, what does it now mean to be “post post-modern”, as some are calling our current age?  In all of this cultural exegesis, we will also look at what is means to be a “post-Christian” culture.

But we won’t stop there. Because where we’ve been and where we are doesn’t necessarily tell us where we are going.  And as author Lewis Carroll wrote, “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” So we need to find the right road. Once we have arrived at some understanding of where we are, we will see why the only true road is the road to the cross. We will look at why the gospel provides the only sure footing we have, and the only sure footing we need, in a turbulent age. And we will explore how we both live out and share the gospel during these strange and increasingly antagonistic times.  Not to be a spoiler, but just as the first disciples found, we will see that leaving everything is not such a bad idea. The critical thing is not what we are leaving things for, but Who?

Thanks for joining us on this journey. I hope it will bless and encourage you in your faith. And if you lack faith, I will pray that on this road, or whatever road you may be on or choose to take, you will meet the One who is the only Way, the only Truth, and the only Life.

November 23, 2020

Placing the Message of a Prophet in the Form of the Proverbs

Indeed, the Sovereign LORD never does anything until he reveals his plans to his servants the prophets.
 – Amos 3:7 NLT

For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
 – 2 Peter 1:21 NIV

I have also spoken to the prophets, And I gave numerous visions, And through the prophets I gave parables.
 – Hosea 12:10 NASB

Again and again the LORD had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: “Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and decrees—the entire law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through my servants the prophets.”
 – 2 Kings 17:13

When they were alone, the people around Jesus, along with the Twelve, asked him about the parables.He said to them, “The secret of God’s kingdom has been given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables. This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven.
– Mark 4:10-12 CEB

Usually when we introduce a new author here, it’s someone just starting out on their writing journey, but today we have someone who already has a profile, though he may be new to you as he was to us. On his Twitter account, Mark Charles describes himself this way: “I’m a dual citizen of the US and Navajo Nation and was a 2020 Independent candidate for President of the United States.” He’s also the coauthor of Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery (IVP 2019) You can learn more about it at this link. (Just reading the book’s blurb will change how you react the next time you hear that “Columbus discovered America.”)

I felt directed to share his writing today. This short article appeared on his blog, WirelessHogan in 2018. (Again, note this was written at least two years ago.) Read it slowly. Click the title below and read it there.

From Prophecy to Proverb

The summer of 2018, during the height of the immigration crisis with families being separated at our borders, I had the privilege of speaking at Calvin College to a couple hundred worship grant recipients from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. In a plenary session titled “Learning How to Talk in Proverbs” I was given a few minutes to “Propose a proverb about your prophetic insight using a ‘prophecy to proverb’ mode of speech.” Below is what I wrote and shared:

Wise is the church that refuses to buy into the trappings of partisan politics

Remember my brothers and sisters, Jesus did not come to create a Christian Empire

He came to make disciples.
He came to offer his body as a living sacrifice.
He came to plant a church.

When the church merely lobbies one political leader and protests the other

When, for the sake of argument or political gain, the body of Christ turns a blind eye to one sin and magnifies another

We are not representing the headship of our body…

who is Christ.

As vile, repulsive and urgent is the Trump administration’s separation of families at our border

it is not the first time…

Indian Removal, the slave trade, Boarding Schools, lynching’s, Japanese Internment camps, mass incarceration, even the deportation numbers of the Obama administration

the list of ways the United States government has worked to destroy the family structure of people of color throughout our history is as long as it is depressing.

So lets stop pretending that President Trump is the God ordained savior, or the ultimate demise of our union.

The same with President Obama.

What our nation needs is not for democrats to be better democrats.

Nor do we need Republicans to simply be better Republicans.

We don’t even need our nation to be more Christian.

My brothers and sisters, the United States of America is not, never has been, nor will it ever be Christian.

Jesus did not come to create a Christian Empire

He came to make disciples.
He came to offer his body as a living sacrifice.
He came to plant a church.

And wise is the church that refuses to buy into the trappings of partisan politics.

I agree with Kenneth Kaunda, the former president of Zambia, who said,
“What a nation needs more than anything else is not a Christian ruler in the palace but a Christian prophet within earshot.”

Mark Charles
(Navajo)

 

 

September 5, 2020

The Tongue is a Fire

“Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be acceptable in the sight, O Lord.” (Psa. 19:14)

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”  Prov. 18:21

The title of today’s article is a phrase from the book of James.

And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
 (3:6 NLT)

Of course, James had never heard of a typewriter keyboard, a computer, the internet, Twitter, etc. Today he might write, “the keyboard is a flame of fire.”

The full context is:

NIV.James.3.1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

There are so many issues right now which are fracturing and polarizing: Race relationships, mistrust of media, defunding the police, the American election, responding to the pandemic, the existence of the pandemic, climate change, religious freedom, immigration, women’s reproductive rights, technology and privacy, etc. Did that list strike some nerves? Do some of those topics raise your blood pressure? It’s easy to get drawn into these battles, especially on social media.

