Christianity 201

June 23, 2021

We’re Christians, We Sing

Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.
 – Eph 5:19 NLT

Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
– Ps. 96:1 NIV

A year ago we introduced a new writer, A.K. Francis who has been writing fiction for more than ten years, but more recently started writing faith-focused articles during the time of pandemic, in a series titled In The Valley of Fear and Solitude. Click the header which follows to read today’s article at source.

Singing in Church

…[T]here has been something that I have been thinking about doing a blog on for a while now – kind of since the beginning of lockdown. But I’ve always been a little worried it might turn into a rant…or a science paper.

You see, it is about one of my favourite things, which happens to be illegal at the moment.

No, NOT raves – I’m not remotely interested in those.

Or Hugging, which I can live with or without.

What I am going to talk about today is…

Congregational singing 😀

Or, to be less posh, singing in church.

‘But you sing in church now’ I hear you say, ‘And you sang in church last week, and like twice at Easter.’ Yes…But…the church I went to where we sang was outdoors, and the other times I was in a band or a choir…and no one was singing back.

Normally, in the kind of church I go to (Slightly towards the evangelical end of middle of the road Anglican) there is a group of people who lead the singing (a choir, a band, or a dude with a beard and a guitar) and then everyone else joins in, following their lead.

One of the things I have always felt is great about church is getting to worship – in the form of singing – together.

But right now, we can’t do that. Unless we are not actually with the others in the service (e.g we are on zoom or youtube) we cannot join them in worship.

This might seem like a small complaint, and it is when the case load is as high as it was in January. But my fear is that as we return to ‘normal’ this key part of church might not be allowed to return or might be forgotten. And that its importance may be overlooked.

Of course, not all Christians share my views about this. There have been bans on singing in church during points in our history that have nothing to do with illness. Battle also continue to range over exactly what kind and style of songs should be sung in church.

But here is the thing…

I think there are two aims to our singing in church. The first one is probably most obvious, and probably doesn’t require each one of us to be in the same building to sing the words.

We sing to worship God.

Throughout the Bible, people sing to God – most of the longest ‘book’ in the bible – the Psalms – are poems put to music – and singing in large groups features in old testament celebrations and in visions of the end times. In these visions, people of every race, tribe and people gather together to praise God for eternity. There is a suggestion here that, on the place with no sickness, sorrow, or death, people listen to the singing – very much the whole multitude sing to God together.

While it has been wise, out of love for one another, not to sing while covid risk was high, it is harder to justify the prevention of collective praise of God as the risk decreases. To lose this opportunity to point towards our hope – that eternity we will spend praising God together – is deeply painful.

There is evidence that actually, speaking and singing at the same volume gives the same level of risk. So why the reduction to only a choir for singing, when we can also recite the words of a service together?

Although helpful for reflection and prayer as worship, it is perhaps difficult to fully worship as a group without being able to lift our voices together – an echo of that future day when we join together in one voice.

Some churches have been so fixed on this point that they have refused to meet until singing in church is fully permitted. They are worried perhaps that it will become a performance, rather than an act of worship, shared as a family/community in Christ. I am less sure on this total ban, as I think it removes any chance to meet with others to worship in prayer and to do the other major role of the church – to pray for the needs of the world, and to encourage one another.

And here we reach the second purpose of prayer in the church:

We sing to encourage one another.

In singing to God, we also spur each other onward. One of my pet peeves of modern church is that it can feel very robotic and detached. People come along and sing in their own bubble, but never build a community, never aim to ask about one another’s lives. It can also often feel rather like the music is a performance. The band or choir stand up and play and sing beautifully – or at least very loudly – and at the end people clap.

But the congregation don’t tend to sing as loudly – and the words don’t necessarily make sense of this easier. There are a lot of modern songs which use the first person – I – far more than is useful. (they have sometimes been nicknamed ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ songs). They talk about faith as an individual journey, perhaps suggesting a path independent of everyone else. When, actually, this is a walk we go on together as a church. If lockdown has shown us anything, it is that we need one another. I hope we can take that into our churches, and remember to encourage one another in the faith.

Older hymns speak of the wonder of God, but also encourage others in their journey. We should join in to encourage others that our experience is the same. We sing to be a community.

In the secular world, most of us can remember a song which was connected to a community we were involved in. Be it songs we learnt in cubs, scouts, or brownies, ‘the school song’ (in english or sometimes Latin), songs of a particular social justice movement such as spirituals in the civil rights campaigns, or even a national anthem. These songs speak of our collective goals, aims and desires in that community. We know them by heart, and we sing them to one another with pride (or at least hum the tune because the Latin is unpronounceable and the tune sounds like a merry-go-round)

Singing builds us up as a community, encouraging us that we are not alone.

Christian hymns, psalms and spiritual songs should not be any different – they should be a major part of both our worship and the holding together of our community.

In the Old testament, the Israelites travelling to Jerusalem for the festivals at the temple sang what were called the songs of ascent (because they went up the hill) a number of which are recorded in the Psalms. These are songs of praise to God, listing all that he had done for them. They also include confession of sins, and calling out to God with verses of praise following, reminding the Israelites of all that their God had done for them, and all that he promised still to do.

