Christianity 201

May 26, 2021

God is Sovereign over Popularity, Status, Platform, and Likes

Years ago, for Christian bands and solo artists, getting radio airplay was everything. Since most stations were programmed locally, it represented a concerted effort each time there was a new single, or a new album.  I attended a seminar for Christian musicians on the subject of promotion, taught by veteran CCM artist Scott Wesley Brown. He began with, “Did you know promotion is mentioned in the Bible?” Then he proceded to read Psalm 75:6,7 in the KJV:

6For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.

7But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

A few years later I sat in a camp staff training seminar where the speaker said,

“If you see a turtle on a fence-post, you know it didn’t get there by itself.”

That little phrase is used to cover a wide range of applications, but certainly we’ve all met people who have “achieved” but only through the guidance and support of many others, and certainly some by the grace of God Himself. (Though the analogy breaks down quickly… What does the turtle do next?)

We often have the tendency to look at someone who has — for the time being — earned the attention and accolades of a large number of people, and say, “Why him?” Perhaps we compare that person’s talents to our own and say, “Why her?”

Psalm 75 seems to basically be saying that no one advances but that God has allowed it. Theololgically, people wrestle with things they think that God caused, but while God may not be directly causing everything he gets blamed for, he is definitely permitting things to happen, and I believe, he is constantly orchestrating things in our lives and the lives of others which we often do not realize.

This sovereignty (rule) is certainly reinforced by the appearance of Jesus before Pilate in John 19 (NIV).

10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…

But the Psalm passage has an entirely different spin in the NLT:

6 For no one on earth—from east or west,
or even from the wilderness—
should raise a defiant fist.
7 It is God alone who judges;
he decides who will rise and who will fall.

And also in The Message:

He’s the One from east to west;
from desert to mountains, he’s the One.

God rules: he brings this one down to his knees,
pulls that one up on her feet.

The NASB is closer to the King James:

6 For not from the east, nor from the west,
Nor from the desert comes exaltation;
7 But God is the Judge;
He puts down one and exalts another.

So I’m not sure why the translations seem to differ in emphasis in verse six, though they both resolve the same way in verse seven. Perhaps the key is found in the verse which precedes six and seven, verse five, best represented by the NIV:

Do not lift your horns against heaven;
do not speak so defiantly.’”

It’s possible that when I question God’s decision to use someone who I might not have chosen, I am in fact speaking defiantly. Or in arrogance (NLT). Perhaps questioning why him or her is a road I should not want to go down. Have you ever questioned why God allows a certain author’s books to sell so well; a certain pastor to become so widely known; a certain individual in your church to gain such a key position of leadership? That might be speaking defiantly.

Now this is where it gets interesting: The “rock stars” of David’s time were kings. We might not hold politicians in the same regard today, but back then it was a different story. Recently, in our time, people questioned why God allowed a certain leader to come to power. I don’t wish to debate that here, but it’s important to say, regardless of which side of that issue you find yourself, that God is sovereign. He never stopped being God.

The same could be said for the pandemic. We can’t assert the sovereignty of God in some areas and suppress its applicability in other areas of life. If Psalm 75 is true in terms of leaders, it has to be true in terms of other aspects of life.

In his commentary on this package, Matthew Henry suggests that we, to put it in modern language, don’t try to be over analytical over why someone has come to power, prestige, popularity, etc.  Our objective should be to live in the present, not try to dissect the past.

I originally wrote these thoughts down ten years ago. What follows helps you understand why.

That weekend I watched an interview with an individual about whom I might have, at one time awhile back, asked the “Why him?” question. But as I watched him taking live questions I realized four things were present: (a) natural intellectual gifts; (b) natural speaking gifts; (c) an obvious command of scripture or what we sometimes call Bible knowledge; and (d) an understanding of the ways of God, which is different from the third point. While I never had major questions, some of my minor misgivings were alleviated.

God knows what He’s doing. He is the judge. He promotes some and holds back others. Richard Ritenbaugh points out that verse 6 mentions the east, the west, the south, but not the north. Why not the north? Because, he says, that’s where God’s throne is; that’s the truth of the next verse; that he loves everyone equally, and may have a “promotion” in some other arena of life just waiting for you.

~Paul

April 26, 2021

From Faith to Doubt to Faith Again

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Every pastor has a Bible character for whom they are able to tell his story in exceptional ways.  For Andy Stanley it’s Nehemiah. For the young preacher you’re about to meet it’s Thomas. Yesterday I listened to two full-length sermons by Tyler Staton. The first was sent to me in a link by a friend who wanted me to know that Tyler is replacing John Mark Comer as teaching pastor at Bridgetown. He’s moving cross-country from Brooklyn, New York to Portland, Oregon.

The second sermon I watched was focused on Thomas, so I was thrilled to discover that Thomas takes up a good one-third of Tyler’s book, Searching for Enough: The High Wire Walk Between Doubt and Faith.

This devotional is adapted by the book and was first published by the Bible Gateway Blog, and appeared later at Devotions Daily. Click the title below to read at source, and click the link at the end to learn more about the book. Clicking the header below will also lead you to an audio reading of the book’s first chapter.

Stuck Between Two Unsatisfying Stories

Thomas is my favorite. He’s always been my favorite. I know Thomas. I am Thomas.

Thomas wasn’t a fiercely rational cynic. To think of him that way would be to minimize a whole life down to one single moment, which is always a mistake. This is a man who left everything behind to follow a self-proclaimed Nazarene rabbi. He risked everything for Jesus. He witnessed miracles that left him rubbing his eyes in wonder, but he also faced rejection, confusion, and public disgrace for associating so closely with one who was called a criminal.

The very week of Jesus’ crucifixion, Thomas steps forward in a critical moment to say he’s ready to die with Jesus. He was ready to die with his rabbi, but he wasn’t ready to live without him. And that’s exactly what Jesus asked Thomas to do when he wouldn’t say a word at his own defense hearing and took the death penalty like he was planning it all along.

