Christianity 201

November 2, 2017

When Gratitude Shines in the Darkness

Clarke Dixon’s full-length articles return next week. In the meantime, this is a shorter one we had in the files which you hadn’t seen before.

by Clarke Dixon

Harvey, Irma, Maria, Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, “Ahmed H”, Stephen Paddock. These are names that have been associated with fear, sadness, and anger in recent days. Whether nature unleashing “natural” disasters, or humans being inhumane, these names can be added to a long history of names that have stirred up negative emotions. We can add to the list the names of various diseases that cause us to think of loved ones. Cancer, Parkinson’s, Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, it seems the list could go on forever. Yet, when the dust settles, something else bubbles up. Gratitude for the first responders. Gratitude for family and friends being at one’s side. Gratitude for complete strangers who have responded with help and aid. Gratitude to God for hope that holds firm in the midst of fear.

No matter the tragedy, eventually the emotions of fear, sadness, and anger make space for gratitude. To respond to the events of life with a range of emotions is not bad. But to be moving to new emotions is good. One is reminded of the words of the Psalmist:

Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5 (NRSV)

In this Psalm, the Psalmist has an experience that many can relate to, namely, the experience both of God’s goodness, and seeming absence:

6 As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
7 By your favor, O Lord,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.. Psalms 30:6-7 (NRSV)

The Psalmist next makes an appeal to God in prayer and you can probably guess how the Psalm ends:

11 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. Psalms 30:11-12 (NRSV)

Joy and gratitude. With God in our lives these are always the emotions we can look forward to even if we don’t feel that way in the moment. With Christ’s grace and love keeping a firm grip on us through the hardest of trials, salvation will come. The Psalmist does not say he will give thanks to the Lord for the rest of his life. He says “I will give thanks to you forever.” That is a very long thanksgiving celebration!

Read more at clarkdixon.wordpress.com



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  1. Is this a blog to which I would want to refer readers to see what else the author has written about?
  2. Is the article rooted in scripture? Is God’s word the focus?
  3. Does the item present thoughts or ideas which dig deeper, beyond the obvious or superficial?
  4. How does the article contrast or complement what else is available here?

In addition to submissions we’re always looking for readers who can recommend suitable material.


 

June 29, 2017

Good Grief! And a Lack Thereof

by Clarke Dixon

Expressing emotion during a time of grief is a very natural thing to do. To not grieve, and to suppress emotion, is a very unnatural thing to do. If we understand that, then we are well on our way to understanding why God told Ezekiel to show no grief over the death of his wife:

Ezekiel 24:15-18 (NRSV) The word of the Lord came to me: 16 Mortal, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. 17 Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your upper lip or eat the bread of mourners. 18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

So why is Ezekiel told not to grieve? Ezekiel’s lack of grief becomes a lesson in grief for God’s people during the exile. They have been demonstrating a lack of grief over something very important. We find the clue as to what in these following verses:

Thus says the Lord God: I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and your heart’s desire . . . . And you, mortal, on the day when I take from them their stronghold, their joy and glory, the delight of their eyes and their heart’s affection, . . . Ezekiel 24:21-25 (NRSV)

Do you notice something about the loss God’s people are experiencing? Where is the mention of the presence and glory of God? Remembering that the temple was to be known as the place of God’s presence, and remembering the need for humility in approaching God’s glory and presence, it is strange that the temple should be called “the pride of your power”. The temple has become “the delight of your eyes, and your heart’s desire,” and their “joy and glory.” The temple has taken the place of God in the lives of His people. The temple itself has become for God’s people nothing more than another idol. Yet there has been no grief over the fact that God has already “left the building.”

When God’s people lose the temple they are told they ought not to grieve, for all along they have not shown any grief over losing what should have been most important to them, the presence and glory of God. In fact God’s people have been actively doing the very things that take them away from the presence and glory of God: “you shall not mourn or weep, but you shall rot away in your iniquities and groan to one another” (Ezekiel 24:23 ESV). In other words, this is the status quo. God’s people have not been grieving over the sin that has led them away from the presence and glory of God.

What are we to learn from this for our day?

There are two things:

First, we learn about what ought to elicit deep emotions in us. When you have an understanding of the reality of the presence and glory of God, then anything that would take you in the opposite direction should make you feel sick. What are those things? We learn them from God’s Word, but let Jesus summarize for us:

Matthew 22:34-40 (NRSV) 34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

When we know the Lord, when we have a mature understanding of His greatness and glory, we will naturally grieve when we see a lack of love, both for God and for neighbour. When we see God mocked, and when we see people suffer injustice, we ought to grieve.