Paul wrote to Timothy:

No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. II Tim 2:4

But for some of you, even that issue — how involved Christians should be in the issues being discussed in the public square — is enough to get you going!

Today we’re sharing a cover version of Steve Camp’s song The Tongue is a Fire. I thought we’d covered this song once before here, but when I checked, it was a different song by the same name. You can read that devotional here. At that time we quoted Stephen Whyte:

It is God’s desire that our tongues be a “fountain of life” (Prov 10:11) and that our speech be “seasoned with grace” (Col. 4:6) in order that we might “know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary. (Isa. 50:4)  We probably cannot fully appreciate the positive effects which words of praise, encouragement, appreciation, comfort and compassion have on a person. But God is exhorting us to see that our very words can bring restoration and life into a situation where death is reigning. (Prov 16:24; 25:11; Eccl. 10:12)

Our friends at Live To Tell posted the song, and the video description explains why:

I felt compelled to perform this song because of all the dissension, confusion, anger and disillusionment that is being foisted upon us from all directions. Now more than ever, our greatest resource – our words – have become either a healing balm for troubled souls or weapons that destroy and plunder the lives and minds of so many.

I am not exempt from the damage that can be done from my inept, careless choice of words or criticisms, whether they’ve come from my typing on my keyboard or from out of my own mouth.

I pray we all focus on learning to take better care of/get a handle on our thoughts and verbal output, for ‘out of the overflow of the mouth, the heart speaks’.

May God grant us the serenity (and the WISDOM) to change the things we can and weigh whether it is a good time to be quiet or speak out wisely and only after being extremely well-informed by reliable sources.

 Psalm 4:4 “ … do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.”

Proverbs 10:19 “Where words are many, sin is not wanting; but those who restrain their lips do well.”

Isaiah 30:15 “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”

Psalm 37:7 “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.”

Here is the video:

August 19, 2020

Putting Spin on Scripture to Mean What We Want it to Mean

It’s been our custom to twice a year visit Christ Almighty, the blog of K.W. Leslie and again today I got totally absorbed in reading a number of excellent articles. He has done his own translation which he uses and in recent articles has explained the purpose in doing so. But because his articles are quite long, today we’re going to just use a small portion from the middle of a larger article. I’ll explain more in italics below. So needless to say, you’re especially encouraged today to click the title below.

Christianism

[He begins by explaining that the article is about “Christianists,” people whose spiritual life is not informed by the teaching of Jesus, but rather, “they take whatever they’re doing, slap a Christian label on it, and claim it’s legitimately Christian.” For the first section of the article, he discusses, “Christianists who are honestly mistaken. I give most people the benefit of the doubt.” But then…]

…Then there’s the other group: The people who actually know what Jesus teaches, but go out of their way to bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate his words till they mean what they want. They figure their views are more important than Jesus’s. These would be legitimately deceptive people. Liars. Antichrists. Leading the crowd astray for their own gain.

Other than the devil, certain cult leaders, certain politicians, false prophets, and their flunkies, there aren’t many in this category. But they do exist. They’re a much smaller group. They’re not wandering sheep; they’re wolves. Jesus described ’em like yea:

John 10.7-10 KWL
7B “Amen amen! I promise you I’m the sheep-gate.
8 Everybody who climbs in past me is a thief and predator—but the flock won’t listen to them.
9 I’m the gate. When anyone enters through me, they’ll be saved.
They’ll enter, they’ll exit, they’ll find pasture.
10 The thief doesn’t enter other than to steal, murder, and destroy.
I came so they can have life—and have more than they ever expected.”

The flock, Jesus’s real followers, recognize these particular Christianists are con artists, and won’t follow. But others, those who aren’t really following Jesus, don’t know what he teaches, don’t notice any of the Holy Spirit’s red flags, easily fall for their false teachings. And off they go together.

We can debate (and we have) about whether wayward Christianists are real Christians, or whether they ever were. I’d like to think a lot of ’em are Christian; just wrong in some areas. Sometimes a lot of areas.

’Cause I grew up among Christianists. In high school I attended a politically conservative church who regularly mixed up our party’s teachings with Jesus’s. Didn’t know any better. All the Christians we knew were good conservatives. And if they weren’t conservative, we’d doubt their salvation.

Round election time we’d get “voter guides,” produced by party members, which included a little checklist to show whether each candidate was “Christian” enough. What they thought of abortion, or capital punishment, or drugs, or taxes, or government expansion. One of the checkboxes, fr’instance, told us whether the candidates were for or against gun control.