Thomas isn’t a cynic or even a skeptic. It’s so much more personal than that. He’s disappointed. He’s hurt. Imagine pushing in all your chips, like he did on Jesus, and then the story ends in the kind of heartbreak so far outside of the realm of possibility that it blindsides you completely, leaving you in the kind of daze you never want to feel again. That’s the Thomas we meet in his famous declaration of doubt.

He’s hurting. He’s confused. He’s guarded. Life on his own terms wasn’t enough; that’s why he risked everything on Jesus in the first place, but how can he be the King of the everlasting kingdom from within a casket? Thomas isn’t a doubter; he’s a realist—calling it like he sees it.

“So the grave’s empty, huh? Well, that’s great, but I’m gonna need a lot more than that. If the rest of you are so desperate to believe, then go ahead, but I’m gonna piece together my actual life in the actual world. And if laughter, beer, and sex is as good as it gets . . . and if suffering is senseless and death is final and none of it amounts to anything more . . . then at least I had the courage to face it.”

Thomas’s resurrection reaction reads like God picked up a thirty-something from San Francisco or Berlin or Melbourne or Brooklyn and sat them down in first-century Jerusalem on that defining Sunday morning.

I’m not sure I understand the experience of seeing someone alive on Sunday who was definitely dead on Friday, but I certainly understand the skepticism of hearing other people spread a holy rumor like that one and categorizing it as religious well-wishing at best. I see myself in Thomas. I see my friends in Thomas. I see my city in Thomas. Stuck between two unsatisfying stories.

Now Thomas . . . was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John 20:24–25

In essence, Thomas is saying, “If God wants me, he can come get me. I’m not hiding.” Thomas was a realist—a strong-willed, fiercely logical realist—and that earned him a nickname: Doubting Thomas. That’s a modern invention though.

His given name was Didymus, but everyone who really knew him called him by his Aramaic name—Thomas, which translates to “twin.” The Twin—that’s what all the other disciples called him, and it suits him . . . because, in a way, he’s all of our twin.

Thomas is modern Western culture personified. A whole hemisphere is stuck between two unsatisfying stories. The citizens of the industrialized Western world enjoy more personal freedom, leisure time, career options, and entertaining distractions than anyone at any other time in human history, and yet the increase in personal autonomy and freedom hasn’t led to increased happiness and fulfillment. Diagnosed and medicated mental illness has grown almost exactly parallel to these factors. The world’s freest, wealthiest, most autonomous people are also the world’s most anxious and depressed people.

Is there anyone you can identify with more in the Gospels than Thomas? Regardless of how you’d categorize your particular brand of belief or unbelief at this particular moment, plenty of us could say right along with Thomas, “It’s not enough. The meaning I’ve tried to drum up for myself in this life is not enough to still my restlessness, but to be honest, I’m starting to think an empty tomb is not enough either.”

Two Stories Caught in a Single Frame

Early on a hot summer morning in the mid-1970s, Philippe Petit walked across a wire suspended between the iconic Twin Towers dotting the Lower Manhattan skyline. It was a spectacle.

Almost exactly 27 years later, two commercial flights were hijacked and steered directly into those same Twin Towers, bringing them to the ground with thousands of casualties. It was also a spectacle—of the very worst kind.

A photo was snapped during Petit’s jaunt across the wire that was meaningless for nearly three decades but then became iconic: a commercial plane caught behind the balancing man on the wire appears to be flying much too low, almost like it will hit the towers. Two moments that seem logically a lifetime apart are caught in a single frame. The stories overlap for just a moment.

That’s what happened to Thomas. The story of the world and the story of Jesus seemed incompatible on resurrection morning. It was wishful thinking for any true realist. Then, for just a moment, the stories overlapped in a small upper room hideaway in central Jerusalem. Thomas, disenchanted by an empty tomb, encountered the presence of the living God.

That’s the invitation for you.


Learn more about the book at zondervan.com

Thanks to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for the opportunity to reprint these excerpts. Books is ©2021 Zondervan Publishing. Used by permission.

December 10, 2020

A Messy Faith, But a Merry Christmas

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:27 pm
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How do you believe something when everyone around around you says that what you believe is ridiculous? How do you question anything when everyone around you says that your doubts are ridiculous? Faith can get messy. Should we believe? Can we believe?

This Christmas especially, many people may be questioning their faith. God sent baby Jesus. Can he not send a vaccine? Science seems to be doing well on that front.

As the Christmas story unfolds in the Gospel of Luke we encounter someone whose faith gets messy. I will let you read the story for yourself:

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.

While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”

Luke 1:5-20 (NLT)

Zechariah had all the credentials of a good religious man, he was as a priest, he was mature, he was righteous, yet he wavered in his faith. It is clear that when the angel appeared, he was not prepared for an experience of the supernatural!

Perhaps there are many good religious people today, who are not prepared for an experience of the supernatural.

Christianity exists as a response to the supernatural, as an outcome of God’s direct involvement in our world. Though there are many examples, let us focus on three occasions:

  • The creation. Everything we consider to be “natural” is a result of the supernatural.
  • The incarnation of God in Jesus through the virgin conception.
  • The resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

When Christmas comes along, while some children begin to question if Santa Claus is for real, some adults and youth begin to question if a virgin conception is for real. Faith wavers. If we believe there is any possibility that God exists, that God conceived the universe then brought it into being, then for God to be involved in the conception of a child is no problem at all, especially if there was good reason to do so.

And there was good reason.

It is often said that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” That is not true, extraordinary claims require good evidence. There are many books and resources available regarding that evidence for the reality of God and Jesus.

Let us try this statement instead; “God’s extraordinary love provides extraordinary evidence.” The story of Christmas with the miracle of the incarnation is extraordinary evidence of God’s love. The story of Easter with the miracle of the resurrection is extraordinary evidence of God’s love.

