Christianity 201

November 21, 2019

When We Face Lions

(This is from a series on The Book of Daniel called “Outnumbered. The Book of Daniel and Living As Christians In A Not-So-Christian Society.” The series begins here)

by Clarke Dixon

When facing the lions means facing the antagonism of society against Christianity, what do we do? There is no doubt that Christianity has held a privileged place in [North American and Western European] society from our beginning. But now? Not-so-much as church attendance drops to new lows, and traditional Christian values are dropped from the law books. The lions we face are nothing compared to the lions faced by the early Christians or the persecution felt by Christians around the world today. Nevertheless, many have a sense of fear that things will only get worse in our not-so-Christian-anymore society. How do we navigate the new and ever-changing normal? Daniel will help us. Daniel was a person of deep faith in a land where you could be threatened with lions. Let us pick up on some lessons from Daniel, chapter 6, when Daniel faced the lions.

First,

Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom. So the presidents and the satraps tried to find grounds for complaint against Daniel in connection with the kingdom. But they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him. Daniel 6:3-4 (NRSV)

Daniel is known for commendable service to king and country even though Darius is not his king, nor Babylon his country. When we first met Daniel as a teenager in Daniel, chapter 1, he had concern for his Jewish identity, but was also willing to serve the Babylonian king. Now that he is in his early eighties, he has served a few Babylonian kings and is still serving well. Daniel had a commitment to serve people who keep, and threaten people with, lions. Are we willing to serve [our nation and our people] no matter how threatened we might feel?

Second,

The men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.” Daniel 6:5 (NRSV)

Daniel’s colleagues are aware of Daniel’s faith. Daniel’s service to king and country is impeccable, so the jealous men are not able to find grounds for Daniel’s destruction. They know, however, that Daniel is a man of deep faith and conviction in his God. They know that he is man of prayer:

All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions. Daniel 6:7 (NRSV)

Are people aware that we have deep conviction that God loves humanity in Christ? Do people know that we pray?

Third,

Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously. Daniel 6:10 (NRSV)

Though Daniel has been squeaky clean in his service to king and country, the time has come for deliberate defiance. The time had come to make a choice between devotion to the king, and devotion to the King of kings. Daniel had the courage to keep walking the walk, even when threatened with lions. Would we have had that courage?

We should note here that Daniel’s defiant attitude only arose when his own ability to walk according to his faith was threatened. He was not demanding that all Babylonians pray like he did. Courage for the Canadian Christian in our day does not mean having the courage to enforce Christian values upon all Canadians. But it does mean the courage to follow Jesus as a Canadian, even though it may bring us into disrepute. Do we have the courage to walk the walk and talk the talk? How Canadians live is not our number one priority. How we live is. Enforcing Christian values through Canadian law is not the goal. Helping people know Jesus is.

Fourth,

When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him. Daniel 6:14 (NRSV)

Back in chapter 4, Daniel was distraught over Nebuchadnezzar’s looming troubles. Now the tables are turned and the current king, Darius, is distraught over Daniel’s looming troubles. If we were rounded up and taken to prison for our faith, would our neighbours care? Would anyone beyond our church community even notice? Perhaps the king was disturbed by Daniel’s troubles because Daniel was the kind of person who would be disturbed by the king’s troubles. When people are troubled around us, do we notice? Are we prepared to serve, defend, and care for people who are very different from us? Do we care for people who hold very different values, who live very different lifestyles? Do we get the point of Jesus’ Good Samaritan story? The point is not that we become Samaritans, but that we become good. We should be the priest who actually crosses the road to help someone no matter how “unclean” that might make us feel. Daniel was known for what he is for, and not what he was against. Daniel was known to be for king and country. In choosing the lions he was known for his devotion to God. What are we known for as Christians today?

Fifth,

So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. Daniel 6:23b (NRSV)

Consider the people who would have first learned about Daniel’s experience with the lions.

Those experiencing exile along with Daniel would have felt like they were living out a lion’s den experience. Would they survive? Would their faith survive? Would God abandon them there in the pit? Daniel trusted God and he came out of the pit alive. God’s people would be encouraged by that to keep trusting in God’s promises. The exile will end, they will come out of it alive. God’s people would face other lion’s den experiences once the exile was over. In later chapters, Daniel prophecies about difficulties the nation would face under Greek rule and rulers. Keep trusting, God will lift his people out of that lion’s pit also. Just as the story of Daniel in the lions den does not end with Daniel being eaten by lions, there is no storyline which ends with God’s people being destroyed. God has made promises. He can be trusted.

We may feel like the Christian Church in Canada is entering a lion’s den. We may feel like it may someday face extinction. There is no storyline where Christianity is destroyed. That is not how this story we live in will end. God has made promises. We can trust him.

What is true for Christianity is true for the Christian. There may be lion’s den experiences in our lives. We may feel like we have entered the lion’s den when we enter a doctor’s office to receive a diagnosis, or a counsellor’s office to work on a significant but hurtful relationship, or a workplace office to receive a pink slip. Daniel came out of the lion’s den alive. Jesus came out of the tomb alive:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 (NRSV)

In Christ, there is no future where you do not come out alive. God has made promises. We can trust him.

To summarize, though we think we may face lions here in Canada, let us keep serving all kinds of Canadians, even those who keep lions. Let us keep walking the walk, and talking the talk. Let us keep trusting in God for the future.


Editor’s note: Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This article originally was written with a more definitive Canadian context in its original title and opening paragraphs. I edited a few of those at the beginning as this has a much wider application, but left successive paragraphs in the original form.

November 19, 2019

God is With You, No Matter What

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:11 pm
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Today, a series of searches led us to this devotional, which, we discovered after a few minutes, was actually reblogged from an article by none other than Rick Warren. You can read more at PastorRick.com or click the header below to read this one at source.

God Watches Over Us

“Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6 NLT).

When King David declared that God’s goodness would pursue him, he wasn’t saying, “Surely only good things are going to happen to me!” He knew as well as anyone that bad things happen to good people.Instead, David was saying that only God’s goodness would follow after or pursue him. No matter how bad or evil or difficult something seems, God can work it out for good.

It’s one of God’s great promises that he’s given to believers: Everything that happens to us is working for our good—if we love God and are fitting into his plans (see Romans 8:28). If you’re a believer, the Bible says all things are working together for good—not that all things are good, but things are working together for good.

There is no difficulty, dilemma, defeat, or disaster in the life of a believer that God can’t ultimately turn toward his purpose.

Like goodness, God’s unfailing love follows us in life. King David says it pursues us!

Picture a parent following a little child around picking up after them. When we’re struggling with hurts, habits, and hang-ups, God is coming right alongside us, helping to pick up our messes and telling us that his unfailing love is always there.