Now, what’s Jesus’s position on gun control? Well there were no guns back then. But we know what Jesus said about other arms. Namely the μάχαιρα/máhaira, a long work knife which is properly a machete, but the KJV calls it a “sword.” There’s pro:

Luke 22.36-38 KWL
36 Jesus told them, “But now you who have a coin purse: Pick it, and your wallet, up.
You who don’t: Sell your robe. Buy a machete.
37 For I tell you this scripture must be fulfilled by me: ‘He was figured among the lawless.’ Is 53.12
It’s about me; it has a purpose.”
38 They said, “Master look: Two machetes here.”
He told them, “That’ll do.”

And there’s con.

Matthew 26.51-52 KWL
51 Look, one of Jesus’s followers stretched out his hand, drew his machete,
struck the head priest’s slave, and cut off his ear.
52 Then Jesus told him, “Put your machete back where it goes!
Everybody who takes up arms will be destroyed by them.”

We can debate the interpretation of these passages… and no doubt most of our interpretations will fall in line with our already-existing politics. If you love guns, you’re all in favor of selling your robe to buy one. If you don’t, it’s all “live by the sword, die by the sword.”

I myself would argue there’s not enough in either passage to come up with Jesus’s gun policy. He has no position. It’s wholly a partisan issue. I think both sides make reasonable arguments. Even so, conservatives assume Jesus is against gun control; progressives assume he’s for it; both pick the sides they’d already choose without any input from Jesus. And both commit the Christianist sin of claiming it was all Jesus’s idea.

Tell ’em they’re wrong, and they’ll object. But their main objection isn’t just politics. It’s something much deeper, and more corrupt, in human nature: We humans don’t wanna be wrong! We don’t want to think of ourselves that way. Nor be publicly corrected for wrongdoing. Wrongness is bad. And we’re not bad people—we’re good Christians. All our fellow Christians say so, and believe the very same things we do. We can’t all be wrong.

But we are. And aren’t gonna grow in Christ till we realize it…

[…continue reading here…]

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:

 

March 13, 2020

Hold Your Head Up

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. – Psalm 3:3 KJV

But you, God, shield me on all sides; You ground my feet, you lift my head high – Psalm 3:3 The Message

But, Lord, you are my shield, my wonderful God who gives me courage. – Psalm 3:3 NCV

Earlier this morning I was reading something posted in a Facebook group on Classic Praise and Worship songs about the early worship song which was based on the KJV rendering of the above verse.

It seemed timely given the climate of fear which has come over so many in the wake of the current Coronavirus pandemic. On a personal level, I’ve been rather ‘rattled’ by that. Perhaps for others of you, all it takes is a haunting nagging from your pre-conversion past over the fact today was a Friday the 13th.

So many Christian books right now deal with the topics of fear, worry, anxiety and its related consequence, depression.

  • The Power of Praying Through Fear
  • Anxious for Nothing
  • Too Blessed to be Stressed
  • Overcoming Fear, Worry and Anxiety
  • Breaking the Worry Habit Forever
  • Worry Less, Live More
  • Worry-Free Living
  • Winning the Worry Battle
  • Letting Go of Fear
  • Prayers for Freedom Over Worry
  • Finding Peace
  • Breaking Anxiety’s Grip
  • Fearless
  • Still: 7 Ways to Find Calm in the Chaos

…and that’s just a few; not to mention the hundreds of self-help books that aren’t in the Christian marketplace; dealing with the effects of fear on the wider society.

There were also many, many more books listed which had the word overcoming in the title.  Note to self: We need to a devotional on the subject of what it means to be an overcomer, as this theme runs throughout scripture, even if the word isn’t used.

Of course, the opposite of looking up is looking down. Three times in Psalm 42 and once again in Psalm 43, we find the word translated in the NIV as downcast.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.  43:5

and it appears several other times in that translations.

We all, myself included, need to ask ourselves if in view of the present circumstances our world finds itself in, we are looking up or looking down.

Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Psalm 24:7 NIV

“When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” – Jesus in Luke 21:18

We need to be people who are looking up.  No matter what:

“…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me … my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”(Ps 23).

When David wrote Psalm 3 when he was fleeing from Absalom. The lyrics of the short worship song which started our thoughts today include text taken from the subsequent verse, verse 4:

 I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill.

For one more linked song today however, I want to leave us with something slightly more recent, Why So Downcast by Marty Nystrom.

 

 

November 24, 2016

Is Peace Possible? Psalm 46 Gives the Answer

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clarke-dixon-picby Clarke Dixon

Will we ever have peace on earth? If you set out to write a book on the history of the world, by the time you are finished you might rather call it a history of conflict. Likewise a history of conflict is practically a history of the world. In the 1980’s I was fascinated by an encyclopaedia that chronicled all the world’s conflicts since WW2. Unfortunately, there were enough to devote a separate volume for every year. More recent volumes may be thicker.