They include several psalms I have featured in previous blogs. Including 130, and perhaps most famously, Psalm 121 which begins:

I lift my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep

Psalm 121 v 1-4

The Israelites were encouraging one another that their belief was true and God’s love and promises certain – even as they praised Him collectively for His love and promise. They were songs to build one another up in the faith.

This is, I fear, what we lose when we cannot sing together. Yes, we can praise God, and I am sure that being back together as one people in church in silence has developed our reflection, focus and prayer lives.

But, there is a lack of singing together, or being able to build one another up, which begins to chafe as we get to this stage of the pandemic where we so want to be able to heal and build one another back up after the months of hardship. When the case rate was high, this sacrifice made sense. As we come out, we need to look at how we can get singing again.

It is something that does not make sense to those outside of the church – it just seems like a sing song add on to a religious event – nice to look at and listen to, but not something which brings sustenance to the people involved. But this is something which builds us up – and speaks to those coming in to church from outside.

It has been brilliant to focus on the words as we hear them sung to us. It has been a time to strengthen prayer in our lives and our churches.

And now, I think it is time to hold one another up again in song as we praise God together for bringing us through the long night of the pandemic.

That is certainly my prayer for the future.

God willing.

 

 

January 24, 2021

An Unchanging God for Uncertain Times

Nancy Ruegg has been blogging faithfully at From the Inside Out since November, 2012 and was featured here twice previously before somehow falling off our radar. She writes weekly (on Thursdays) and each of her posts contain photography and highlighted scripture graphics; another reason why you should click through today on the title which follows.

Certain Security

Uncertain times.

That phrase appears everywhere these days. Between the pandemic, political upheaval, social unrest, and concerns for the future, we can find ourselves desperate to find security—freedom from danger, fear, and anxiety.

But there is only one reliable source of security: God.

The LORD is your security. He will keep your foot from being caught in a trap. Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. (Prov. 3:26 NLT, Jer. 17:7 NIV)

Out of his faithfulness to us, God always supplies what we need. And as it happens, the word FAITHFUL provides a tidy acrostic for eight blessings we enjoy–no matter what.

God is our:

Faithful promise-keeper. He is already ahead of us in the uncertainty of 2021, just as he went ahead of Joshua and the Israelites into Canaan. He has promised not to fail us or abandon us[1]—even when we cross dark valleys of troubling circumstances.

Attentive Father. Before we put our needs into words, God is on his way to meet it.[2]

Immutable (unchanging) Rock. He “does not change like shifting shadows.”[3] In a world where situations and relationships can change unexpectedly, God remains his rock-solid, reliable, perfect self.

Truth-Revealer.   The truth of God’s Word has been proven through numerous disciplines and in the lives of millions. Within its pages we find the wisdom and support we need.[4]

All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.
 -Psalm 119:160

“The remedy for discouragement is the Word of God.
When you feed your heart and mind with its truth,
You regain your perspective and find renewed strength.”
–Warren Wiersbe

Hope. Our God of hope fills us with all joy and peace as we trust him. Hope allows us to see his blessings even amid hardship, and know with certainty he will use even our painful circumstances to accomplish good.[5]

Foundation. God’s ways provide a strong foundation for life, especially when storms of sorrow come. He upholds us with his love and compassion, peace and comfort that transcend our ability to explain.[6]

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. (Is. 54:10)

Unerring and righteous Judge. “Your kingdom is founded on righteousness and justice,” wrote the psalmist, “love and faithfulness are shown in all you do.” And because he is righteous and just, everything will work toward the best outcome in the end.[7]

Light, even in dark times.[8] Too often we focus on the swirling blackness of circumstances around us. But “God’s lights in our dark nights are as numerous as the stars, if only we’ll look for them.”[9]

Throughout my years as a blogger, I’ve shared many experiences illustrating how God has been faithful to our family. One in particular comes to mind that encompassed all of the above blessings.

Leadership of our church denomination assigned my pastor-husband to another church across state.   We were not ready to move. God ministered to me during those dark days of transition as I journaled through the psalms, affirming his love and compassion, peace and comfort. And as a result, hope began to blossom.

For whatever was written in the past was all written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.
 (Rom. 15:4 BSB)

I grew in spiritual strength, compelled to rely on him through the grief of leaving beloved friends and the uncertainty of what lay ahead. He miraculously provided a teaching position for me not far from our new home. And in the end everything did work for good as that struggling church became a thriving community. (You can read a fuller account at After the Fact.)

In a book of liturgy, St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) kept a bookmark with the following affirmation:

“Let nothing disturb you; let nothing dismay you;
all things pass: God never changes.
Patience attains all it strives for.
He who has God finds he lacks nothing.
God only suffices.”

God only—in all the numerous demonstrations of his faithfulness–is our certain security.