So instead of entering into the future with a question mark, you can do it with an exclamation point! God will be with you no matter what happens. He will help you out: “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6 NLT).

  • God’s goodness will provide and protect.
  • God’s mercy (unfailing love) will pardon and forgive.
  • God’s goodness will supply.
  • God’s mercy will soothe.
  • God’s goodness will help.
  • God’s mercy will heal.

Goodness is the fact that God gives us good things in life that we don’t deserve. Mercy means God holds back the condemnation we deserve.

When King David said he would live in the Lord’s house forever, he was saying that God had prepared a place for him in heaven.

That’s one of the most important connections we see in the Bible. It connects yesterday with today and then connects them both with tomorrow.

God says, “I’ve got this great life planned for you, and surely goodness and mercy will follow you through it, but that’s not the end! I’ve got something else at the end!” God builds it to a crescendo.

So David ends his psalm by saying, “We’re going to heaven!” Jesus saves the best until last. With God it just keeps getting better and better. The best is yet to come. “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1 NIV).

Talk It Over

  • What are some ways that you see God’s unfailing love following you?
  • The Bible teaches that no matter how bad or evil or difficult something seems, God can work it out for good (see Romans 8:28). How does that truth affect your life?
  • How have you seen God use difficulty, dilemma, defeat, or disaster in your life—or the life of another believer—for his purpose?

PLAY today’s audio teaching from Pastor Rick

November 18, 2019

God is Sovereign Over Suffering

Today we have a new writer. Pastor Matthew Rickett leads Antioch Baptist Church in Portland, Tennessee in the U.S. He posts occasional devotional articles at the church website. Clicking the header below will take you directly to today’s article.

Our Faithful Creator

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” 1 Pet 4:19

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. All of it is profitable. Yet, some verses become elevated in our thinking because of the promises they contain, or because they speak to a certain season in our life, or because they succinctly declare Gospel truth. Unfortunately, other verses can get overlooked, though they are just as inspired, just as wonderful, and just as powerful. 1 Pet 4:19 is one of those verses. We touched on it briefly this past Sunday when discussing the context of our passage. I encourage you to read 1 Peter this week. Meditate on it. Especially 1 Peter 4:19. Why?

  1. It Affirms that Suffering is a Normal Part of the Christian Experience. Don’t be surprised by suffering. Why are these things happening to me? Why now? Why this? Why me? Don’t be surprised by suffering, says Peter (4:12). Suffering is never scheduled. It is never convenient. But, according to Christ, it is to be expected. Peter reaffirms this in this little letter. This verse brings to conclusion Peter’s thoughts on suffering by telling us how to react: Entrust your soul to a faithful Creator and continue to do good. I can’t answer, “Why?” But I can answer, “How.” God has not left us without instruction for the rainy season.
  1. It Affirms that God is Sovereign Over Suffering. Peter makes a clear distinction: You can suffer as a consequence of your sin (ex. drunkenness will lead to vomiting and hangovers. Gross.). Or, suffering might seemingly come from nowhere. Peter says, that the latter is according to God’s will. It’s shocking to think that suffering might actually be God’s will. Today, we are often told that God wants you to be happy, fed, and blessed. But, suffering is a part of God’s redemptive purposes, and as such, he is sovereign over it. Not a hair on your head will fall without the Creator’s signature to allow it. But, he often does allow it. This is ultimately for your good and for his glory. Jesus suffered. You were saved as a result.
  1. It Affirms that God is Faithful. God is faithful. He has saved you. He has redeemed you. He has forgiven you. He has declared you righteous. He has sealed you with the Holy Spirit. He has adopted you. He has accepted you. He has purified you. Why would he let you down now? When has God ever failed you? When has God ever not been there? When has God ever turned his back on you? When has God ever left you? Point: God is faithful. His steadfast love endures forever. You can entrust your soul to God because he is always, and has always been, faithful.
  1. It Affirms that God is Creator. God is your creator. He is omnipotent, even in the midst of our suffering. Often, our circumstances or our trials rule our thoughts. They become big and God becomes small. Flip it. God created man from dust and breathed into him the breath of life. Your situation does not have that power. Suffering creates in our minds the thought that this (whatever this might be) is too powerful to overcome, too strong, too mighty. Peter, on the other hand, reminds us that God created all things ex nihilo, what is too much for the God who creates?
  1. It affirms that Our Actions and Our Thoughts Precede Our Feelings. Suffer, says Peter, while doing good. You might not feel like doing good, but that’s exactly the point. Anxiety is a feeling- it’s a physiological response to our thoughts. When that response is triggered, anxiety takes over and we live our lives around this feeling. Peter is clear- we may not feel like doing good, but do it anyway. Your anxiety might be telling you to worry about this or that, but tell yourself the truth. To simplify: Tell yourself the truth of Scripture, do good… and eventually, the feelings will follow. Follow your heart? Nah, man… Follow the Word. Do the Word. Your heart will catch up.

Meditate on God’s Word this week. Commit this passage to memory. Open the Word- you might just find hidden treasures.

November 6, 2019

Deep and Lasting Friendships Don’t Just Happen

NIV.Eccl.4.9 Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.

NIV.Prov.27.17 As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another.

Six months ago we shared something from the writing of Glenn Kaiser, a leader in the Jesus People USA community in Chicago which gave birth to Resurrection Band, Cornerstone Magazine and the Cornerstone Festival. Today we’re back with another one of his devotional pieces. Click the header below to read at source.

True Friendship!

Some years ago someone repeated to me what another person had stated about a third party. The sentiment was something like “He might sometimes drive me crazy but he’s the kind of person you want to have next to you in a foxhole.”

I get a long list of daily devotionals in my inbox most of which I read slowly through. Sometimes they seem to nail truth or at least open up a line of thought I find encouraging to consider. On occasion they spread open to a larger field of reality I think it good to share.

Here are three quotes on friendship.

  • “A true friend is the one who walks in when others walk out.”  -Walter Winchell

Boom. A few more thoughts on this in a moment, but I have several such friends and am SOOOOO grateful to God for them!

  • “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

True friendship costs and the sad truth is that plenty of people are not committed to one another enough to pay the bill.

Lastly a “Yes and No” on this quote:

  • “In true friendship, one can express anything and everything without feeling ashamed or afraid of being rejected.” -Aparna Chatterjee

I agree but counter and add that even when you do feel ashamed a true friend is one you can still express anything to and not fear being rejected.

These kinds of deep and especially lasting friendships don’t just “happen”. They take real investment of time, effort, forgiveness, agreeing to disagree but not terminating the relationship easily. Actual continual physical abuse and life and death matters are another matter entirely and certainly friendship with such a person is not what I’m taking about.

Some of us are so insecure and/or arrogant, at times we’re just not willing to build truly deep and close alliances, maybe even a sort of coalition. This does not mean full agreement in every area but enough that you still reach out, respect, actually hang out willingly with one another.