We may also think that personal peace is an impossibility. Perhaps the enemy is at the gates, whether the enemy be in the form of threats to physical health, mental health, financial health, relationships, or well being in general. Will we ever have peace?

Peace may have seemed like an impossibility to the people in the Psalmist’s day, but the writer of Psalm 46 expresses great hope. Consider the great hope and comfort expressed in how the Psalm begins and ends:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Psalms 46:11

What trouble might God’s people in the Psalmist’s day expect? Why might they feel the need for refuge? We can easily forget that Israel in the Old Testament was quite a small nation stuck between some very large and powerful empires. And just as there is a constant moving of, or a desire to move, territorial boundaries today, so in those days the empires would swell and abate with much conflict. Many Biblical scholars think that the sparring of the nations is the upheaval symbolized in the early part of the Psalm:

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Psalms 46:2-3

Earth shattering events were always too close for comfort. Who wouldn’t feel stressed stuck as the little guy between several big bullies? Knowing that God, the Creator of the universe, was on your side was a very encouraging thing.

We may be tempted to think here that this Psalm is therefore only for the nation of Israel, and only for those days. However we can note how the hope of the Psalmist in Psalm 46 is reflected by the hope found in the book of Revelation. Consider, for example . . .

  • In verse 4 we have a river.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High. Psalms 46:4

This is actually quite a strange thing as there was no real natural river in Jerusalem. So we are meant to think of God’s supernatural provision of blessing whereas other nations could only boast of their natural provision. There is also a river in Revelation:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Revelation 22:1

  • In verse 5 we have the presence of God.

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns. Psalms 46:5

In Revelation there are many references to the presence of God. Here are two:

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. Revelation 21:22

But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him;  they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Revelation 22:3,4

  • In verse 6 we have the nations at war.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts. Psalms 46:6

And in Revelation we have good news about the nations:

On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. Revelation 22:1-3

  • In verse 8 we have the notion of God as a destroyer.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth. Psalms 46:8

This might seem out of character for God for those who believe that He is so loving He could not hurt a fly. But being a destroyer is completely consistent with a loving and just character. As verse 9 makes clear, he is the destroyer of war itself.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire. Psalms 46:9

That God is a great destroyer is a theme of Revelation also. He is the destroyer of death itself.

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; Revelation 20:14

Also, there is the destruction of empire, from Revelation 19:11 and following, all the way to the destruction of the most evil empire builder of all.

And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Revelation 20:10

Psalm 46 points well beyond its own time, in fact it points even beyond our own time as we find its hopeful themes reflected in the Book of Revelation.

Is world peace possible? In Revelation 7:9-10 we see a vision of something that has never been done before:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10

Here we have all different kinds of people standing together. It is a vision of world peace. What seems to us to be impossible right now, with God becomes not just possible, but promised. And as for personal peace, every enemy that threatens us now will be destroyed along with all God’s enemies. What seems to us to be impossible right now, with God becomes not just possible, but promised.

This leads us to verse 10:

“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.” Psalms 46:10

This is to be taken in two ways, and which way you understand it depends on your relationship with God. The word for “be still” is really the word for “cease” or “stop.” If you have picked up your cross to follow Jesus, then be still, cease from your stress and anxiety over everything that threatens you. God’s got your back. The peace that may seem impossible to you right now is not only possible, but promised. But should you be against God, then cease from your striving and conflict, knowing that the Lord is God and not you. In which of these two ways do you take verse 10? Is peace possible for you?

 All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

June 20, 2016

The Culture of Jesus and the Culture of Guns

Swords into PlowsharesAt Christianity 201, I avoid topical issues; avoid them like the plague! But there can be no doubt that the issue of gun violence in the U.S. gives many pause to think, and hopefully pause to pray.

But what do you pray for?

We can think the issue through emotionally, or we can look at it constitutionally, or we can even look at it logically, but until we develop the mindset of looking at the world theologically, we’re not letting the light of Christ shine on and shine out of our lives.

We’ve looked at the question, “Is America mentioned in Bible prophecy?” or the similar, “Why isn’t the U.S. mentioned in Bible prophecy?” It occurred to me a few days ago that it is.

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. – Isaiah 2:4

I realize that there are many applications to prophecies of this nature, and how different overarching viewpoints on interpretation might affect what you take from any given passage. At Crosswalk.com we read,

Whole books—make that shelves of books—have been written on hermeneutics, but I want to mention just one hermeneutical principle here that, if grasped, will make a huge difference: Context is king. What is context? Well, an online dictionary says it is “the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect: You have misinterpreted my remark because you took it out of context.”

When it comes to Scripture, we need to interpret prophecies—and everything else—in context. This means that we need to look at the context of a prophecy in several dimensions: the immediate context (the paragraph or section in which it appears); the larger context (the chapter); the Bible book; and the Bible as a whole.