Should you wish to read more examples of God’s faithfulness, you can click on the following links:

Notes:

[1] Deuteronomy 31:6
[2] Matthew 6:8
[3] James 1:17c CSB
[4] Psalm 119:24, 140, 160
[5] Romans 15:13; 8:28
[6] Isaiah 54:10; Philippians 4:6-7
[7] Psalm 89:14 GNT; Genesis 50:20
[8] Psalm 27:1
[9] Max Lucado, Grace for the Moment (J. Countryman, 2000) p. 195

November 28, 2020

Paul the Apostle Needed People to Support Him

Periodically I check the website A Life Overseas which is written for MKs (Missionaries Kids) and TCKs (Third Culture Kids; people for whom the word home doesn’t mean the place on their passport.)  We’ve shared content from that site here and at Thinking Out Loud. That’s where I found today’s article.

Craig Thompson and his wife, Karen, along with their five children, served as missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan, for ten years before returning to the United States. His blog, Clearing Customs, is an interesting mix of poetry, embedded music videos, and good writing. Click the header below to read this at A Life Overseas, or click the link at the end of the article to read a shorter version at Clearing Customs.

Paul and the Corbels of Member Care

There’s something in architecture called a corbel. Even if you’ve never heard the name before, you’re probably familiar with what it is. A corbel is a bracket, sometimes ornamental, that projects out from a wall, providing support to a structure above. It allows that structure to extend out to where it couldn’t on its own.

Cross-cultural workers are the kinds of people who want to reach out far from home, who dream of going where no one has gone before. They’re often pioneering spirits who’d even go it alone, if that’s what it took—empowered only by their calling and their grit, gristle, and God-given abilities. That’s how the Apostle Paul did it, right? If I were more like Paul, I’d rely on God more and on people less . . . right?

Yes, at times, Paul stressed his independence. In his letter to the Galatian churches, he affirmed that his role as an apostle came directly from Jesus, not from his association with the other apostles:

But when the one who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I could preach him among the Gentiles, I did not go to ask advice from any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, but right away I departed to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus.

But Paul wasn’t a loner. He took partners with him on his missionary trips, and he also recognized the need for flesh-and-blood corbels to hold him up as he reached out, bearing the gospel. He valued the encouragement and comfort of others. He understood the importance of member care (pastoral care, nurture and development, tender care, that one safe friend).

When Paul finally met with the apostles in Jerusalem, Barnabas helped him by being his advocate, vouching for his dedication to Jesus. Later, Barnabas sought out Paul for his help in working with the church in Antioch, and the two were sent out by the church on Paul’s first missionary journey. It was during his trips and while he was a prisoner that Paul wrote his New Testament letters, often mentioning those who served to encourage him.

Near the end of his first letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote about “the household of Stephanus” (or Stephanas), who “devoted themselves to ministry for the saints,” and added,

I was glad about the arrival of Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus because they have supplied the fellowship with you that I lacked. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. So then, recognize people like this.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul told about how he even turned away from a God-sent opening for ministry because he needed to hear from Titus:

Now when I arrived in Troas to proclaim the gospel of Christ, even though the Lord had opened a door of opportunity for me, I had no relief in my spirit, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-bye to them and set out for Macedonia.

Then, in Macedonia,

our body had no rest at all, but we were troubled in every way—struggles from the outside, fears from within, But God, who encourages the downhearted, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. We were encouraged not only by his arrival, but also by the encouragement you gave him, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your deep concern for me, so that I rejoiced more than ever.

While under house arrest in Rome, Paul wrote to Philemon, “I have had great joy and encouragement because of your love, for the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.” He went on to address the subject of Onesimus, Philemon’s slave who had run away, had come to Paul, and had become a Christian. Paul was sending him back to Philemon, not as a slave but as a brother in Christ, even though Paul wrote, “I wanted to keep him so that he could serve me in your place during my imprisonment for the sake of the gospel.” Paul also looked forward to spending time with Philemon in the future, telling him to “prepare a place for me to stay, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given back to you.

Still a prisoner, Paul wrote to the Colossians and the Philippians. He told those in Colossae that Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus (called Justus) were the only Jewish Christians still working with him, saying “they have been a comfort to me.” And to the Christians in Philippi, he told of his plans to send to them Epaphroditus, whom he described as

my brother, coworker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to me in my need. Indeed, he greatly missed all of you and was distressed because you heard that he had been ill. In fact he became so ill that he nearly died. But God showed mercy to him—and not to him only, but also to me—so that I would not have grief on top of grief. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you can rejoice and I can be free from anxiety. So welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, since it was because of the work of Christ that he almost died. He risked his life so that he could make up for your inability to serve me.

Later, imprisoned in a Roman dungeon, Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, saying, “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy,” and then,

May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my imprisonment. But when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day! And you know very well all the ways he served me in Ephesus.

Alone, except for Luke, Paul told Timothy, “Make every effort to come to me soon,” requesting that he also bring Mark, because “he is a great help to me in ministry.” Paul even mentioned some items that he wanted (a care package?), asking Timothy to bring along a cloak that Paul had left in Troas, as well as his scrolls.