The lack of such commitment to mutual friendship contributes to extreme polarization which can and often does happen. I believe this an element of why our world is often quite mean, impatient, fractured, even brutal to the extent of breeding outright hatred in our times.

How easily do you “send ’em packing”, just dump a friend? Whether or not you agree on everything (you don’t and won’t) what sort of friend are you when they’re hurting? How willing are you to point them in directions that may bring them needed help and perhaps relief from issues they’re plagued with?

Are you simply a friend of convenience- they have some of what you want so you hang out to take not so much share and/or give?

Some of the amazing reality of God is He already knows everything about you and knows the depth, importance, right or wrong, good for you or self-destructive, He’s down with it all -and still loves you. He doesn’t always agree with your choices but Jesus didn’t come to a world of people who all full-on agreed with Him, gave/give a rip about God or even care much for others. He came for all sinners -meaning you, me, all of us!

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” -Jesus in John 15.12,13

We may split from others, might run away from Jesus but He never left. While we were yet sinners… hmmm… He died for us. HE laid down His life for us. That’s the sort of friendship I’m talking about!

When nobody else is around -He is.

I can’t tell you how thankful I am for my Best Friend.

God help us learn to love and cultivate, indeed sacrifice to become the sort of friends Jesus calls us to be for others. And Thank You Lord for such friends!

October 19, 2019

Trying to Earn God’s Presence

Six months ago we introduced you to Kristen Larson who writes at Abide.Trust.Believe. I stopped in for a visit again this week, and was touched by how she writes at a deeply personal level, as you’ll see in the piece below. Click the header which follows to read at her site.

Loved

I was raised in a Christian home. My upbringing included Sunday School on Sunday mornings, Youth Group on Wednesday nights, and Small Group on Fridays. From an early age, God quickly became the most important person in my life.

I can remember the first time I raised my hands in worship during Sunday School. I would spend hours in prayer at church camp in the summer. My journals are filled with prayers and questions – looking to God for the answers.

Growing into adulthood, the godly women in my life encouraged me to spend intentional time alone with God, where you read your bible and pray. And I have done my best to make this a priority for the last 10 years. They’ve never been the perfect “hour every morning with a cup of coffee”, and they’ve never been perfectly consistent, but spending time in the Word and in prayer has continued to grow in importance the older I get.

I have had many seasons in life where I’ve felt alive in Christ. I’ve felt his love wash over me and my times with him have been fruitful and life giving. But this year, my times in solitude with the Lord started to get frustrating.  I was leaving each time upset and irritated. I couldn’t feel God. I couldn’t hear him. The logical solution was that I was doing something wrong. So, I would try getting up before work to start my day off right. I kept falling asleep, so I’d plan out exactly what I would read. When that didn’t work, I’d try spontaneity – just opening up anywhere in the bible and reading. I gave devotional reading a shot. I tried focusing on prayer alone. I gave reading a book by a Christian author. Nothing worked.

It wasn’t until just recently that I was able to finally voice the lie that had been planted in my heart. Luke and I were driving home from a dear friends funeral, and I don’t remember exactly how it came up or how the conversation wound its way there, but I remember telling Luke with tears in my eyes… I don’t think God loves me.

Just voicing this to Luke and identifying it caused blinders to off my eyes. I can see it now. I was trying to earn his love. I realized on that car ride home that I had been trying to earn his presence by getting up early each morning. I was trying to be good enough for him to speak to me by doing all the right things. I was trying to come up with ways to manipulate him into speaking to me.

But as I remembered the overarching story of the Bible, the truth became so clear: I cannot, under any circumstances, earn his love. 

Romans 5:6-11 says,

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

God chased after us, even while we rejected him. God extended his love to us, even when we failed, yet again. God sealed the deal, even while we sat covered in our sin – paralyzed by our inability to measure up.

Psalm 23:6 says,

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

He pursues us.

I hope you can begin to walk in this freedom today, too. I encourage you to spend time with the Lord, knowing, believing, and declaring that he loves you.  Let this truth wash over you:

You are loved. You are his.

October 18, 2019

We are Not Consumed

Six months ago we introduced you to Pastor MaryAnn Nguyen-Kwok and her blog, Searching for Treasures. It’s been six months, and we thought we’d drop in again. MaryAnn is currently working her way through key verses in Lamentations, a book often neglected. The two I have chosen are recent, but not consecutive, so I strongly urge you to visit the site, and even subscribe during this series. You may also click the headers for the articles which follow.

Lamentations 3

“Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed…” (Lamentations 3:22a).

We are not consumed by grief. We are not consumed by sorrow. We are not consumed by loss. We are not consumed by anger. We are not consumed by brokenness. We are not consumed by addictions. We are not consumed by depression. We are not consumed by anxiety. We are not consumed by disappointments. We are not consumed by discouragement. We are not consumed by disillusionment. We are not consumed by hopelessness. We are not consumed by lies. We are not consumed by cynicism. We are not consumed by naysayers. We are not consumed by condemnation. We are not consumed by false accusations. We are not consumed by rejection. We are not consumed by loneliness. We are not consumed by abandonment.

“…for his compassions never fail.” (Lamentations 3:22b).

His unfailing love and mercy never fail. His steadfast love and loyalty never cease. His faithfulness continues and goes on and on, as sure as the sun will rise every morning.

Our hope is in him, so let us go to him (3:40).

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, that the darkness cannot consume the light. Thank you that the light will always overcome the darkness. Thank you that, no matter what, your mercy still continues on for me and for all your people. I cling to your never-failing, never-ending, everlasting love.

Lamentations 5

“Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old,” (Lamentations 5:21).

There was sin and brokenness all around Jerusalem, and the author enumerates them for us.  There was homelessness (5:2), broken families (5:3), thirst and drought ((5:4), persecution (5:5), exhaustion (5:5), famine (5:6), oppression (5:8), danger (5:9), hunger and starvation (5:10), abuse and violation (5:11), disrespect (5:12), hard labor (5:13), lack of true leadership (5:14), depression and mourning (5:15), disillusionment (5:17), emptiness (5:18), abandonment (5:20), and a loss of hope (5:22).

Such realities are familiar to us as well.  And because all this brokenness can feel so overwhelming, we are often tempted to bury it and deny its existence.  But that doesn’t get us anywhere.  The author of Lamentations teaches us to turn to God (5:1), acknowledge all the issues—all the grief and loss (5:2-22), and then confess also how we contribute to the systemic brokenness (5:7, 16).  And, while we do this, the author demonstrates to us that we can also admit our doubts about God’s love and faithfulness.  We can cry out to him that it definitely seems like he’s forgotten and abandoned his people (5:20).  We can say all these things, because God is big enough to hold all our emotions.  He knows about the pain and loss.  He understands the anger and heartache.  So, we can pray honestly.  And, in time, through this honest wrestling, we will be able to recognize his sovereign reign and his ability to lead us to restoration once again (5:19, 21).