Second, is it possible that our grief as God’s people is misplaced in very much the same way it was misplaced in Ezekiel’s day? We grieve over the loss of churches and church buildings. A recent local newspaper article lamented the closure of churches in the rural areas. To quote one church member: “When I was a kid, there would be square dances and community meals here” (Northumberland News, Thursday, June 22nd 2017). What about the prayer there, the digging into the Word of God there, the care of the soul there, the presence of God among God’s people there, the worship of God there? To quote a clergy person from the same article: “When I was a child everyone went to church – why do people go to church? For the community. It was the only game in town for some communities.” Again, does no one go to church for prayer, for the Word of God, for the presence of God, for the worship of God, for the glory of God?

The sentimentality around losing churches and church buildings is completely natural and understandable. But are we grieving more over the apathy towards Christ, and active pushing away from God in our day? Are we getting emotional over God’s presence and glory? To do otherwise is unnatural and we may be lacking in good grief.


Read more from Clarke at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

March 30, 2011

Healing Power of Forgiveness

As of tomorrow Christianity 201 will complete a full year of daily devotional writing and deeper Bible study.   There has been a mix here of original pieces and “reprints” from across the Christian blogosphere.   There is no shortage of sources for devotional material; anyone with a need simply has to look.  Today I discovered Daily Enounter, a ministry of ACTS International, which you can read by subscription.  This sample devotional appeared there under the title, Forgiveness: The Power to Heal

Some years ago during a visit to Yellowstone Park, one writer observed that the only animal that the grizzly bear would share his food with was a skunk. It wasn’t that the grizzly wanted to share his food but rather that he chose to. With one swing of his powerful paw he could have crushed the skunk. So why did he allow the skunk to eat with him?

Because he knew the high cost of getting even. Smart bear!

Undoubtedly he learned the hard way. Strange that we humans often aren’t as  smart. Sometimes we carry grudges for years, often repressing them from conscious memory, and end up hurting ourselves more than the ones we would like to get even with. We fail to see how damaging an unforgiving spirit is.

In his book, None of These Diseases, Dr. S.I. McMillen says, “Medical science recognizes that emotions such as fear, sorrow, envy, resentment and hatred are responsible for the majority of our sicknesses. Estimates vary from 60 percent to nearly 100 percent.”

I read one report of an astonished patient who was told by his doctor: “If you don’t cut out your resentments, I may have to cut out a part of your intestinal tract.”

Fortunately, the man took the doctor’s advice. He had been nursing a bitter grudge against a former business partner. He went to see this man, resolved their differences, and forgave him. When he returned to the doctor, his physical condition had cleared up.


That advice isn’t new of course. The greatest physician who ever lived, Jesus Christ, pointed out 2,000 years ago the importance of forgiveness. When he encouraged us to “forgive seventy times seven,” he was thinking of our physical as much as our spiritual well-being. As Dr. McMillen says, he knew that a forgiving spirit would save us from “ulcerative colitis, toxic goiters, high blood pressure, and scores of other diseases.” including ulcers, asthma, arthritis, neuro-dermatitis, and heart ailments—all possible effects of resentment.

The Bible’s advice is therefore just as relevant today as it was when written 2,000 years ago: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”1

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'”2

“Suggested prayer: “Dear God, thank you God that you have forgiven me for all my sins, failings and shortcomings. Help me to forgive others as you have forgiven me. Gratefully in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

P.S. “Failure to forgive is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die!”

1. Ephesians 4:32.
2. Matthew 18:21-22, (NIV).

February 1, 2011

Discouragement: A Subtle Tactic in Spiritual Warfare

But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus.  (II  Cor 7:6)

Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement.  (II Cor 2: 7)

“Why do you want to discourage the rest of the people of Israel from going across to the land the Lord has given them?  (Num 32:7)

Then the local residents tried to discourage and frighten the people of Judah to keep them from their work. (Ezra 4:4)

They were just trying to intimidate us, imagining that they could discourage us and stop the work. So I continued the work with even greater determination. (Neh. 6:9)

So Moses told the people of Israel what the Lord had said, but they refused to listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery. (Ex. 6:9)

After they went up to the valley of Eshcol and explored the land, they discouraged the people of Israel from entering the land the Lord was giving them. (Num. 32:9)