At BibleOnly.org, the different methods are categorized:

The Historical/Critical school believes that prophecies such as Daniel are not really prophecy, having been written at a time later than stated in the text, and were designed to act as encouragement to Israel rather than being true prophecy.

The Dispensationalist/Futurist school believes that God has operated under different rules in different “dispensations”. The prophecies are to be interpreted exactly as written, without any transformation from physical Israel to spiritual Israel. They also believe that the seventieth week of Dan 9:24 has not happened, and will be in the future. This leads to predictions such as the restitution of literal Israel, with mass conversion of Jews, an antichrist who forms a one-world government, peace treaties with the Jews, and a physical battle of Armageddon.

The Preterist school believes that all prophecy has been fulfilled. The book of Revelation was written about AD60, rather than AD94 as many believe. Jesus came the second time in AD70 at the destruction of Jerusalem, which was the “midst” of the 70th week of Daniel 9:24-27. This coming was a spiritual rather than a physical event. In order to allow this interpretation, they maintain that the entire NT after the gospels is to be interpreted spiritually rather than physically.

The Historicist school believes that prophecy has been in large measure fulfilled, but that the second coming and events surrounding it have not yet happened. The physical promises to physical Israel became spiritual promises to spiritual Israel when the Jews rejected Christ. Rather than declare a priori that all texts should be read physically or that all texts should be read spiritually, historicists believe that the natural reading of texts should have the greatest weight, but that such a reading needs to take into account the linguistic and cultic elements of the day of the writer, as well as the conditionality of prophecy enunciated in Jer 18:5-10.

Still, it’s difficult not to read the “swords into plowshares” verse today without thinking of the unique American situation vis a vis gun violence. A collection of 13 different charts helps visualize the situation.

If you studied elementary economics, you’ve probably seen the graphs showing the trade-off between guns and butter. Interesting that Matthew Henry mentions this two-way street:

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares; their instruments of war shall be converted into implements of husbandry; as, on the contrary, when war is proclaimed, ploughshares are beaten into swords, Joel 3:10.

Some, like Shane Claiborne, are actively involved in turning guns into garden tools, as described in this 2013 video, or this 2015 article:

Shane Claiborne, founder of the Simple Way faith community, hopes the event will inspire people to “bring life out of death, turn weapons into tools, and rejoice in the promise of resurrection.”

Many Christians reading this however, do not hold to this view or support the broader pacifist position held by Shane, Benjamin Corey, most Mennonites, the Amish, the Anabaptists, and others. They are actively involved in the NRA (a gun lobby group) or are part of local church congregations who post “concealed carry” rules at the front door of the church, meaning that the person who is sitting in the pew next to you may be armed.

I mentioned thinking through the issue theologically. Much energy has been spent discussing both sides of the issue online. How can people, each committed to follow Christ, each reading from the same scriptures, come to such totally opposite views on the issue of gun ownership?

We do see times in scripture — such as Paul’s differences of opinion with John Mark and Philemon — where people agreed to disagree. Digging deeper, can we know the heart of God on some matters? Has God revealed himself on certain issues? What would Jesus do?

…At a longer article at GotQuestions.org, we read:

Christians are called to submit to governing authorities, and they are to obey the laws of the land (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). This would have to apply to gun laws, too. If American gun laws change, American Christians should submit to these changes and work through democratic means toward any desired alternatives. The Bible does not forbid the possession of weapons, and neither does it command such possession. Laws may come and go, but the goal of the believer in Jesus Christ remains the same: to glorify the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:31).

The country that I live in has landed the plane in an entirely different place on this issue; as have most other nations, so I see this issue quite differently than many of my American friends and readers at Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201. My wife and I have suspended all travel plans to the U.S. indefinitely.

The takeaway today is that you; that we think it through in the light of scripture. That we learn to process the issues of the day related to politics, lifestyles, money, and even worship itself through a theological lens.


The Christian and social issues
The Christian and current events

This is from the blog Nacreous Kingdom in 2010:

Karl Barth is said to have said: “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” Actually, The Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary has not been able to pin down exactly from whence that quote emanated. However, it is widely known that Barth made the Bible/newspaper connection frequently throughout his illustrious career. They have, however, substantiated the following quotes…

In an interview from 1966, for example, he stated: “The Pastor and the Faithful should not deceive themselves into thinking that they are a religious society, which has to do with certain themes; they live in the world. We still need – according to my old formulation – the Bible and the Newspaper.”

Perhaps the source that is most consistent with the alleged ‘quote’ comes from a Time magazine article published on Friday, May 31, 1963, which states: “[Barth] recalls that 40 years ago he advised young theologians ‘to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.'”


Learn more about turning swords into plows at RawTools.org


December 30, 2015

2015 in Review: Well You Know What the Bible Says! . . .

Clarke Dixon’s piece today is a little more topical than usual, and the first item is uniquely Canadian, but I really appreciated his approach. Click here to read at his blog.