Prayer:  Oh, God, the brokenness around me is too much.  I lament all that is damaged and all that is hurting all around me.  Come, Lord, forgive us and rescue us.  Restore us, redeem us, free us, and make us whole again.  We want to return to you with all our hearts, because we love you.  And we know that you love us.  Amen.

 

 

October 17, 2019

Are Non-Christians Thankful for Christians?

by Clarke Dixon

(This “Shrunk Sermon” is from a series on The Book of Daniel which begins here)

As we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving this past weekend, we might wonder if anyone expressed thanks for Christians. Would such a notion have entered anyone’s head? If you keep up with the media, you might think no one could be thankful for Christians. We only hear about the bad apples among the clergy and the mistakes of high profile Christians. We don’t typically hear about all the good that is done. TV shows often portray Christians as being the bad guys, the weird or scary people. Perhaps it would be a miracle if someone said “I’m grateful for Christians.”

We have such a miracle in Daniel chapter 2. In the opening chapter of Daniel the ruling Babylonians attempted to turn wise young Jewish men into good Babylonian wisemen. However, Daniel and his friends were determined to retain their Jewish identity and dependence upon God. Surely this is not going to end well! There is indeed a clash of world-views in chapter 3, but something remarkable happens before that:

46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar threw himself down before Daniel and worshiped him, and he commanded his people to offer sacrifices and burn sweet incense before him. 47 The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.”

48 Then the king appointed Daniel to a high position and gave him many valuable gifts. He made Daniel ruler over the whole province of Babylon, as well as chief over all his wise men. 49 At Daniel’s request, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be in charge of all the affairs of the province of Babylon, while Daniel remained in the king’s court. Daniel 2:46-49 (NLT)

The Babylonian king is obviously very thankful and very impressed not just with Daniel, but with the God Daniel serves. Daniel alone was able to help the king. Despite the fact Daniel was different, and from a minority group, Nebuchadnezzar is impressed, and thankful.

Back to our day where Christianity no longer has the influence it once did: Could anyone be impressed with, or thankful for, Christians? Let us look to another time in which Christianity had even less influence in society. Was anyone impressed with, or thankful for, Christians in New Testament times?

Some people in Jewish and Roman society were not impressed at all, and certainly not thankful. Consider Jewish religious leaders, like Saul before he became a Christian. He would have liked the Jesus followers to just go away and take their Christianity with them. Consider merchants dependent upon the sale of idols, such as we read of in Acts 19. As Christians didn’t spend their money on idols, the idol merchants were becoming idle merchants as people turned to Jesus. Consider people who liked the status quo, like those we read about in Acts 17.

Was anyone grateful for Christians in New Testament times?

Yes, let us consider some examples. Consider people who were poor, who would have benefitted greatly from the kind of help we read about in Acts 2. Consider women whose husbands became Christians and put a new effort into loving them sacrificially (see Ephesians 5:25-33). Consider women whose husbands became Christians and now focused their sexuality in faithful and selfless ways (see Hebrews 13:4). Consider slave masters whose slaves became Christians and began serving them as if they were rendering service to God (see Acts 6:5-8). Consider slaves whose masters became Christians and began treating them like brothers and sisters (see Ephesians 6:9, and the Book of Philemon). Consider people of lower classes who found themselves on equal footing with people of higher classes in the church community (see Galatians 3:28). We can think of women who were affirmed in greater ways than ever before (see Mary’s commendation by Jesus for taking the place of a disciple Luke 10:38-42). We can think of anyone dependent upon someone, who, in becoming a Christian, had given up drunkenness (see Ephesians 5:18). We can think of infants of parents who formerly would have “exposed” their children, a practice of letting unwanted infants die. We can think of anyone in relationship with someone whose activity, and very character, was changing as they grew in their relationship with Christ:

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Galatians 5:19-23 (NLT emphasis added)

Though certain people were unimpressed and not at all grateful for Christians in New Testament times, many would have been thrilled at the changes happening as a Christians lived Jesus-focused and Spirit-filled lives. There were also people who were thankful for everything changing in their own lives. Consider the gratitude of those who came to know about the love of God because a Christian shared the good news with them (See, for example, Acts 16:25-34).

As in New Testament times, some are neither impressed with, nor thankful for, Christians today. However, when we live Jesus-focused and Spirit-filled lives, good things happen in us, and around us. Jesus-focused ethics bring positive changes to our behaviour. The Holy Spirit creates positive changes in us. Many will be grateful.

We may have expected a clash between a Babylonian king and a young Jewish wiseman in the Book of Daniel. Instead, we have an expression of gratitude from Nebuchadnezzar for Daniel. Let us keep in mind that Daniel appeared before the king, not with an axe to grind, but with help. In our day we might expect a culture clash as traditional Christian values meet the brave new world that is developing around us. If all we have is an axe to grind, that clash will certainly happen. However, if we are living Jesus-focused, Spirit-filled lives, people will be thankful.

 

October 13, 2019

Jehovah Names of God

Today I’m repeating something from nine years ago, before we made it a house rule that posts here would generally be rooted in a particular scripture passage. So while we’re not addressing this passage directly — we have elsewhere — but it does tie in.

ESV.Ex.34.5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.

I have to confess, I’m not deeply absorbed in the statistics for this particular blog. Today I decided to see what the all-time most clicked things were, and this one came in 2nd. The blog is still available, but has been inactive for a couple of years.

Here it is as it appeared in November, 2010:


I’m always amazed at the number of people who haven’t — somewhere — encountered teaching on the various names given to God beginning with Jehovah and followed by a word which describes an aspect of God’s character and nature.

Pastor Mike Stone of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia posted these on his blog, and I thought it would be good to reproduce them here as well. For those who want to dig a little deeper; the second-last one is also the title of a very old hymn, which is how I came to learn of these names while still a teenager.