Even Paul needed member care, not just for the sake of his work, but also for his personal well-being. Or maybe we should say, given the hardships that he faced, especially Paul needed member care. He needed it, and he appreciated it. And if Paul needed it, so do today’s cross-cultural workers, every one.


A version of the post originally appeared in ClearingCustoms.net.

The Scriptures quoted are from the NET Bible® http://netbible.com copyright ©1996, 2019 used with permission from Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved)

Photo: Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

September 7, 2020

For Those Needing Encouragement

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A devotional website which has been a great inspiration to me, as well as the source of many articles here, is Daily Encouragement, written (and recorded on audio) weekdays by Stephen and Brooksyne Weber of Pennsylvania. Their devotional writing, combined with their workplace chaplaincy ministry is a full-time job.

Today’s post is in many respects a “signature” devotional, which covers the topic in their site’s name. I encourage you to click through and enjoy the flavor of what they post every day, including personal notes and video links. Click the title below to start.

Paying Encouragement Forward

Listen to this message on your audio player.

“But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. His presence was a joy, but so was the news he brought of the encouragement he received from you” (2 Corinthians 7:6,7).

What a surprise blessing to be the recipient of someone “paying it forward”. The simplest way to define “pay it forward” is that when someone does something for you, instead of paying that person back directly, you pass it on to another person instead. An example is buying a coffee for the person in line behind you at the coffee shop and then they buy a coffee for the person behind them and so on (which really seems to me “paying it backward”).

Today let us consider “paying encouragement forward”.

I have on my heart today those who may be in need of encouragement. It may be a painful loss resulting in difficult major adjustments ahead such as those who recently experienced a very damaging hurricane in the Gulf Coast. It may be the sense of despair many feel as we see the crumbling conditions around us. It may be the loneliness so many of our seniors and others feel as this covid season goes on and on. We all need a mighty dose of God’s encouragement. Many of you reading this know of similar situations and in fact some of you are now in that place of need.

Today’s verse reminds us again of the power of God to bring encouragement and encourage others. The verse before indicates Paul’s need, For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn–conflicts on the outside, fears within (7:5). Have you ever felt that way? I sure have. I believe we all have! And I thank God for people who refresh us like Titus.

He is one of the many ministry associates of Paul with whom we have little background information. He is referenced several times in 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 2 Timothy and most famously in the book written to him that bears his name. It seems his ministry spanned quite a few years indicating that he remained faithful.

The daily verse begins: But God, who encourages those who are discouraged“. Foundationally, God is the Ultimate Encourager. During a time of deep despair David felt strengthened and encouraged in the Lord his God (1 Samuel 30:6). What a blessing that we can get encouragement directly from God.

Encouraged us by the arrival of Titus“. The operative agent used by God to bring encouragement (Greek “parakaleo”, often translated “comfort”) to Paul was Titus. He was returning with news concerning the Corinthian believers who had been severely rebuked in an earlier letter. Titus’ report brought Paul joy because, he told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever (7:7b).

His presence was a joy, but so was the news he brought of the encouragement he received from you.” What does Paul mean by this?

1) It could be that he was heartened at the results of his teaching in the lives of the Corinthian believers, how that they had encouraged Titus. In ministry we are so blessed to see Christ-like fruit in the lives of those to whom we have ministered.

2) It could be in the sense that Titus would have been unable to bring encouragement to Paul if he himself had not been encouraged by the Corinthians believers.

We are all aware of people who may be downcast today, people who need their day brightened. Could our actions or words, or the combination of both be an encouragement to someone in need, just as Titus was used of God to bring encouragement to Paul. He had received encouragement from the Corinthian believers and in turn reciprocated by transmitting that encouragement to Paul. The encouragement we share might be in the form of a visit, a phone call, or a brief e-mail message or text assuring the recipient of our interest and prayer. Indeed, let us practice paying encouragement forward today!

Be encouraged today.

Daily prayer: Father, sometimes we are frustrated by what little we have to offer others when we compare ourselves with those who are greatly talented or have a special way with words, or even those who may have financial resources to bless others in ways that we cannot. But we are not limited in reaching out to one who may be looking for a reason to smile or to the one who simply needs a helping hand. Paul indicated that the comfort You dispensed to Titus, was then transmitted to him, and then he passed it onto the Corinthian church. We pray for the prompting of the Holy Spirit to show us ways that we can encourage those around us so that it will naturally be passed on to others as well. We pray for this through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

March 22, 2020

Look Up at the Eagle in Flight; Look Up and Count the Stars

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Is.40.26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
    Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
    and calls forth each of them by name…

28 Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.

by Ruth Wilkinson

A few years ago, there was a summer when our son was struggling with depression. This was the first time we’d encountered it and we thought it was something he’d go through and come out the other side. As parents do, we encouraged him to push back against it, to get out there and do stuff, including a summer job.

The only work available was picking strawberries for a local farmer and we thought that would be perfect–fresh air, sunshine, the smell of berry fields, no time pressure–not to mention it being the perfect, introvert-friendly summer job.

He absolutely hated it. He tried; he showed up to his shifts and worked away. But he absolutely hated it. He kept going for most of the season, but after several weeks, he quit.