•••by Clarke Dixon

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .” This was a constant refrain my brother and I heard as my Mum would rattle off a scripture verse relevant to whatever shenanigans we were getting into at that moment. While I appreciated the efforts of Sunday School teachers growing up, I found my Mum’s Biblical wisdom to be of far greater benefit as the Bible and faith were related to life as life unfolded. There is much that has unfolded, or perhaps we should say unraveled, this year so I thought I would borrow a page from my Mum’s book and rattle off a few “well you know what the Bible says!” insights related to some of the top stories from 2015. This will work best if you imagine “well you know what the Bible says!” said with a Belfast accent and considerable Irish passion. So here goes.

TOP STORY #5: A LIBERAL VICTORY IN CANADA

When the Liberal party celebrated great success in our federal election this Fall I announced that Justin Trudeau did so well that even the leaves were turning red. Some people were thrilled by the victory, but some were unsure. I heard quite a number of people express their concern over the youthfulness of the new Prime Minister. “He is just so young!!!” I was thrilled to hear that for I am the same age.

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

This was written in a time when there was little choice as to who the kings and rulers would be. How much more, then, should we be willing to pray for rulers of our choosing, even those we may not have voted for. But what about the youthfulness of our Prime Minister?

And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people. (1 Kings 3:7-9)

When told by God to make a request, the new king Solomon recognized his youthfulness and requested wisdom. I don’t know if Mr. Trudeau prays for wisdom, but there is nothing stopping us from praying that God will grant him such.

TOP STORY #4: THE ASHLEY MADISON HACK

Praise the Lord if you have not heard of Ashley Madison. Ashley Madison is a website designed to help people connect with other people who want to privately commit adultery. The hack is the assurance provided by some tech savvy types that there will be nothing private about it with thousands upon thousands of names released of people who signed up. There was a lot of explaining to do, unfortunately too often by Christians.

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

14 You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14)

That is really all that needs to be said. But the Bible says more with an entire chapter of Proverbs devoted to the topic. Consider these verses:

For at the window of my house
I looked out through my lattice,
7 and I saw among the simple ones,
I observed among the youths,
a young man without sense,
8 passing along the street near her corner,
taking the road to her house
9 in the twilight, in the evening,
at the time of night and darkness. (Proverbs 7:6-9)

Notice where the lack of wisdom is found in this young man “without sense”? He is “taking the road to her house,” he is heading straight into danger. Today you do not even need to leave your home to be “taking the road to her house.” That road can be found online, in the privacy of your own home. There is a need for great wisdom, in staying far away from such temptations as pornography or illicit online relationships. And there is a great need for integrity, for being the same person online as in person. We might add here the words of Jesus:

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. ’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)

17 For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. (Luke 8:17)

TOP STORY #3 THE MIDDLE EAST IS IN A MESS

This is not really news as The Middle East has been a mess for awhile now. But it seems to be getting messier. Part of the mess is the fact that there are so many different nations and peoples, all with different friends and enemies. Our friends are enemies of other friends and our enemies are friends with other enemies. As a top CIA official said recently to summarize in an interview (sorry I forget where): “Its complicated.” What to us might seem like a Facebook relationship status, to those on the ground, or those with loved ones on the ground in those lands, this is a horror story. There is no easy solution to this suffering. A defeat of ISIS in 2016 will not clear away the mess.

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

These words of Jesus summarize the foreign policy of the Christian. We are to be fully involved in foreign missions, especially making it a matter of prayer. Pray for the Christians of and in the Middle East to be used of God in reaching people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Also, we are to be fully involved in missions to “foreigners.” Pray for the Christians in Canada to be used of God in reaching people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ right here in Canada. Crucifixion was a messy business but the way of the cross in love and forgiveness is the best method of cleaning up a big mess.

TOP STORY #2 THERE IS A WAR ON TERROR AND WE CANNOT AGREE ON THE NATURE OF THE ENEMY

American politics has a habit of bringing the war of terror into focus. Or of making it even more convoluted than it already is. ISIS has expanded its reach, both in reaching out to new recruits, but also in reaching out with terror. Meanwhile there is a debate as to the nature of ISIS and other groups like it. Some will deny that violent “jihad” has anything to do with Islam, while others say it has everything to do with Islam. Is it Islamic or not? Is Islam a religion of peace or a religion of violent jihad? What is the correct interpretation of Islam?

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

According to the Bible there is no correct interpretation of Islam. Islam demotes Jesus by describing him as merely a prophet. This is a denial of the central truth we celebrate at Christmas; the Incarnation, that Jesus is Emanuel, “God with us.” So for the Christian, finding the “correct interpretation” of Islam is a moot point. It is a false religion with no correct interpretation. While there is no correct interpretation, there are possible interpretations for its adherents, some of which are better for the peace of the world than others, none of which will lead a Muslim to peace with God. Only in Jesus does the justice of God and the mercy of God meet in love and grace. So what are we to do?