Genesis 22 – Jehovah Jireh – The Lord, my Provider

Exodus 15 – Jehovah Rapha – The Lord who heals

Exodus 17 – Jehovah Nissi – The Lord, my banner

Exodus 31 – Jehovah M’Kaddesh – The Lord who sanctifies

Deuteronomy 33 – Jehovah Chereb – The Lord, my Sword

Deuteronomy 33 – Jehovah Magen – The Lord, my Shield

Judges 6 – Jehovah Shalom – The Lord, my Peace

1 Samuel 1 – Jehovah Sabaoth – Lord of the hosts of heaven

Psalm 3 – Jehovah Kahbodi – The Lord, my Glory

Psalm 10 – Jehovah Malech-Olam – The Lord who is king forever

Psalm 18 – Jehovah Chezeq – The Lord, my strength

Psalm 18 – Jehovah Misqabbi – The Lord, my strong tower

Psalm 18 – Jehovah Naheh – The Lord who smites the enemy

Psalm 18 – Jehovah Seli – The Lord, my Rock

Psalm 20 – Jehovah Hoshea – The Lord, my Savior

Psalm 23 – Jehovah Rohi – The Lord, my Shepherd

Psalm 24 – Jehovah Milchamma – The Lord, mighty in battle

Psalm 27 – Jehovah Ori – The Lord, my Light

Psalm 89 – Jehovah Gannan – The Lord who is my defense

Psalm 91 – Jehovah Machsi – The Lord my Refuge

Psalm 98 – Jehovah Hamelech – The Lord, my King

Isaiah 40 – Jehovah Bara – The Lord, my Creator

Isaiah 49 – Jehovah Goel – The Lord, my Redeemer

Jeremiah 16 – Jehovah Ma’oz – The Lord, my Fortress

Jeremiah 23 – Jehovah Tsidkenu – The Lord, my righteousness

Ezekiel 48 – Jehovah Shammah – The Lord who is present


Did you read the list? You’re not done yet.

Take a moment to really consider these aspects of God’s nature: Provider, healer, battle flag, sanctifier, sword, shield, peace, Lord of heaven, glory, king forever, strength, strong tower, victor over enemies, rock, savior, shepherd, great in battle, light, defense, refuge, King, creator redeemer, fortress, righteousness, always present.

Lastly repeat this list — out loud if you’re in a place that’s possible — with the word my in front of each adjective: My provider, my healer, my battle flag… etc.

September 14, 2019

One Person at a Time

When I post something here or at Thinking Out Loud, it’s like I’m broadcasting to everyone in general but no one in particular. It’s the same on Facebook, though I am aware of the list of people who can interact with what I’m posting, but anything spiritual I post there is like preaching to the choir, because most of my friends are Christians.

Then I discovered the Christianity page at Reddit. It was a whole new world. I resisted creating an account since I’m already busy enough online, but after a year of wanting to add my opinion to various discussions, I jumped in. Now instead of scattering messages to the wind — some days it feels like that — I’m answering or responding to one person who is essentially asking for information or opinions. And I’m finding it more personally satisfying on the days I feel I have a unique response to offer…

…Today we’re back with Jack Wellman at the site Rhetorical Jesus. He reminds us that being the hands and feet of Jesus may not involve creating a website or launching a media ministry, but it might involve connecting with one person.

Click the header below to read this at source. Each day Jack offers a Facebook-ready, Pinterest-ready graphic that you can use to link to the devotional.

How can you change someone else’s life for the better today?

Matthew 25:35-36

For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.

Changing the World One Person at a Time

Many believe they can’t change the world because there is so much wrong with it. We see so much to do that we won’t do anything, but we can at least change one person’s life today. Perhaps like a ripple in a pond, the effects can keep extending outward when this person who is changed for the better helps to change someone else’s life–it goes on and on. It’s like paying it forward. It is a change that keeps on giving change to others. Jesus said that we can make a difference. When you see someone hungry, provide them with something to eat; when you see someone is thirsty, give them a drink; and when you see someone who is a stranger, make them feel welcome (Matt. 25:35). When someone’s underdressed, give them some of your own clothing; when someone’s sick in the hospital, go and visit them; and when someone’s in prison, go see them, or at least write them a letter (Matt. 25:36). You can’t change everything, but don’t settle for nothing.

Starting a One-Person Ministry

Have you ever thought of helping one person at a time? We have a nursing home ministry, which has touched so many but one precious lady in particular. This woman has family that lives far away. She doesn’t have any friends in the city, and she receives no visitors, so our visits mean a lot to her. I believe it helped me more than it has helped her. Our church elder sees those who are in nursing homes the same as those who are in prison. They’re not there for a crime, but they are imprisoned by their own physical limitations.  They cannot come and go as they like, so they are, in effect, prisoners of their age or disability. I think Jesus would see what our church is doing for the beautiful souls in the nursing home as doing it for Him (Matt. 25:40). What do you think?

Being Part of the Body of Christ

All believers have a ministry. Even though we might not be a pastor, we are all ministers of God, sent by Him to be part of the Body of Christ. In this way, even one person can make a huge difference in the world. The church is called the Body of Christ for a very good reason: We can be His hands that touch lives (Matt. 19:13-14; John 13:13-17), we can be His ears that hear the cries for help (Matt. 20:29-34), we can be His eyes to look for the crushed in spirit (Matt. 9:35-38), we can be His voice to tell people they must repent and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15), and we can be His feet, bringing the good news to our own area of the world (Luke 10:1-6; Rom. 10:13-15). If we truly have the mind of Christ, we will esteem others better than ourselves and we will treat them as such (Phil. 2:2-8). Why not change someone’s life for the better today? Start one person at a time.

A Closing Prayer

God, my Father, I know You want me to be Jesus’ hands, ears, eyes, voice, and feet and that I need to have the mind of Christ. Please point me to where You would have me go to change lives starting today with one person, and in Christ’s holy name I pray. Amen

 

August 16, 2019

A Blank Check from God

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. – James 4:1-3 NIV


In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. – Romans 8:26


That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered God, “You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. 10 Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

11 God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, 12 therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” 2 Chronicles 2:7-12

Today we’re back with Jim Grant at, Preach Between the Lines where he is now working his way through the OT History books. He’s currently in 2 Chronicles.

God is not a Genie

2 Chronicles 1-3; the focus of this blog post is the request from Solomon and the fulfillment by Yahweh. Too often we look at the Father as a “grant all” genie. Our prayer requests are similar to what James 4:1-3 talk about. They are requests for God to do for us, that which we cannot obtain on our own. They are selfish requests for our comfort and satisfaction. Prayer is much more than asking God to “grant a wish” exercise. I remember watching I Dream of Jeanie on TV while growing up. At the time I didn’t think much about what the show was trying to say to a self-consuming audience. The worldview alone is a narcissistic and consumer oriented one. I have been in the Gospel ministry for 22 years. There have been a constant flow of people who have come to me [and other pastors] wanting to know why God had not answered their prayer for whatever; fill in the blank. SO many times we have put a stipulation on our prayers expecting the magical wording will guarantee the request. Does “In Jesus Name” or “If it be thy will” ring true to any of us? Romans 8:26 tells us that we don’t know how to pray, but the Holy Spirit makes utterances for us before the Father.

In our passage God tells Solomon he has one request to be answered; “Ask what I shall give you?” Pretty opened blank check from God. Now all of us could think of what we would have asked for from God. We have a long list of things we’d like to have Him do for us. Solomon didn’t find God in a bottle anywhere and rub it then God popped out. God is the originator of the blessing. Solomon had done nothing to garner the blank check request. God was honoring King David and the covenant He made with David. Solomon is the benefactor of King David’s walk with the LORD. At this point, how many of us actually think of how God blesses us and think to ourselves that we deserved God’s blessing; all the while the blessing was from our faithful ancestors relationship with God!