We didn’t understand why it went so badly, but eventually we wondered whether it had to do with the posture of berry picking.

Head down, looking at the ground, shoulders hunched forward. We wonder now whether that downward posture combined with his depression to make everything worse.

+=+=+=+=+=+

I’ve been thinking lately about looking down. And looking up.

The 40th chapter of Isaiah contains a message to the people of Israel: a message sent to encourage them, to let them know that their season of exile was nearly over. They’d been invaded, defeated, and taken captive, and carried away.

Their situation was different from ours in a few ways:

  • They’d been told by God in no uncertain terms that their situation was a direct result of choices they’d made. It was effectively time out for bad behaviour. We have no credible reason to believe that is the case for us.
  • What they were afraid of was men with swords, violent invaders who, if kept happy, might not assault or kill. We are afraid of each other–of friends, family, neighbours, or any close contact.
  • They were scooped up and taken from their home, their beautiful city, en masse to somewhere far away, where they didn’t want to be. We have been separated from each other, distanced for our own protection.

But even with those differences…

  • we are wondering why this is happening.
  • we are afraid, anxious.
  • we are not where we want to be.

Isaiah 40 is one part of the Bible that we take to heart–words of comfort and encouragement, even though they were spoken long ago in a time that is not now, to people who are not us.

But they endure, they’ve been preserved, they’ve been painted on wall hangings and t-shirts, because, an age and a world away, they still apply to us. They contain truth beyond their particular circumstances, and show us something about who God is and what he intends for us. Something he wants us to know.

+=+=+=+=+=+

“Look up,” He says.*
“Look up and see how the eagle flies.
Look up and count the stars.”

Yes, there’ve been days when I’ve run and run and run, thinking I’d never run out of breath.
Days when I walked for mile after mile after mile, strength after strength after strength.
Days when I looked up and I soared.

But these are days when I can only look down at the road.
As far as the next step.
Days when the weariness catches up to me and I stumble.
And I fall.

And I cry aloud, “God doesn’t see me!  The Lord isn’t  listening to me!”
And I wallow in my own echo.
He doesn’t. He isn’t. He doesn’t. He isn’t. He doesn’t. He isn’t.

But when the echoes fade, I hear him.

“Look up,” He says.

“Don’t you know?  Haven’t you heard?
I am the everlasting God.
The Creator of the whole of earth and heaven.
I never get weary.
I never stumble.
I never fall.
I have strength to give to the weary,  the powerless.
“You may stumble.
You may fall.
But trust in me.
Wait on me and I will renew your strength.
To walk again.
To run again.
To soar.”

He says, “Look up.”
So I will look up.
I will look up and see.
I will look up and walk.
I will look up and run.
I will look up and soar.


*Ruth’s paraphrase of Isaiah 40, selected verses

October 14, 2019

Refreshment

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we return for our every-six-months visit to a longstanding source of material here at C201, Jon Swanson’s blog 300 Words a Day. As always, click the header below to read at source.

Joining in the struggle

At the end of a letter, Paul wrote this:

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed.

It’s a simple and understandable request for prayer. We might find it in any prayer letter from any missionary, any youth group fundraising letter, any letter from followers of Jesus in many parts of the world this morning: Pray that I will be kept safe, pray that I will get to come and see you.

It didn’t work. Not exactly. He went to Jerusalem. He was arrested. He was taken as a prisoner to Rome.

It did work. He wasn’t killed at several points. He was taken to Rome where he was, with joy, in their company, refreshed.

I think the most important part of his request to the church in Rome wasn’t the specific request of God. It was Paul’s request that they join him in his struggle by talking to God about him. He wanted them to be part of his team, to be interested in his progress, his safety, his effectiveness, his faith. It would mean that though they hadn’t ever seen him, they had a part in his work.

And as part of his team, they could ask God about keeping him safe and having influence.

There are people this morning you don’t know who would love you to join in their struggle. To own an interest in their obedience to God’s call for them. If you don’t have a name, simply do this: “God, there’s someone with the same kind of family situation I have, the same life calling I have, and they are in danger at this moment because of You. I want to be part of their struggle. Could you help them today?”

Some of the people who talked with God about Paul never met Paul. But apparently, he counted them as part of his team. And apparently, so did God.


When I’m weary from the fight
And trying to do what’s right
You bring times of refreshing to my soul

 

October 13, 2018

He Knows Your Works, Love, Faith, Service and Patient Endurance

Six months ago we introduced you to Martha Anderson who has been writing devotions at Strengthened by Grace since January, 2014 and is the author of four books available on Lulu.com.

El Roi–The God Who Sees

I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.  Revelation 2:19

In Revelation chapters 2-3 there are letters to seven churches that are scattered throughout what was then called Asia.  God told John to write down both their strengths and their weaknesses. What strikes me as I read the letters again is this:  the words, “I know your works,” are repeated again and again. They are phrased a bit differently in some of the letters, like to Smyrna in 2:9, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)” and to Pergamum in Rev. 2:13, “I know where you live.”