Zechariah did all the godly things, yet he doubted the power of God. Do we? Faith gets messy when we doubt the power of God. Faith gets especially messy when we doubt the love of God.

There is another side to this coin. Zechariah had his moment of doubt, of asking a question. Since the angel seemed to scold Zechariah for his doubt, we might be tempted to scold anyone, including ourselves, for ever doubting or questioning. However, to do so is to miss the bigger story here.

Zechariah’s doubt did not disqualify him from being part of God’s people, from being a priest, or from the wonderful calling of being John the Baptist’s Dad.

You will not be disqualified for asking a question, for sharing a doubt. As messy as our faith gets, it does not mess up God’s love.

Questions and doubts can sometimes be a necessary part of faith. Wouldn’t the world have been a safer place if the men that took control of planes to fly them into the Wold Trade Centre had less certainty and more doubt? While we might claim that their faith was different, for they were Muslims of a fundamentalist variety, does it sometimes happen that we as Christians cause harm by our certainty on things where perhaps room for doubt or questions would be better?

A friend shared a video with me of a woman dealing with panic attacks and depression. Turning to Christian friends and professionals she was told to look for whatever sin was hindering her, or to have more faith. She eventually got better help beyond the Christian circles she was moving in. We can bring harm into people’s lives by our certitude.

We have questions and doubts. Questions and doubts are part of a growing faith, a growing relationship with God. We want to be careful that we are not acting like we know everything when the Bible does not tell us everything. While faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit, certitude is not.

Zechariah was not disqualified because he expressed doubt. On the contrary, just imagine how his faith must have grown when he saw the power of God at work. Perhaps our questions and doubts can be an important part of the journey of faith.

We may feel a pressure from society to never believe anything the Bible says. We may feel a pressure from our faith community to never doubt anything the faith community says about what the Bible says. As a father seeking a miracle from Jesus for his child said:

“I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

Mark 9:24 (NLT)

Is it time to take a step toward trusting the power and love of God, of trusting Jesus? Is it time to give yourself permission to have questions and doubts? When our faith is messy, it does not mess up God’s love. Zechariah’s faith was messy. It didn’t ruin Christmas.


Clarke Dixon is a Baptist pastor — not that Baptist, the other one — in Southern Ontario. He writes at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. Today’s thoughts alone on video are at this link or may be seen as part of this “online worship expression

November 27, 2020

Following Jesus, but with Reservations, Pessimism and Doubts

In one of the original pieces here six months ago, I re-classified the twelve apostles into some different categories, including “final week disappointments” consisting of “Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal, and Thomas’ doubt.” We often hear sermons on the similarities and contrasts between the first two, but Thomas usually doesn’t get included in this grouping.

You know the story. Thomas misses out on that initial resurrection celebration because he just can’t take in the possibility.

At Joyful Heart Renewal Ministries, Dr. Ralph Wilson notes

…Thomas is a pessimist. Some people rejoice to see a glass half full, but Thomas sees it half empty. Oh, he’s full courage, but also possesses a streak of fatalism. Once, when Jesus and his disciples hear about their friend Lazarus’s death near Jerusalem, the center of Jesus’ opposition, Thomas comments darkly, “Yes, let’s go there that we might die with him.” His words are almost prophetic.

Soon, his world falls apart. Thomas sees his Master arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and he flees for his life. On Good Friday he watches at a distance as they spike his Friend to a cross on the Roman killing grounds of Golgotha. As Jesus’ life drains away, so does Thomas’s hope.

On Saturday he is in shock. On Sunday he is so disillusioned that he doesn’t gather with his fellow disciples for an evening meal. Thomas is dazed, hurt, bitter — and lashing out. Monday morning, the disciples go looking for Thomas and tell him what has happened in his absence…

Thomas, at least in this moment in the narrative, is both a follower and a skeptic. And it’s safe to say his skepticism is winning the day on that Monday.

NIV.Jn.20.24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

He is basically saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Does that remind you of a verse of scripture?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
 – Hebrews 11:1 NASB

or perhaps

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?
 – Romans 8:24 NIV

We have to recognize that some of this is just the way Thomas is wired. It’s his temperament; his default setting; his basic character. The website for the Jesus Film Project notes that:

…At one point Jesus tells the disciples:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1–4, NIV)

Naturally, the disciples don’t necessarily understand what He’s talking about. And it’s Thomas that asks Him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way” (John 14:5, NIV)?…

So was Thomas a “doubting Thomas?” The Enduring Word Bible Commentary says no. You’re thinking, wait? No?

…Thomas is often known as Doubting Thomas, a title that misstates his error and ignores what became of him. Here we could say that Thomas didn’t doubt; he plainly and strongly refused to believe.

· Thomas refused the believe the testimony of many witnesses and reliable witnesses.

· Thomas made an extreme demand for evidence; evidence of not only sight but of touch, and to repeatedly touch the multiple wounds of Jesus.

The same commentary, quoting McLaren’s Commentary notes:

Thomas did the very worst thing that a melancholy man can do, went away to brood in a corner by himself, and so to exaggerate all his idiosyncrasies, to distort the proportion of the truth, and hug his despair, by separating himself from his fellows. Therefore he lost what they got, the sight of the Lord.

And as a result, he misses out. He misses out on the “Peace be with you” blessing noted earlier in John 20, and he misses out on that moment when something bigger happens:

He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Thomas imposes a lot of conditions on what it would take to believe. Enduring Word quotes Leon Morris:

[A]nother possibility should not be overlooked, namely that he was so shocked by the tragedy of the crucifixion that he did not find it easy to think of its consequences as being annulled.

As we’ve seen above (vs. 26) he does see the risen Jesus. Eight. Days. Later.

Finally!

Then follows his confession; his affirmation; the statement that has major impact because it’s the words of someone who formerly did not believe:

NIV.Jn.20.28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Dr. Wilson says,

“Doubting Thomas” utters the greatest confession of faith recorded anywhere in the Bible.