Solomon asks for Wisdom, this may sound strange, but remember Solomon is already King and has a storehouse full of earthly treasures. Why did he ask for wisdom? Solomon is a young man, obviously he was ill equipped to lead the people of Israel and asked for wisdom to rule over God’s people. Solomon’s request indicates the kind of relationship he had at the beginning of his reign; sad to say it didn’t remain as faithful through the years. God hears the request, and because Solomon asked for wisdom, God granted him all the riches of the known world. The Wisdom request was granted along with receiving riches, wealth and honor. If we read Song of Solomon, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes we quickly note his wisdom about earth, heaven and people.

Because of David, Solomon was recipient of God’s blessings. When Solomon becomes wayward and engrossed in 1000 women and earthly covenants and peace treaties with neighboring countries, God does not remove the kingdom from him. Rehoboam in his own faults and God’s judgment loses the united kingdom. Solomon builds a great and ornate Temple for God; it remains to be an icon to Israel and the surrounding nations. It appears that no expense was spared in its construction. However, we find that Solomon’s own house is greater in size and grandeur. Solomon also begins to amass unnumbered horse, chariots and riches. Do we find fault in this or see it as the blessings of God based on the one request for wisdom? It is easy to compare ourselves to one another and make the judgment that one is blessed because they have vast amount of earthly riches; while another is in poverty and despair. We make the judgement that one is walking with God, while the poor must be living in sin. Prosperity Gospel at its roots.

Are we content to live with what God would grant us? Or do we find ourselves wanting more just for the sake of satisfying our own earthly desires and achieved status? Solomon early on did not trust in a genie, but trusted in the Lord God Almighty. Scripture tells us that God raise up one to power and puts another one down out of power.

Our pray life will be much more of a blessing if we come to God with a contentment for His poured out blessings on us; instead of running to God and complaining about why we don’t have more.

1 Timothy 6:6-12, “godliness with contentment I great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

August 8, 2019

When People Hear Your Name

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

When people hear your name, what is their first response? Is it a negative reaction like “ewww,” or “uck,” or something better, like “yay!”? Another way of asking it, is “how will your name be remembered?” Names are a big part of the Book of Ruth which begins and ends with names. Thanks to the Book of Ruth the names of Naomi and Ruth have been remembered for generations. Will your name be remembered? For the right reasons?

Let us consider Naomi whose name literally means “pleasant.” However, Naomi herself asked to be renamed “Mara” in chapter one which means “bitter.” However, by the end of the book, Naomi can be known as pleasant again. This change for Naomi is something available to us as well. We don’t need to be saddled with an identity we started with, or one we picked up along the way. What our names bring to mind can be changed.

Let us also consider Ruth. People might immediately think of Ruth as being a Moabite. She therefore bore the label “disliked-foreigner,” since Moabites were not particularly liked in that day and place. However, by chapter two, we find that Ruth has a different reputation:

Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.”

“Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. Ruth 2:10-11 (NLT)

Boaz saw in Ruth something more than a Moabite!

By the end of the book the women of Bethlehem know Ruth, not as a Moabite, but as “your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!” (Ruth 4:15 NLT). She has also come to be known as the great-grandmother of David, and ancestor of Jesus. Not only is she welcomed into the people of God as a foreigner, she is part of the family tree of God-the-Son! The label “Moabite” still fits, but there are other labels.

What your name brings to mind can be challenged, like Ruth. For Ruth, the first thing, and only thing coming to someone’s mind might be “ug, a Moabite.” But later it is a kind and good woman, who happens to be a Moabite. Moabite would always be part of her identity, appropriately so. However, “disliked foreigner” does not become the main part of her identity. It does not define how people relate to her.

Have you had a label stuck on you? Might it be something that may always be true? Like Ruth, you can open minds to a different perception, a different starting place for relationship. Whatever happens to be true about us need not be the only thing others perceive. For the early part of my life I wore the label “extremely shy.” I may as well have had that label on my forehead, or worse, on the inside of my glasses, where I would be reminded constantly of my shy identity. However, over the years I have been able to move that label. It still fits me, and I still wear it, but not on my forehead, or on the inside of my glasses. If you are an alcoholic or addict, that label may stick with you the rest of your life. But it need not be the first thing people see you as. Our labels can be moved. People’s perception of our identity can be challenged. What labels might we be wearing that need to move?

Now let us consider the genealogies of the the Book of Ruth which begins with the names of Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon, Kilion, Orpah, and Ruth. It begins with names that had little significance as the story begins. However, their names become associated later in the book with Obed, Jessie, David, and eventually later in the Bible, Jesus. The Book ends with names that evoke fame and fond remembrance for many generations.

Your name may not bring to mind a great and famous family. There are rumours within our family that my great-grandfather was a quite-famous English nobleman, a very accomplished and well known individual. However, if true, then he was not very noble! I’ll stick with the not-at-all-famous “Dixon” name thank you very much. However our names can bring to mind a great family, with a great inheritance:

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. John 1:12-13 (NLT)

In Jesus we are given the right to be children of God, to be in God’s family. What a family!

What does your name bring to mind? Whatever your name evokes right now, it can be a name which is honourable and honoured. You can be God’s child and so become marked and moved by the Holy Spirit, maturing into a family resemblance:

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. . . Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

When people hear your name, is their first response “I know him, he is loving!”?  Or, “I know her, she is joyful!”? Or, “That person is peaceable, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, or self-controlled.”? When people hear your name, what is their first response?


Travel schedule forced me to have to interrupt this four part series on the Book of Ruth of which this is part four. To read everything in continuity, visit Clarke’s blog at this link.

August 3, 2019

Turning Problems to Blessings | Miracles

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Sometimes I will spend as much as 15 minutes combing the internet before I land on something and I know, this is the writer I am supposed to share today. I want to introduce you to Janet Perez Eckles:

Although physically blind, Janet Perez Eckles has been teaching thousands to see the best of life. “Because I lost my sight at 31 and endured the murder of my youngest son, along with the acquittal of the man responsible,” Janet says, “my life should’ve been a mess. But God gave me a message to showcase His power: His power at work to conquer fear and turn the deepest pain to a life rich with triumph and success.”

Today we have two short devotionals for you. Click the individual titles to read on her pages.

God’s way to perform miracles

What keeps you from believing in miracles?

A mother answered these questions with boldness and unique faith. The results stirred attention and a film was made of this miraculous event.