Not only does God know the seven churches’ works, but He knows our works.  He told them things like, You have lost your first love, in Rev. 2:4 and, You have reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.  Remember then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.  Rev. 3:2-3

God didn’t just tell them words of rebuke, but also words of encouragement.  For instance, He told the church at Ephesus that they worked hard and had patient endurance.  Plus, they didn’t tolerate false teachers. To the church in Philadelphia, God told them that He knew that although they had little power, they had kept His word and didn’t deny His name.  God spoke of rewards to those who conquer and who keeps His works until the end.

† My question: What if God were to write you a letter?  What would He say? What strengths would He mention and what words of encouragement would He give?  Does it help you to know that He sees your heart, that He knows the things that you have done that no one else knows about, and that He knows the path you have taken?

If God were to say to you, “I know your works,” would that be a comforting and encouraging statement?  When Hagar fled from Sarai in Genesis 16 because Sarai was dealing with her bitterly, the angel of the Lord came and spoke blessings to Hagar in the wilderness.  So Hagar called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You are a God of seeing, for she said, Truly here I have see Him who looks after me. vs. 13.  That is where the name of God, “El Roi” is first used.

‡ El Roi, the God who sees, is a good thing.  God sees our works and He looks after us. He sees our love and faith and service and    patient endurance, and He will reward us for those things.  On the flip side, He also sees the things that we need to repent of. As Hebrews 4:13 tells us, No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.  It is much easier to shed off the yuck knowing that God  has my best interest in mind.

Forgive me for when my love grows cold and I tolerate false idols and teachers.  Wake me up so that you will not find my works incomplete. And thank you that You can trace my path and see my heart for You when no one else can.  You are the God who sees and who rewards.

 

March 10, 2018

Encouraged and Satisfied

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Elsie Montgomery is one of the most faithful devotional writers I encounter when preparing these articles to share with you. She’s now in her 12th year of writing and this is her 14th article here at C201. Click the title below and read it at her blog, Practical Faith.

Content with God’s plan?

God arranges devotional readings to fit whatever is going on in my life. I don’t know how He does that but am so thankful for it. Some days I need correction or a rebuke. He knows and does it. Some days I need something new to challenge me. He does that too. Some days I need to be encouraged and He always knows what to say, both from the Scriptures and from A.W. Tozer’s refreshing perspectives.

My main function in the Body of Christ is prayer. I used to teach and be more involved with other people. Now I am still with people, yet my role has changed from talking and teaching to observation and intercession. God is teaching me to pray as I listen to the Holy Spirit. It is a wonderful thing, yet at times I feel disconnected. I sometimes wonder if this is all He wants.

Tozer says that many ordinary folks may have nothing to recommend them but a deep devotion to the Lord and the fruit of the Spirit which they unconsciously display. The Lord says to me, “This is where you fit.”

Then Tozer goes on. He says the church could not carry on without these people. Some of them are the first to come forward when work is required. My health spoils this, but then he says some are the last to go home when there is prayer needed. The way I see it, prayer is always needed. Tozer says I might not be known outside of the local church because faithfulness and goodness are rarely newsworthy, but people like this are a benediction wherever they go.

I am encouraged. Being great might produce admiration in carnal people but God helps me be content to walk with Him in the fullness of His Spirit that I might pray His will and be satisfied that this is a relatively hidden ministry. He also encourages me in small ways that far out-weigh any accolades. For instance, in the past month He put on the hearts of three children, a three-year-old girl, a boy of about six and a girl of about four to make cards for me. One said, “We hope you are feeling better. I love you.” The boy’s said, “I pray that you are not afraid because God is with you.” Last week, I was blessed by a card with hearts and handprints. Her mother said it was totally the child’s idea to make it for me.

Today’s verses are about what comes from the heart. The children’s cards tell me of their openness to the Holy Spirit and as a result are blessing others. The devotional does that too. Those verses begin with Jesus’ rebuke to the hypocrisy of religious leaders:

“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:34–37)

Those children leave a fragrance of Christ that lingers in my heart. I want to be like them. God assures me that in praying for them and for others, this role in His kingdom has great value. He hears my heart, puts blessing into the hearts that listen to Him, even the hearts of “the least of these” so that they become a blessing to others, even to me. There is great joy in being loved by little people who hardly know me. Imagine the joy in the heart of Jesus when those who know Him express their love by obedience and by loving others.

^^^^^^^^^
Dear Lord Jesus, Tozer ends with this: “Come unto God, unite yourself to God, and the doing power you have is infinite!” You have encouraged me. Prayer is sometimes a delight, yet also at times very hard work. It is spiritual warfare for the enemy wants to stop me, but also is an unimaginable link to You — and it sometimes results in great surprises.

July 30, 2017

A Call to Help and to Encourage

by Russell Young

The walk of faith is not as easy as some might think. It is for this reason that believers have been called upon to help and to encourage one another. The Word records that all Christ-followers will be persecuted, and that they must go through many trials. It is during these times that help and encouragement is needed to pursue a walk of faith. The church of Christ is a community of believers through whom the Lord works to accomplish his purposes personally, locally, and globally. The idea of community should not get lost since strength exists in community.