The Enduring Word commentary notes that the final part of verse 29, which begins “blessed are” is a beatitude, but then quotes Spurgeon on ways we can miss that blessing:

· When we demand for a voice, a vision, a revelation to prove our faith.
· When we demand for some special circumstances to prove our faith.
· When we demand for some ecstatic experience.
· When we demand for an answer to every difficult question or objection.
· When we demand what men think of as success in our work of Jesus.
· When we demand that others support us in our faith.

Are you a doubting Thomas? You may not think so, but if we’re honest, most of us, even on our best days, harbor misgivings about some aspect of the faith, or its relevance to our personal situation. We’re like parent who comes to Jesus with concern for a gravely ill son:

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
 – Mark 9:24 NKJV

At those times our prayer should be

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
 – Luke 17:5 NIV

or in the NLT

The apostles said to the Lord, “Show us how to increase our faith.”

 

 

 

April 2, 2020

Help! I’m Sinking! (Like Peter)

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

When I was a young lad of thirteen years of age or so, my parents bought me a sailboat. It was an old wooden boat that leaked like a sieve, but it did float, mostly, and was a lot of fun to sail. Initially my Dad helped me sail it, however he did not know how to sail a boat any more than I did! One thing I remember from my early days as a sailor was my growing disdain for “stink-pots.” That is how some sailors refer to motorboats. They are noisy, they pollute, they do not have the same sense of challenge as the sailboats. I did not like them. I was a sailor, and proud of it!

For the most part I did quite well in sailing, but one day strong winds caught my Dad and I off guard. Thinking we were being smart, we took one of the sails down. Except that in this particular boat, that was not very smart. We had trouble heading in the desired direction after that. We were headed toward the shore, the wrong shore, where rocks awaited. The boat leaked enough as it was without adding some new damage. Also, overhanging trees would not be good for the mast and rigging.

We made our next smart move. We threw out the anchor. This particular anchor came with the boat and was a homemade affair being made from what was likely a tin of beans with the beans replaced by cement and a hook for a rope. It may as well have just been a tin of beans on the end of a rope, for it was useless. Actually, we may as well have just thrown a tin of beans out of the boat with no rope. It was worse than useless. We were in trouble.

Except there was this awful noise. A friend in a stink-pot saw that we were in trouble and came to the rescue. A stink-pot never sounded so good. I quickly got over my disdain for powerboats and accepted the help. We were towed in.

Sometimes we need to get over our disdain of others, or institutions, and accept help. Sometimes we need to get over our pride, and accept help. Sometimes we need to get over our need to be independent, and accept help. Sometimes we need to get over ourselves. Sometimes we need help.

Peter was doing well, walking on water toward Jesus who was also walking on the water. But then he was in trouble:

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:28-31 (NRSV)

Peter had the humility to ask for help. He knew he was in over his head, or at least soon would be. He knew that there was nothing he could do. Whatever pride he may have felt for being the one disciple to walk on the water, he now needed the humility to admit that he was the one disciple who needed help!

Do we have the humility to ask for help? We may need help in these strange days brought about by a pandemic. Some may need help with something as simple as getting groceries. Of course you are capable of getting your own groceries. But maybe right now, you shouldn’t. Some may need help with facing loneliness. Some may need prayer. Some may need to talk through their thoughts and feelings. Do we have the humility to request and/or receive help?

In these strange and scary days, some will realize the need of help that only God can give. They may think to themselves, how hypocritical, to only go to God now when troubles come. Remember that Peter only cried out to Jesus for help when he started sinking. Jesus was willing to help.

If we were acting this story out for a movie, how would we say the words of Jesus; “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”? Would we say those words with scorn? “How could you be so foolish as to take your eyes off me, and start doubting?! Look at how that led you to sinking, you fool!” Or would we read them with compassion; “Peter, don’t you know how much I love you, and would not let you drown?”

It should be the latter. Why? Based on the story Jesus told of the prodigal son. A son asked his father for his inheritance and went off to a foreign place and blew it all on partying and the like. Coming upon hard times, he decided to go back:

But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. Luke 15:17-24 (NRSV)

If you sense that you should call to God for help, but are reticent because you have not been in a relationship before now, take courage from the prodigal son story. You may even have had disdain in your heart for God in the past. Do you have the humility to accept the help He offers now? He has the love and grace to help:

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10 (NRSV)

Here is how that story of Peter walking on the water ends;

When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:32-33 (NRSV)

May we have the humility to accept the help the Son of God offers us. We also will be able to say “truly you are the son of God.”


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced his regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. This worship expression can be seen hereFor a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here). Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

April 13, 2019

Worry and Anxiety Can Blind Us to God’s Sovereignty

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

Sovereignty and Worry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 17, 2019

Compelling Truth

by Clarke Dixon

How can you know that anything is true? If Christianity is not true, it is not truly compelling. So if we can’t know anything to be true, how can we be sure Christianity is true?

The idea of truth permeates the arrest of Jesus in John chapter 18. We have Jesus appealing to truth in verses 19-23, Peter denying the truth in verses 25-27,  the religious leaders lying in verses 30-31, and Pilate trying to get to the truth in verses 33-37. This is all capped off with Pilate’s famous words:

37 Pilate said, “So you are a king?”
Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
38What is truth?” Pilate asked. John 18:37-38 (emphasis added)

What was Pilate’s tone of voice when he asked “what is truth?” If you were an actor how would you portray it? Would you make Pilate sound like a philosopher on a quest for knowledge? “Hmmm, an interesting question I would love to spend some time pondering.” Or would you make Pilate sound like a busy man who wanted to get back to his own plans for the day? “What does your version of truth matter when I’ve got so much more to worry about?”

Whichever you would choose, these are two approaches to truth today. There are those who get all philosophical about truth and say “We cannot be sure of anything, so don’t tell me about Jesus.” Then there are those who could care less; “It just doesn’t matter, so don’t tell me about Jesus.” Are they correct?