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7)

This passage speaks of the time God’s people were stuck in exile and the best they could do was pray for the peoples among whom they lived to experience peace, so that they too could experience peace. With the global village of the 21st century, we are living among Muslims even when we think we are not. These are a people who are currently experiencing great division not only in the historic Shia/Sunni split, but now especially in the peaceful jihad/violent jihad split. In 2015 a great number of Muslims were killed by a great number of Muslims. As Christians we are to pray for the peace of the Muslim people, so that there can be greater peace on earth. But we ought also to be praying for peace with God for each Muslim:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

While we pray that Islam can be a religion of peace, we recognize that it will never be a religion of peace with God. Let us make 2016 a year of prayer!

TOP STORY #1 THERE IS REJOICING IN HEAVEN

In 2015 many, many, many, many people repented of their sin and turned to God, putting their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. These were people from all walks of life, from all corners of the globe, from free nations, from lands where converting can get you killed, from all languages and backgrounds and coming from all kinds of religions including none.

“Well you know what the Bible says! . . .”

7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety- nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:7)

2015 has been a crazy year in many respects. Nevertheless it has been a year of great rejoicing in heaven. May 2016 see even greater rejoicing in heaven, and much rejoicing on earth too!

My family and I wish you a Happy New Year and God Bless!

(All scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

December 3, 2015

When Current Events Crowd Our Thoughts

I’ve pre-empted the devotional that was scheduled here today in order to share something that Gene Appel posted on Facebook earlier today.

San Bernadino mass killing

Like many of you, I woke up this morning grieving. While radios and iTunes are playing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” it sure doesn’t feel that way. Especially for those grieving from the San Bernadino tragedy and so many others. Some of you, like my sister Gail, have buried your spouse this year or someone you couldn’t have imagined living without. Many of us are burdened by the increase of violence and terrorism in our world. I was reminded as I was reading from Matthew 2 this morning that while the first Christmas on the one hand was a time of great joy and Jesus came to bring peace to all, on the other hand it was also a time of great weeping, and violence, and terror, and grief. Matthew 2:16 says,

“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under….”

First Christmas - Gene AppelJust imagine you’re a parent in Bethlehem with a baby boy, or maybe even a couple of boys under the age of 2. Imagine the terror you feel as Herod’s soldiers are going from house to house, tearing babies out of the arms of mothers screaming in anguish. Imagine watching these little ones being pierced with swords until they are all dead. You see, even the first Christmas was not only a time of great joy, but it was also a time of great weeping and mourning and pain…..and there were parents and families whose lives were forever shattered.

So what’s our appropriate response today? How does a follower of Jesus process these tragedies? Eccl. 3:4 says,

“There is a time to laugh and there is a time to cry.”

And I can picture Jesus saying to each of us right now, “Hey, this is crying time.” This is a time to give permission to grieving people to let it rip and express the pain without burying anything, or editing anything, or sanitizing a single emotion or feeling. Let it out in it’s raw uncensored form. The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV),

“You do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

And the implication is…but certainly go ahead and grieve! Don’t grieve like those who think God is dead and heaven isn’t real and Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and He’s not in heaven preparing a place that defies the imagination….but grieve. Weeping is the language of the soul and it’s a critical part of healing.

This morning I’ve been thinking about these words from Lamentations 3:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.”

Today, I’m choosing to trust the faithful God who promises the love and mercies I need for this new morning and day. He’s there for all of us if we will just take His hand and trust Him. Great is his faithfulness!


Gene Appel, is the senior pastor of Eastside Christian Church, a multi-site church in Anaheim, CA and Park Rapids, MN.  Follow him on Twitter @GeneAppel

November 23, 2015

The Suffering Church

Today’s thoughts are from a North Carolina author who came recommended to us. Matt Capps posted this sermon excerpt in September, but it seems even more timely with each passing day. There is a link to watch the sermon in full; click the image to read at source. (This is one of a series on The Church in Exile.)

Matt CappsThe Suffering of the Church (1 Peter 3:13-4:6)

This is an excerpt from a sermon I recently preached at Fairview Baptist Church. You can watch the whole thing online.

In John 17, Jesus prayed that the Father would protect his own from the evil one. But, he did not pray that we would be removed from this world, and by implication – the suffering of this world.

We will suffer in this life. Suffering is comprehensive, and is a no respecter of persons. While the Bible covers various ways to suffer in this life, this passage is specifically concerned with distinctively Christian suffering. In other words, suffering that may come to us precisely because we are Christians.

Suffering will drive us to our knees, and at the same time it can be a powerful reminder that Jesus is King. Through suffering God brings us to Himself. Consider the words of 1 Peter 3:13-15

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”

Peter is preparing the church, not just to endure suffering – but to find in their suffering an opportunity for witness.