The nation of Israel faced a great trial at Rephidim. Lacking water, they quarreled and complained to Moses, “Is the Lord among us or not.” (Ex 17:7 NIV) When trials strike it is easy to feel abandoned and alone. It is easy to question whether God is with us. The promises that are so readily uttered seem hollow. The Israelites questioned the intent of God—did he lead them into the desert to let them die? Anyone going through a severe trial can easily question the presence of God. It is during times of testing that believers need someone to come along side and encourage them in their faith.  Before entering the Promised Land, Moses told his people, “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut 8: 2 NIV) Trials have a purpose. Those who are enduring them are having their faith tested; God wants to know what is in their hearts. They need to be encouraged in their faith. The Lord stated, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mt 10:22 NIV) Standing firm to the end is a condition of eternal salvation. In a person’s weakness, he or she needs the help and encouragement of those who care for them and Christ has commanded his disciples to love one another. (Jn 15:17) His second great commandment is that believers are to love their neighbour as themselves. (M2 22:39) Paul has revealed that the law of Christ is to “carry each other’s burdens.” (Gal 6:2 NIV) A law is not a suggestion, but a command.

The need to help one another was made clear by the Israelites at Rephidim. Not only did they lack water but once provided it they were attacked by the Amalekites. Trial came upon trial. Moses sent Joshua to attack them and went with Aaron and Hur to the top of the hill and held up his hands to God. While they humbled themselves before the LORD and sought his help, they found themselves winning.  When Moses lowered his hands, the battle favored the Amalekites. Sometimes we do not have the strength, physical, emotional, or spiritual, to do what must be done.  Moses’ arms became tired and he had to lower them. As much as he desired, victory would have deserted him if he had been left to his own resources. Fortunately, Aaron and Hur came alongside and lifted his hands for him and victory was given.

There are Christian brothers and sisters about us who will fail if not supported.  They cannot help it. Fatigue, discouragement, and circumstances take over. Some will not even humble themselves before their God as he required of the Israelites; they presume that victory is their right. They will not metaphorically lift their arms to God. These also need encouragement and teaching. Aaron and Hur did not accompany Moses by accident. God had placed them in a strategic position. They were to help Moses in his weakness.

Trials and persecutions in the believer’s life are not accidental. They are to test faith and every confessor will have his or her faith tested to discern its measure. Based on such testing the Lord will become knowledgeable or “know” (become certain) of those who are his. This will happen! Some are walking astray and need encouragement to walk in the light. Others might be struggling through discipline and punishment so that they might share in his holiness (Heb 12:10), while others might be suffering through health problems or as a life relationship causes them to share the tribulations of a loved one.

The Lord equates ministry to the needs of others as having been done for him. “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Mt 25:40 NIV)

The family of believers is to share in the burdens of their brothers and sisters in the Lord and are to encourage and help them in their trial. They should not to be left to feel abandoned and alone. Both pain and joy ought to be shared experiences, community experiences. A person’s position in the life of another is not an accident; through the church community the hands, feet and mouth of Christ should always be available and exercised.


Starting next week, we introduce Sunday Worship, a weekly feature publishing at the end of your worship day and focusing on time spent in God’s presence. Each article in the series will have the same title. Writer suggestions and contributions are also appreciated.

Russell Young‘s writing moves to alternate Tuesdays, starting August 8th and 22nd, and thereafter on the first and third Tuesday of each month.


Russell Young is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

February 14, 2017

Saying “I Love You”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I’m hoping I will tell my wife I love her several times today. It’s not only Valentine’s Day, but it’s also our anniversary, and a special one at that.

Words like “I Love You” that can make a difference.

Last year we introduced a new (to us) author, Robin Patchen who lives in Edmond, Oklahoma and is the author of three books and blogs at Quid Pro Quills. The site actually features six different writers, and today we’re featuring another one, . As usual, click the title below and encourage these authors by reading their works at the original site.

Words

What are the last words you spoke to the last person with whom you spoke?

To be fair, I’ll share mine: “I love you, too.”

But if you’d heard my words yesterday, they would’ve sounded less beautiful. More… ungrateful. Untrusting. Unkind.

Words have the ability to encourage or the ability to destroy. When you add emotions, exhaustion, and ego to the mix, communication can be a minefield. The paradox? We frequently mete our harshest words to the individuals we love the most.

Why is that? Don’t you hate it? I do. I want to be a better listener. A better problem-solver. I want to end a conversation with someone knowing that I’ve affirmed him. In times of disagreement, my desire is that when the conversation is over, the problem has truly been resolved instead of postponed. I want to stop falling into the same speech traps that constantly leave me disappointed and defensive.

The gift of speech is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given, but I’m so inept at utilizing the spoken word. That’s why the Proverbs wield power. These wise sayings help me to love God and my neighbor.