Can we know the truth?

How do we know that the entirety of our lives is not just some big dream and we will wake up some day to an entirely different world? How do we know we are not stuck in some sort of matrix kept alive by machines or aliens in state of dreaming as in the Matrix movies? Can we be 100% sure Christianity is true if we cannot be 100% sure anything is true? Can we be certain beyond all possible doubt?

Here’s the thing; we do not live as as if we cannot know anything. We live as people who know stuff! We are never 100% sure of anything before we make decisions. Even Pilate, after he asked “what is truth?”, immediately went to the people to report what he knew to be true:

“What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime.” John 18:38

Pilate knew enough to be able to form an opinion and make a decision. This is how we live. I had a scary experience many years ago. The roads were icy and I lost control of my car causing me to be on the wrong side of the road. I did not take the time to ponder if in fact it was all a dream, or that possibly the truck bearing down on me was just a hallucination, or a trick being played on me by aliens. After all, anything is possible. I knew I was in trouble, I made the right decisions and got the car under control again. This is how we live, not knowing things beyond a possible doubt, but knowing them beyond a reasonable doubt. We make decisions all the time, not because we can be 100% certain we are correct, but because it is reasonable to assume that we are.

Now consider that ordinary people experienced the extraordinary person of Jesus in ordinary ways. They could be as sure about him as I could be sure about my situation in a skidding car. With the exception of Paul and his Damascus road experience, those who experienced Jesus experienced him in the same way they would experience anyone. This is true before Easter, when ordinary people heard his extraordinary teaching and witnessed his extraordinary miracles in ordinary ways. This is also true following Easter when people saw Jesus alive again. Yes, he was even more extraordinary that before, but again, ordinary people were experiencing his extraordinary presence in normal ways. They were not having visions or dreams, they were living life, but there was Jesus in front of them. They could see him and touch him. They knew him to be real, just as they would know anything to be real:

1 We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 2 This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy. 1 John 1:1-4 (emphasis added)

All those who saw Jesus risen from the dead were ordinary people experiencing the extraordinary person of Jesus in ordinary ways. They could be as sure of him as they could be sure of anything. Sure you can always say “it was possible that the risen Jesus was actually an alien imposter,” for anything is possible. But we don’t live that way. Neither did people 2000 years ago. They knew beyond a reasonable doubt that this was the risen Jesus. The truth of Christianity continues to be beyond a reasonable doubt in our day. We will be looking at some reasons to think so in the weeks to come.

So can we know anything? Yes, we reasonably know things to be true, but . . .

Does truth matter?

We live as if truth matters, a lot. Back to my scary experience in the car. I knew that moment could have changed my life for the rest of my days, if I had any more days left in this life. Reality matters! What is true with respect to Jesus matters incredibly. Grasping the reality of Jesus is not the same as forming an opinion on whether Coke is a better cola than Pepsi, or whether the Boston Bruins are a better team than the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is more like grasping the reality of a truck bearing down on you. It impacts every moment of your future. Why do people often live as if truth matters, but when it comes to spiritual things, it suddenly does not? You could say it matters more! Truth matters and spiritual truths matter, a lot.

Why has truth been challenged in our day? 

Deceit and deception are at the heart of the Fall as described in Genesis chapter 3. Adam and Eve were deceived, and in that deception sinned creating a wedge between themselves and God. There are deceptions today which keep that wedge in place. For example, that knowing truth is impossible or does not matter. Deceit and deception also run through the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate was being deceived by the ones who wanted Jesus dead. Pilate was not totally deceived by them, knowing that Jesus was innocent of their accusations. However, he failed to recognize that the deception mattered. He thought his relationship with the people under his charge was more important the his relationship with the one now under his judgement, the One under whose charge he himself was.

Ironically, while the crucifixion of Jesus happened because of failure to apprehend the truth, it is a clear window into the truth, that

. . . God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 1 John 4:8-10

Deception ran through the Fall. Deception ran through the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Don’t let deception run through your life! God is love. That is a truth which can be known and which matters more than anything!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

All Scripture references are taken from the NLT. This is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast here.

July 7, 2018

When Jesus Comes in the Storm

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

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

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

Doubtstorms

by Max Lucado

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

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

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

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

But others of you wonder…

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

– about starving children

– about the power of prayer

– about the depths of grace

– about Christians in cancer wards

– about who you are to ask such questions anyway.

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

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

Jesus to come walking on the water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Excerpt from In the Eye of the Storm (1991)


Ryan Stevenson: In the Eye of the Storm:

February 3, 2018

There’s a Difference Between Doubt and Unbelief

Grab a warm drink and settle into a comfortable chair. Today’s is longer than usual. It’s our annual visit to the blog of K.W. Leslie and there was so much to choose from. Click the title below, read this at source, and then click the header to navigate to other pieces.

Doubt’s Okay, Unbelief’s the Problem

I’ve been told more than once, “In the scriptures, Jesus came down awfully hard against doubt. How then can you claim doubt is our friend?

’Cause Jesus’s objection wasn’t actually to doubt. It was to unbelief.

Contrary to popular opinion—and way too many bible translations—doubt isn’t the opposite of belief. Unbelief is. Doubt’s not the same as unbelief. Doubt means we’re not sure we believe. Unbelief means we’re totally sure—and we don’t believe at all.

Doubt’s what happens when we sorta kinda do believe. But we’re not entirely sure. So we suspend judgment till we get more evidence. And often that’s precisely the right thing to do. Y’realize Christians constantly get scammed by false teachers, fake prophets, and con artists who tell ’em, “Stop doubting me and just believe!” In so doing they’re trying to keep us from practicing discernment, because if we did use our heads we’d realize what they were up to. They don’t want us to think. Just feel. Follow your emotions, not your head. Ignore the gray matter God gave you, and listen to your brain chemicals… and ignore the fact most of us can turn them on and off if we tried.