The scenario took place in a St. Louis hospital. The story is about John Smith who fell in icy water and remained there for 15 minutes. The news read, “When rescuers brought him to SSM St. Joseph Hospital West, the teen wasn’t breathing. Paramedics and doctors did everything in their power to bring John back, not willing to give up. They performed CPR and other life-saving measures on him for 43 minutes—without regaining a pulse.”

Medically, the boy was dead.

They called his mother to the room to give her the bad news.

What did she do? She prayed. She declared out loud God’s power and the Holy Spirit upon her son and believed she would receive it.

What happened next is that blood began to flow in that dead boy’s veins.

The doctors shocked and stunned couldn’t give explanations. They only had one conclusion: it was a “genuine miracle.”

The chilling details.

Here are the chilling details: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/02/04/inspiration-nation-mom-prays-son-back-to-life/22883985/

I’d like to meet that mother and tell her, “I want faith like yours. To be that bold, and overflow with trust.”

Her trust didn’t drive her to beg, but declare God’s healing power. Her faith didn’t lead her to lament the circumstance, but prompted her to praise the Lord for what He knows how to do. And she didn’t sink into sorrow, instead she believed God’s promise, claimed and received it.

While she claimed it in faith, the mountain was removed.

I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Let’s Pray

Father, teach me to look to you for that unwavering faith that proclaims what You can do and what You will do. In Jesus’s name.

What miracle are you expecting?


How our problems turn into blessings

The Terminix rep sat at my kitchen table. “I have good news and not so good news,” he said.

Gulp. I braced myself. I called him because I had some bites that could be from those pesky insects. And since I travel often, they could have hitched a ride in my suitcase.

“Good news,” he said, “you don’t have bed bugs. But not so good news is we inspected and you have no protection against termites.”

Yikes! Forget the bed bugs, termites that could eat up my house is a bigger problem and a greater threat. I signed up for their plan faster than you can say bugs.

Isn’t that like life? We drown in tears because of an ugly situation, painful and unexpected. But God is in the background using that very situation to work something beautiful. He’s using it as a path to bring about greater changes and before you know it, that problem was a blessing in disguise.

Five Ways

Here are five ways God might be crafting that transformation:

  1. When relationships fall apart, God may not restore and heal. Instead, He might be in the process of a make-over of our heart. He might be cleaning stuff that tainted our life. He might be pointing ways to increase our wisdom and preparing us for something lasting and real.
  2. When our children grow up and grow distant, following the wrong path, rather than bringing them back when we expect, our freedom might be what God has prepared instead. The freedom from worry by surrendering each child to Him and placing them in His capable hands.
  3. When financial problems don’t end, God might not wipe out our debt, but might invite us to bring to Him the first fruits of our labor and to see how much He can provide.
  4. When life’s losses devastate us, God might not bring back what we lost, but increase our dependence on Him to receive His comfort and peace.
  5. When the doctor gives us bad news, God’s healing might not happen yet. Instead, He might be working in us a deeper trust, a genuine confidence in Him and boldness to believe He has the answers when doctors don’t.

God has answers that are eternal.

Difficult circumstances demand solutions that are temporary, but God has the answers that are eternal. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

Each problem is a blessing when we look for the lesson. When we hear His message. When we appreciate the change. And when we believe that, in Christ there is no problem without a purpose. No sorrow without His comfort, no setback without a solution and no tragedy without His triumph.

Let’s Pray

Father, thank You for your patience with me. Thank You for showing me to look beyond the circumstance and see Your mighty hand at work to bring greater things. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Which of your problems can be turned to a blessing for you?


Janet wrote a book filled with words of encouragement, uplifting thoughts and illustrations of real-life triumph to empower you. Its title: Trials of Today, Treasures for Tomorrow: Overcoming Adversities in Life. You can get it HERE.

July 10, 2019

A Theology of Hospitality and Recovery

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

Several months back we introduced the devotional blog, Partners in Hope Today. You can also listen to today’s devotional.

I’d like to add something to the first paragraph below. It could easily be applied to introverts. I have a few of these in my family and I am only beginning to understand how that can limit some types of fellowship.

When you think about it, what other factors could limit someone’s approach to hospitality?

Click the header below to read at source.

Hospitality and Recovery

Some of us in recovery lack the quality of being hospitable.  We do not care to be around others.  We give our attention to our own needs and have forgotten, or perhaps never learned, the social skill of thoughtfulness towards others.  Our loving God created us to be in relationship with Him and with one another and we are out of sync with our humanness when we behave in other ways.

Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him.  He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. (Acts 17:26-27 MSG)

Although we may not vocalize it, some of us tend to think this way, “Why should God and others care about me when I really don’t care about them?”  However, we are made to be hospitable and care for one another.  Jesus gave us a commandment to love one another.  This is not a suggestion.  God knows what is best for us and He made us to live in community with one another.

This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you.  This is the very best way to love.  Put your life on the line for your friends.  (John 15:12-13 MSG)

Going to a recovery meeting for the first time can be intimidating, but if we are warmly greeted by others we will be encouraged to stay.  When attendees share their experience, strength, and hope with us, they are being hospitable, and desire that what they share will be of help to us.

Love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  (1 Peter 4:8-9 NIV)

Hospitality is the human way of caring for one another.  It begins with one person helping another to find their way out of the maze of self-centeredness.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Sometimes I want to hide from others because of the guilt I feel about my past life.  Help me to accept Your forgiveness and live in the dignity of being Your child.  Help me to put Your Word and Your ways into practice.  Help me to be hospitable as I share the experience, strength, and hope I experience in belonging to You.  Amen


Related articles:


Go Deeper: 21 Bible Passages on Hospitality.

June 20, 2019

A Compelling Future

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Are Heaven and Hell Consistent with a Good and Loving God?

by Clarke Dixon

Does Christianity have a compelling vision for the future? It would be odd if you were considering the compelling reasons to trust in Jesus, but then upon asking about the afterlife you are told that you enter an endless cycle of being reincarnated as a bird if you receive Christ, and as a worm, if not. That should strike you as utter nonsense. Now what about Christian teaching? The idea that upon death we either sprout wings and play a harp while sitting in the clouds, or burn in an eternal fire, is for many people, too much to believe. Is the Biblical Christian vision for the future consistent with a good and loving God? Or is it nonsensical? When we hear what the Bible teaches about eternal destination, do we say ‘of course that is what a good God would do”?

Let us look first, to the Book of Revelation;

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

Here we have, not a hope of going up into heaven when I die, to spend eternity there, but something much grander. This is a vision of God’s re-creation of all creation. All of creation was negatively impacted by the sin of humanity (see Romans 8:18-23). All of creation will be positively impacted by God’s rescue of humanity.

2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Here we are told of a city, not in the sense of roads and buildings, but in the sense of people. The holy city is the “bride,” that is, the people of God. Just as people are the focus in the creation account of Genesis, people are the focus of the re-creation account. God created humanity, the only creature we are told he created in his image, for a special relationship. That relationship is what is truly important.