Look! He has placed the land in front of you. Go and occupy it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you. Don’t be afraid! Don’t be discouraged!’ (Deut. 1:21)

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”  (Deut 31:8)

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh 1:9)

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid or discouraged. Take all your fighting men and attack Ai, for I have given you the king of Ai, his people, his town, and his land. (Josh 8:1)

“Don’t ever be afraid or discouraged,” Joshua told his men. “Be strong and courageous, for the Lord is going to do this to all of your enemies.” (Josh 10:25)

Then David continued, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. He will see to it that all the work related to the Temple of the Lord is finished correctly.  (I Chr. 28:20)

He said, “Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.  (II Chr.20:15)

“Be strong and courageous! Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria or his mighty army, for there is a power far greater on our side! (II Chr. 32:7)

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.I will strengthen you and help you.I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.  (Is. 41:10)

Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—
my Savior and my God!  (Ps: 42:11 and Ps. 43:5; same lyric)

Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged. (Col 3:21)

I am convinced that one of the subtle schemes of the enemy is to bring discouragement to God’s people.  Most of us are familiar with the many “Do not be afraid” or “fear not” verses, but there are many scriptures — 28 in the New Living Translation (NLT) reference discouragement in one way or another, the translation used for the above verses.  (18 in the new NIV, 6 in the ESV, 5 in the NASB.)

I also wonder if much of our modern-day depression is really spiritual-warfare.  Depression and discouragement seem to go hand-in-hand.  The word depression is used sparingly in the above-mentioned translations…

After that, whenever the bad depression from God tormented Saul, David got out his harp and played. That would calm Saul down, and he would feel better as the moodiness lifted. (I Sam. 16:23, The Message)

…though the Bible being more literary and poetic than most other books, often refers to a broken heart:

I have cried until the tears no longer come; my heart is broken.My spirit is poured out in agony as I see the desperate plight of my people.Little children and tiny babies are fainting and dying in the streets.  (Lamentations 2:11, NLT)

A glad heart makes a happy face;a broken heart crushes the spirit. (Prov 15:30 NLT)

Their insults have broken my heart,and I am in despair.If only one person would show some pity;if only one would turn and comfort me.  (Ps. 69:20 NLT)

My heart is broken because of the false prophets,and my bones tremble.I stagger like a drunkard,like someone overcome by wine,because of the holy wordsthe Lord has spoken against them.  (Jer. 23:9 NLT)

For myself, today an element of spiritual warfare to it which was more overt, but the feeling I was left with — or the thing that my emotions connected the dots to, the way you attribute someone in a dream to someone you know — was that of discouragement.

It can really eat away at you if you let it.

So don’t.

June 22, 2010

Emotional Taffy Pulling

A family in our town had their emotions pulled in different directions all in the space of a few hours.   At about 8:30 Saturday morning our friend Don received a call that his mother had died.   But at 2:00 in the afternoon he would be giving his daughter away in marriage.    Not only that, but the following day, his mother and father were to have a reception honoring 60 years of marriage.

Stretched.  Riding the emotional roller coaster.

We had a day today that wasn’t as severe, but still diverse.   We drove back to the town where my son’s university is to see about renting a loft apartment instead of living in residence.   I was ready to sign the lease right then and there on his behalf, but then we walked out to the car to “talk it over” and he announced that he wasn’t sure he even wanted to go back for his sophomore year of engineering.   Yikes.

My response was something approaching, “Oh yes you will;” while my wife tempered mine with something a little more compassionate.   We ended up driving home — one hour on the freeway in a pounding rainstorm for what normally takes about 25 minutes — and when we pulled in the driveway, he said, “You know, Dad; maybe you’re right.”

Timing.

I keep thinking about Romans 8:28, “In all things God is working for the good of those who love Him…”

Maybe there’s a better place for our son to live this fall and it took this to stop us from making a very expensive commitment.

But as this was happening, I started thinking about other parents who have had bombs drop on them.     Your daughter announces she is pregnant.   Your son announces he is gay.    Your husband tells you he invested the biggest portion of your savings in a business that is insolvent.   Your wife tells you she wrecked the car.

I don’t know what it is in your case.

I just know that you have to cling to to a number of basics at a time like that:

  • God is still on the throne of heaven
  • Nothing takes place on earth out of his line of vision
  • In the middle of everything, he is working for our good
  • Each day has its trials and its ‘graces.’  Tomorrow will be different again.

Some days rip you apart, though; don’t they?