Unbelievers definitely try to describe themselves as doubters. I’ve met plenty of nontheists who claim that’s what they really are: Doubters. Skeptics. Agnostics who are intellectually weighing the evidence for Christianity… but we Christians haven’t yet convinced them, so they’re gonna stay in the nontheist camp for now. Makes ’em sound open-minded and wise. But it’s hypocritical bushwa. Their minds are totally made up; they stopped investigating God long ago. They don’t believe; they’ve chosen their side of the issue; they’re straddling nothing.

Real doubt might likewise mean we’ve totally picked a side. There are Christians who doubt, but they’re still gonna remain Christian. (After all, where else are they gonna go? Jn 6.68 They’ve seen too much.) And there are nontheists who doubt, so they’re still gonna investigate Christianity from time to time, and talk with Christians, and try to see whether there’s anything to what we believe. Part of ’em kinda hopes there is. Or, part of ’em really hopes there’s not—but the Holy Spirit is making them doubt their convictions, ’cause he uses doubt like this all the time.

The goal of doubt is to get us to stop playing both sides, and finally pick one once and for all. The point of an open mind, as G.K. Chesterton once put it, is like that of an open mouth: At some point it’s gotta close on something solid. Belief—and conversely unbelief—means it has closed. Doubt means the question is still open. It’s not wrong to doubt. It is wrong to never deal with those doubts.

Our second guesses, or our unbelief.

Here’s one of the better-known stories about Jesus “rebuking doubt.” He was walking on water; Simon Peter wanted to do that too; the Holy Spirit let him give it a try. It’s a faith exercise. Worked as long as Peter trusted the Spirit… and stopped working the moment he stopped trusting, and started second-guessing.

Matthew 14.28-31 KWL
28 Replying to Jesus, Simon Peter said, “Master if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.”
29 Jesus said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and came to Jesus, walking on the water.
30 Seeing the strong wind, Peter feared… and starting to drown, he called Jesus: “Master, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus stretched out a hand, grabbed him, and told him, “Tiny-faith, why’d you backtrack?”

The KJV has Jesus ask, “Wherefore didst thou doubt?”—interpreting edístasas/“to rethink” as doubt. It actually wasn’t that. If he had doubted, he’d have never stepped out of the boat. You don’t try walking on water unless you’re pretty darned sure you can walk on water. As demonstrated every time someone walks on ice: They’re entirely sure the ice is thick enough to walk on. If they have any doubts, they stay off.

So how’d Peter go wrong? He backtracked: “Wait, what’d I get myself into? I’m walking on water in this weather. I must be nuts!” He lost his nerve. He let his fears overwhelm his circumstances, and fell over instead of stepping forward. Movies tend to depict Peter slowly sinking into the water, but I’ve no idea why. Matthew implies he fell right in. Strikes me as far more dramatic.

Jesus fished him out. I don’t know whether he stood Peter back on the water with him, or dragged him back to the boat; I just know Jesus rescued him, ’cause he does that. But note he called Peter oligópistos/“tiny-faith.” Jesus didn’t call him no-faith, but tiny-faith. Like I said, Peter had enough faith to get out of the boat, and that’s considerably more faith than your average Christian. (More than the other students too.)

But he didn’t rebuke Peter’s doubt, ’cause doubt isn’t even the issue. It’s second-guessing ourselves, even though the Spirit is clearly okay with what we’re doing, and has empowered us to act. It’s, “Wait; I don’t wanna do this anymore.” God’s kingdom needs commitment. If people are gonna act in faith, and the Holy Spirit’s gonna empower us to do miracles, we’d better darned well follow through.

The rest of the time, Jesus’s rebukes again weren’t against doubt, but unbelief.

Mark 9.19-24 KWL
19 Jesus replied to his students, “You untrustworthy youngsters.
How long am I gonna be with you?—how long must I cover for you? Bring the boy to me.”
They brought him to Jesus. The spirit saw Jesus and immediately pitched a fit.
Falling on the ground, the boy rolled and foamed.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has this been going on?”
The father said, “Since he was a little boy.
22 Many times it throws him into fire and into water, to destroy him.
But if you’re able, help us! Have compassion on us!”
23 Jesus told him, “If you’re able. Those who believe in God, can do anything.”
24 The father of the little boy immediately shouted, “I believe!… Help me through my unbelief.”

When people get desperate, they’re not gonna cling to their unbelief. They’re willing to try anything. Including stuff they don’t really believe in at all. That was the deal with this guy and his demonized son: The evil spirit was mimicking epilepsy, which is why too many interpreters assume this was epilepsy. But the father realized it was an evil spirit, ’cause an epileptic seizure doesn’t intentionally throw its sufferer into fire or water. He realized there was some malevolence behind his boy’s condition. And since the pagan “physicians” (really, witch-doctors) were not only no help, but likely put these critters into his son, it was time to try the exorcist. First Jesus’s students—who, to Jesus’s great annoyance, weren’t up to the task, even though he’d trained them. Then Jesus himself, who could totally do it—but he wanted the father to act, not in desperation, but belief. Same as he expects of anyone who prays to him: Do it in faith!

But if we have our doubts? He can work with that. ’Cause when the father asked for Jesus to help him through his unbelief, Jesus did, and cured his kid.

Mark 9.25-29 KWL
25 Jesus, seeing the crowd gather rapidly, rebuked the unclean spirit,
telling it, “I command you speechless, mute spirit: Get out of him, and never enter him again.”
26 Shouting and tearing him up, it came out. The boy looked dead, so many people said, “He died.”
27 Jesus gripped the boy’s hand, lifted him, and stood him up.
28 Entering the house, when they were by themselves, the students asked him this: “Why weren’t we able to throw it out?”
29 Jesus told them, “That species can’t be thrown out by anything but prayer.”