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;

There is much in the Bible about separation from God being a huge problem for humanity. It begins with Genesis chapter three and the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. It becomes apparent at Mount Sinai when the people cannot approach the mountain on which God’s presence was made palpable. It is emphasized in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, with the establishment of both the tabernacle and priesthood. While God was willing to dwell among his people, as symbolized through the pitching of his “tent” among them, God needed to remain separated from the people, for their sake. An unholy people cannot approach a holy God without becoming holy first. The sacrificial rigmarole of the priesthood was a constant reminder of separation from God and the need for atonement. The priesthood and the sacrifices pointed forward to something greater; God the Son making people holy through his sacrifice. In Christ the future of God’s people is wrapped up with being at home with God. There is no more separation from God.

The problems of this world, which separation from God creates, also are dealt with;

4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:1-4 (NRSV)

The consequence of sin and separation from God is death. The consequence of being reconciled to God is eternal life. In Christ death is no longer part of the human condition. However the consequence of God’s grace is not just eternal life, but as we have already seen, eternal life with God.

In sum, the Biblical vision of the future is one of transformation, for all creation, for our bodies, and for our very selves. The transformation within us begins now through the Holy Spirit. The fact that the Christian is to look to God to fix everything in the future is compelling. The fact that the Christian need not wait for Christ’s return to fix everything in us is also compelling. The hope of meaningful change, not into brilliant cloud-sitting harpists, but into good people who dwell with a good God in a good creation, is consistent with a good and loving God.

However, is the future of those who reject God consistent with a good and loving God? The idea of being on fire forever does not seem consistent to many of us. In answering this we must first appreciate that the people of the Bible often speak in poetic ways, just as we do today. We sometimes pick apart the Bible as if we are in math class working out equations. Let us remember our English literature lessons and have an appreciation for the poetic and literary nuances which often escape the math whizzes. We will not dig into this too deeply, but it is best to take the language about hell, with the everlasting fire and torment, as poetic. The least poetic, the most matter-of-fact, the most precise and concise description of hell we have in the Bible is this;

9 These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (NRSV)

What is hell? It is separation from God. What is it like to be separated from God? Thankfully, no one alive can truly tell, for to be alive at all is to experience a measure of God’s grace. However, we do well to remember that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NRSV). As you read through the Bible, watch out for how often salvation is spoken of as a matter of eternal life versus death. This is consistent with the Genesis account and the promise that death would occur if the forbidden fruit were eaten. What we can say with certainty is that to experience hell is to experience everlasting separation from God.

If hell is separation from God, then is separation from God consistent with a good and loving God? Consider first, the holiness and justice of God. That unholy people cannot dwell with a holy God is made clear in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers; at Mount Sinai, and through the establishment of the tabernacle and priesthood. God did not teach about His holiness and our sinfulness in the Old Testament then come to us in the New Testament and say “it doesn’t matter anymore.” It does matter, but God offers to make us holy in Christ and through his Holy Spirit. If you reject that offer of being made holy, then separation from God is a very natural consequence. The experience of death is a natural consequence of refusing the offer of eternal life. Therefore, the future of those who reject God is consistent with a good and loving God who respects the wishes of those who want nothing to do with him. Of course that is what a good God would do.

The Bible presents a compelling and beautiful vision for the future of those who receive Christ and accept God’s offer of relationship. While we might not use the word beautiful, the Bible provides a vision of the future of those who do not want a relationship with God that is consistent with His goodness and love. The consistency of the Christian vision of the future is yet another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

June 16, 2019

God’s Picture of Father Love

AMP Mark 4 : 2a And He taught them many things in parables (illustrations or comparisons put beside truths to explain them)…

PHILLIPS Mark 4 : 1 – 2a Then once again he began to teach them by the lake-side. A bigger crowd than ever collected around him so that he got into the little boat on the lake and sat down, while the crowd covered the ground right up to the water’s edge. He taught them a great deal in parables…

When you look at the ministry of Jesus there are at least three things that separate Him from all others who came before and all others who have come after:

  • Miracles
  • Questions
  • Parables

While all the parables contain more depth than we see in the first reading, one that is especially rich is the one we call The Parable of the Lost Son, or The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Six years ago, for Father’s Day our pastor spoke on this parable and as always happens with this particular section of Jesus’ teaching, there is always a new takeaway waiting if you look for it.

Before we gloss over this point too quickly, let me say that we need to approach familiar Bible passages with the attitude of expectancy. I do this every year at Christmas and Easter and I am never disappointed if I have my radar set to look for a new insight or revelation.

I knew of a pastor once who would begin some of his messages with a prayer that ended, “…and God if there’s anyone here who feels they’ve heard this all before, help them to know that your desire is to write this on the tablets of their heart.” (And that was before computer tablets!) Some messages we simply need to hear over and over and over and over and over and over again.

But that’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about where we haven’t heard it all before because there is so much depth to the passage in question. I’ve said that I think all scripture is like that to some degree, but in some passages, the potential message outlines are infinite.

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multifaceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others.

Christianity 201, 1/24/13

At church that Sunday, the takeaway had to do with the father in the story running to meet his returning, contrite, repentant son. Our pastor pointed out that traditionally, because of the son’s shame in losing his money to Gentiles, the town would gather to shame him as he re-entered. But instead, the father runs to meet him, hug him, kiss him and give him a ring.

NIV Luke 15: 20b … But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Usually, the focus here has to do with the way in which the father runs to meet the son, that he was essentially shaming himself by lifting his tunic to run to do so. He thereby identifies with his son’s shame, his indignity, his disgrace.

But there’s a parallel between this event and what happens minutes later in the story where the father has to take shorter but equally important walk to meet his other son, the elder brother.

The Voice Luke 15 : 28b The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with him to join the celebration.

The NLT has “begged” instead of “pleaded.” Young’s Literal Translation has “entreated.” This was not a 30-second conversation. This other young man required convincing; he needed to be persuaded.

So the parallel is that the father leaves his party of which he is the host, and leaves his home to go outside and beg the older son to come in. He is identifying here with the elder son’s appraisal of the injustice of the situation, his feeling that his performance based approach has counted for nothing.

And in terms of performance, Jesus was sinless. Jesus’ life was characterized by the injustice of the condemnation of an innocent man. Jesus had to leave the comparative ‘party’ of heaven to come to us. Jesus suffered the indignity of the cross…

…I grew up in The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada under the ministry of Dr. Paul B. Smith. Each Sunday night as the choir sang Just As I Am, Dr. Paul would remind everyone that, “If you take one step toward God, God will take ten steps toward you.”

So imagine how much the speed at which God will move to embrace and welcome and restore you if you yourself come home running…

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