You can imagine that some of the Christians in which this letter was first directed to had seen the suffering of their fellow believers, and fear of that suffering had the potential of halting their desire to publicly live out their faith.

But Peter responds with strange wording – “suffering brings about blessing”. When the world sees that you are – to use the words of 2 Corinthians 4:8-9:

  • Afflicted in every way, but not crushed.
  • Perplexed, but not driven to despair.
  • Persecuted, but not forsaken.
  • Struck down, but not destroyed.

They think, what is it with these people? What is this hope that is within them? This hope is a frame of mind achieved by setting apart – literally, sanctifying – Christ as Lord.

Our courage is born out of a belief that Christ is king even when things look hopeless. Moreover, in Christ we have a sure hope in the coming blessing. Hope is not wishful thinking, but true faith under pressure. Assurance of our future resurrection in Christ will not only give us courage and comfort, but will also put those who revile us to shame.

When you suffer, suffer with hope. This is the Blessing of Suffering for Christ. In suffering, we can find an opportunity for witness. In suffering, we also realize that God is bringing you to himself.

September 9, 2014

The Preacher’s Dilemma Following a Disaster

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Those of you who are in leadership at your church, or have done any preaching will appreciate today’s post, from our regular columnist, Rev. Clarke Dixon.  Click the title to read this at source or respond directly with comments.

Disasters: Divine Judgement? Reflections on Luke 13:1-5.

DisastersPut yourself in the preacher’s shoes. There has been a natural disaster of extraordinary proportions in a nation whose sinfulness is well known. Do you stand up Sunday morning and declare that God has divinely judged that nation? Or put yourself in the pastor’s seat. The person sitting across from you has experienced a massive catastrophe and is lamenting that she must have committed a big sin to deserve it. Do you agree with her? Or do you reassure her that oftentimes bad things happen to good people?

Thankfully, we do not need to spend too much time theorizing and theologizing over these questions, for Jesus gives us the answer:

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you;. . . Luke 13:1-13 NRSV
Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them– do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; . . . Luke 13:4-5 NRSV (emphasis mine)

That is a very simple answer to what we sometimes make into a very convoluted question: “no.” When a part of the world experiences a natural disaster, ought we to say “ha, you have suffered more than we do because your sin is greater”? No. When a person we know (and likely don’t like considering our jump to being judgemental) experiences catastrophe, do we say “ha, you have suffered more than I have for you are bigger sinner than me”? No. When we suffer greatly should we assume that our own sinfulness must be overwhelming? No. Jesus was very clear in the two examples he gave that those who suffered greatly did not suffer more because they sinned more. So let us leave off that presumption. Jesus couldn’t be more clear on that.

But that is not all Jesus has to say about the matter:

“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them– do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Luke 13:2-5 NRSV (emphasis mine)

Let’s put ourselves back in the preacher’s shoes following a disaster. Perhaps you do not want to be one of those preachers that says something along the line of “this earthquake happened to these people because they practice voodoo,” and instead you speak on a different kind of line, a fault line along which earthquakes naturally occur. The people leave the church feeling quite reassured that God is nice, and the preacher too. But should a nation deeply into voodoo not repent from their voodoo anyway? Or you do not want to call America to repentance from corporate greed following a massive terrorist attack. But shouldn’t America repent of corporate greed if it is guilty of it anyway? We might tend to wince at the “loose cannon” preachers out there who jump all over every disaster as a sign of divine judgement, yet imagine what this world would be like if people actually listened to them and repented from sin? Imagine what would happen if every disaster were followed by waves of mass repentance. We would find ourselves living in a remarkably different world!

Still wearing the shoes of a preacher, consider what would happen if every funeral service were not treated as a celebration of life for the deceased, but instead a call to repentance for the living? Every death, after all, is a reminder of our rebellion against God and the consequence of that. As a preacher your popularity would go down since people do not want preachers at funerals, but rather officiants. But if every attendee at every funeral were to consider the wages of sin, which is death (see Romans 6:23), and were to repent, the crime rate would fall, addictions would lose their power, sexually transmitted diseases would stop transmitting, broken relationships would be restored, marriages would regain health, and much, much more. We would find ourselves living in a remarkably different world! And best of all, billions of people would experience the grace of God for repentance is not just a turning away from sin but a turning toward God. Jesus could not be more clear on it: “unless you repent, you will perish.” That is the negative way of stating what is very, very positive: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16 NRSV).

Calamity and death have entered into this world because of rebellion against God. Bad things happen to all people. Yet out of the depths of His grace He saves us. He saves us for eternal life into the future, He saves us for Godly life lived through His Holy Spirit right now. If we see a nation or a person experiencing disaster, let us not judge. But neither let us hesitate to repent.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 6:23 NRSV)