In other words you can’t throw it out. Only God can. So don’t presume you have the power to drive out every evil spirit you come across, just because you’re God’s kid. Always pray for help. You might need it. But I digress.

Doubting fellow Christians.

Jesus is infallible. Our fellow Christians aren’t. That’s why we’re actually instructed to doubt them. Test them, make sure what they tell us is consistent with good theology. It’s gotta jibe with the scriptures, with what other Christians teach, with common sense, and with our previous God-experiences. We don’t just blindly follow one another. (Not even me. I could be wrong too, of course.)

Problem is, we Christians are way too likely to unquestioningly accept the things our favorite preachers tell us. We’re more apt to listen to them than even the Holy Spirit! The Spirit may tell a man, “Help the needy,” but his pastor’ll tell him, “God helps those who help themselves.” The pastor is quoting Benjamin Franklin, not bible. But to the man, karma sounds way more fair to him than grace. So he follows his pastor, not the Spirit.

Even the best of us get suckered into following our prejudices instead of God. Likely you’ve heard this story before: God sent a prophet, whom the story calls “God’s Man,” to condemn King Jeroboam ben Nebat for idolatry. En-route home, God’s Man encountered an older prophet who, for whatever reason, led him astray.

1 Kings 13.14-22 KWL
14 He rode after God’s Man and found him sitting beneath an oak.
He said, “Are you God’s Man who came from Judah?” God’s Man said, “I am.”
15 The prophet said, “Go with me to the house, and eat bread.”
16 God’s Man told him, “I won’t go with you or come with you.
I won’t eat bread, won’t drink water in this place.
17 The message to me, the LORD’s word, is ‘Don’t eat bread, don’t drink water there.
Don’t return the way you came.’ ”
18 The prophet told God’s Man, “But I’m a prophet like you!
An angel spoke the LORD’s word to me, saying, ‘Bring him back to your house.
He will eat bread; he will drink water.’ ” But he lied.
19 God’s Man returned with the prophet, and ate bread and drank water at his house.
20 As they sat at table, the LORD’s word came to the prophet who’d brought God’s Man back.
21 He called out to God’s Man who came from Judah, saying: “The LORD says this:
‘You rebelled against the LORD’s mouth and didn’t keep the command your LORD God commanded.
22 You returned, ate bread, and drank water
in a place where I told you not to eat bread and drink water.
So your corpse won’t come to your fathers’ tomb.’ ”

Very soon after, a lion killed God’s Man, and the older prophet buried him in his own tomb, thus fulfilling this prophecy.

Yeah, it sounds harsh. But we don’t know all the circumstances behind God’s odd instructions to God’s Man: Maybe they were meant to keep him from getting killed by lions! In any case, the main point is God’s Man didn’t doubt. He heard, “I’m a prophet too,” and his discernment went right out the window. He accepted the lie because he wanted to fill his stomach, and didn’t care God had instructed otherwise. Any loophole would do.

We pull the same stunt all the time. Plenty of Christians accept everything our preachers tell us, without a doubt, without a concern, without question, because our preachers are telling us just what we wanna hear. We aren’t engaging in the sort of healthy skepticism God wants of us when he told us to test prophets and teachers.

1 John 4.1 KWL
Beloved, don’t trust every spirit, but put the spirits to the test to see if they’re from God,
because many fake prophets have been coming out of the universe.
1 Thessalonians 5.19-22 KWL
19 Don’t quiet the Spirit: 20 Don’t dismiss prophecy, 21 and put everything to the test.
Hold tight to what’s good. 22 Stay far away from what seems bad.

We’re expected to entertain a certain degree of healthy skepticism—healthy in the sense that the goal isn’t to reject everything, but test everything. Keep what’s good, shun what’s bad. We expect prophecies, moves of the Spirit, and solid teaching. But at the same time we’re meant to confirm prophecies, test spirits, double-check our teachers, and compare what we’ve heard to the scriptures, to Christians, and to reason. God isn’t just okay with this: He ordered this.

A fake prophet, false teacher, and iffy Christian will call it unbelief, and call our devotion into question. That’s their tactic, meant to frighten us into leaving them alone. Works too well, too often. Way too many Christians never admit our doubts, never publicly ask questions, keep our mouths shut, and meekly allow ourselves to be led astray. Every legalistic church, every child-molesting pastor, every fool who teaches something stupid and ridiculous and embarrasses Christianity with it, has benefited by the fact Christians refuse to doubt. We refuse to engage our brains, and apply any critical thinking. It makes us look like idiots. But whenever we refuse to ask questions, we are idiots.

Every Christian should doubt. Make sure it’s of God, and once you find out it’s him, follow him to the ends of the earth. But first we gotta reasonably confirm it’s him. So don’t slack on that.

May 17, 2016

Thomas, Revisited

Today we’re paying a return visit to the blog, Finding the Holy in the Mundane by Rachel Stephenson.  Click the title below to read at source or leave a comment for the author.

Changed and Unchanged By Doubt

But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

John 20:25 (MSG)

The first time I was in the Operating Room (OR) during nursing school I got sick. It was not from being in the OR. It was coincidental. I had some questionable food the night before. I was in the OR, ready to see the surgery and I started getting hot. I must have looked funny since the circulating nurse looked at me and asked me what was wrong. I told her I felt hot. That nurse whisked away from the operating suite before I could say another word.

Feeling better, a few days later I had another opportunity to re-visit the OR.   It was then I found my previous visit did not go unnoticed. My welcome the second day was, “Oh, you’re the one who got sick the other day.” One moment of claustrophobic hotness and I had a reputation, “the sick one.”

I can identify with Thomas. You know him, Doubting Thomas. One moment of unbelief and this poor disciple ends up with the name that is synonymous with unbelief—Doubting Thomas.

It’s fascinating to see Thomas in another setting. Jesus, informed of His friend Lazarus’ death, decides to make the trip to Bethany. Thomas is the one who rallies the rest of the disciples and seems willing to face the inevitable along with Christ.

That’s when Thomas, the one called the Twin, said to his companions,

“Come along. We might as well die with him.” John 11:16 (MSG)

Do you see Thomas in a little different light? Realizing a trip back to Judea might mean trouble for Jesus, it’s Thomas who is willing to follow Christ to death. At that moment, that is.

After Jesus’ arrest, all the disciples, except John, deserted Jesus. I doubt they went far. Out of fear, they hid. It’s likely, from a distance, they watched Jesus on the cross. If Thomas didn’t see Jesus die, some of his comrades did. Jesus was dead. There was no doubt. Thomas, the pragmatist, didn’t understand this talk of seeing Jesus alive.   Here is John’s record of the fateful moment.

But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.” But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then He focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.” Thomas said, “My Master! My God!” Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.” John 20:24-29 (MSG)

This is a tender moment between Jesus and Thomas. Jesus knew what Thomas said. Jesus made Thomas’ ultimatum the invitation. Instead of rebuke, Jesus invites Thomas to do the thing he said it would take to convince him Jesus was alive. The focus of Jesus’ attention was Thomas, not his doubting, not his weakness, not his fear.

Jesus was unchanged by Thomas’ doubt. Thomas was changed by Jesus’ grace.

Do you doubt? Everyone has in a moment of weakness, anger, uncertainty, selfishness or pride. In all of that, Jesus remains unchanged. The invitation remains unchanged. Jesus is bigger than your doubt. He’s man enough to take your unbelief and with love mold it into faith; the kind of faith that cries, “Master!”

Father, as I face many uncertain situations, remind me of Your unchanging love and grace. Help my unbelief. Open my eyes to the truth in Your Word. Open my heart to the depths of Your grace. Change me, Father, change my unbelieving heart.

October 31, 2011

Abiding Eradicates Doubt

Yesterday we looked at spiritual complacency.  Another similar malady that manifests itself in the life of the believer is doubt.  Doug Wolter looks at this at his blog, So That Others May Know, in a short piece entitled, The Mystery of Abiding.

Why do I doubt God? Why do I expect so little from him? After all, if I really am his child, if I really do have access to his throne, if I really have his Son and his Spirit interceding for me, then why am I not asking more of God and believing he will answer? Jesus, you say, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Really? Are you serious? Do you really want me to ask and believe with that kind of boldness, with that kind of heart, expecting you will answer? 

I guess that’s where it starts – with my heart being united with your heart and my words in prayer sounding strangely familiar with your words in scripture. Is that what abiding is all about? When you and me are so intimately connected, so unified as one, that the process is as natural and effortless as a branch bearing fruit?

In the end, it’s a mystery–one that I can’t analyze and figure out, but only experience. Abiding, praying, and seeing the Holy Spirit move in my life is something I cannot comprehend but what I long for more and more for your glory and my good. So teach me to remain in you. Cause me to slow down. Remind me that you are a real Person that I am joined to. And set me free to believe you for great things.

~Doug Wolter

May 26, 2011

God Decides Who Gets Promoted

Many years ago I attended a seminar for Christian musicians on the subject of promotion, taught by veteran CCM artist Scott Wesley Brown.  He began with, “Did you know promotion is mentioned in the Bible?”  Then he proceded to read Psalm 75:6,7 in the KJV:

 6For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.

 7But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

A few years later I sat in a camp staff training seminar where the speaker said,

“If you see a turtle on a fencepost, you know it didn’t get there by itself.”

That little phrase is used to cover a wide range of applications, but certainly we’ve all met people who have “achieved” but only through the guidance and support of many others, and certainly some by the grace of God Himself.  (Though the analogy breaks down quickly… What does the turtle do next?)

We often have the tendency to look at someone who has — for the time being — earned the attention and accolades of a large number of people, and say, “Why him?”  Perhaps we compare that person’s talents to our own and say, “Why her?”

Psalm 75 seems to basically be saying that no one advances but that God has allowed it. 

This is certainly reinforced by the appearance of Jesus before Pilate in John 19 (NIV). 

10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”  11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…

But the Psalm passage has an entirely different spin in the NLT:

 6 For no one on earth—from east or west,
      or even from the wilderness—
      should raise a defiant fist.
 7 It is God alone who judges;
      he decides who will rise and who will fall.

And also in The Message:

  He’s the One from east to west;
      from desert to mountains, he’s the One.

  God rules: he brings this one down to his knees,
      pulls that one up on her feet.

The NASB is closer to the King James:

 6 For not from the east, nor from the west,
Nor from the desert comes exaltation;
7 But God is the Judge;
He puts down one and exalts another.

So I’m not sure why the translations seem to differ in emphasis in verse six, though they both resolve the same way in verse seven.  Perhaps the key is found in the verse which precedes six and seven, verse five, best represented by the NIV:

Do not lift your horns against heaven;
   do not speak so defiantly.’”

It’s possible that when I question God’s decision to use someone who I might not have chosen, I am in fact speaking defiantly. Or in arrogance (NLT).  Perhaps questioning why him or her is a road I should not want to go down.  Have you ever questioned why God allows a certain author’s books to sell so well; a certain pastor to become so well used; a certain individual in your church to gain such a key position of leadership?  That might be speaking defiantly.

Why am I writing this? 

This weekend I watched an interview with an individual about whom I might have, at one time awhile back, asked the “Why him?” question.  But as I watched him taking live questions I realized four things were present: (a) natural intellectual gifts; (b) natural speaking gifts; (c) an obvious command of scripture or what we sometimes call Bible knowledge; and (d) an understanding of the ways of God, which is different from the third point.  While I never had major questions, some of my minor misgivings were alleviated.

God knows what He’s doing.  He is the judge.  He promotes some and holds back others.  

But he loves us all equally, and has a “promotion” in some other department just waiting for you.

~Paul Wilkinson