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18

“An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” Proverbs 12:25

“He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3

“It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.” Proverbs 20:3

“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11

Sometimes the best use of the tongue is to keep it sealed behind our lips. Silence is a powerful form of communication. The best Communicator who ever lived, Jesus Christ, chose to remain silent even when He was unjustly accused and on the way to His crucifixion. I would’ve been screaming. But He was silent. He knew He was right. Therefore, He had nothing else to say. His final action of love was all that was necessary.

It’s tough to control our words. We should think before we speak, and if we do have to say difficult words, they must be spoken in love. One of the scriptures most difficult to apply is this: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”

Father, give me wisdom. Use my speech to glorify You and encourage others. Make my words agents of Your healing.


Check out these related C201 articles:

December 10, 2016

Your Smell – Part Two

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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I subscribe to the morning devotional Breakfast of Champions by Andy Elmes, which originates from the UK ministry Great Big Life. He recently did a series of four posts, two titled “What Do You Smell Like?” and two titled “Your Smell Affects Others.” The following is an edited version of the second two.

Your smell affects others

2 Corinthians 2:14-16, NIV
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?

The fragrance that comes from your life affects three people, according to Corinthians. Let’s look at the first of these three this morning.

First of all, God smells you
“We are to God the aroma of Christ”. How awesome is that – when God leans over and sniffs us living our everyday lives, He smells the incredible fragrance of the beauty and righteousness of His Son, Jesus. You may say, “But you do not know what I did this week”. My response is that you need to know that, according to God’s word, your life is hidden (positioned in) Christ and when God smells you, He smells the fragrance of Jesus and of His finished perfect work of redemption.

A great comparison is found in Genesis 27:27, in the account of when Isaac blesses his son Jacob instead of Esau. Isaac was blind by this time, and knew His sons by touch and their distinctive smells. Jacob, acting on the plan of His mother, wore the smell of His brother to get his father’s blessing, and it was because of that smell that Isaac was convinced he was with Esau, not Jacob, and blessed him. (Read the account. It is a good read.)

Genesis 27:27, NKJV
And he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his clothing, and blessed him and said: “Surely, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the LORD has blessed”.

The smell that is upon your life is the smell of the Son He loves and the field (life of His Son) that He has blessed. How awesome is that! When you approach God you smell like Jesus. Also, you need to know that, unlike Jacob, this is not a con but rather an intention of God, because it is He who positioned you in Christ. Don’t feel like a fraud, like Jacob did, because you’re not. Your scent is the result of His intent and it is He that coated you in the Son of His delight.

Because of this you can again today approach the Father, knowing that His approval of you is established in Jesus. You can, as it invites us in Hebrews, “approach Him with boldness of faith.”

Know that the Lord your God loves the smell of you…

…Two groups of people are mentioned in the above verses, and two distinctive smells. If we let them follow their natural order I think we may be able to see that God intended both smells to exist and play their part.

Those who are being saved
Corinthians says that we are the smell of death among this group. Death? One way of looking at it could be that our lives should smell of the death we have experienced in Christ. When people (church folk) get to experience our aroma they should smell the scent of the death we have died in Christ on us. It is that divine death that separated us from everything we used to be and so liberating and enabling us to be the brand new creations we now are. They should smell the death of such things as selfishness, pride and other scents that were once common to us and also that there is a new creation smell to us now.

• Those who are perishing
Our aroma among the unsaved should be one of extreme life. When unsaved people get a whiff of us they should be overwhelmed by the scent of resurrection and new life that comes from every pore of who we are. Remember that through new birth (death, burial and resurrection) we have been made alive together with Him and so our lives should smell of life, not like the musty corridors of religion. Let’s face it, the smell of life is so much better than the smell of death. Life is more likely to attract followers than that of death. What would you follow?

As we move forward to possess our day let us be conscious of the aroma our life is giving out to the world God has called us to change.

December 9, 2016

Your Smell – Part One

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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I subscribe to the morning devotional Breakfast of Champions by Andy Elmes, which originates from the UK ministry Great Big Life. He recently did a series of four posts, two titled “What Do You Smell Like?” and two more titled “Your Smell Affects Others.” The following is an edited version of the first two.

What do you smell like?

2 Corinthians 2:14-16, NIV
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?

A better way of saying ‘smell’ would be to use the word ‘fragrance’, or ‘aroma’. Paul’s challenge to us is this: What aroma or fragrance is coming from our lives as we live them out daily?

God’s plan was that our lives would “spread everywhere the fragrance of Him”. Is that what your life smells like today? When people get a whiff of your life do they smell the scent of grace, and the aroma of someone who knows Jesus?

This is a good challenge for each of us to consider and, as with many things, there is a natural and a spiritual reality to smells and people. We can compare them both to make a point.

All of us have experienced, or been exposed to, at one time or another, a person passing us with a nice scent – maybe an expensive perfume or after shave. It’s also very likely you have experienced the smell of someone passing near to you with bad BO (body odor). Have you ever sat in the same room or enclosed place with someone who removes their shoes and they have really unpleasantly cheesy-smelling feet? Yep, we have all experienced both.

Naturally, our lives can release a smell or a fragrance that is either pleasing or not-so-pleasing to the senses of others, and spiritually this is a reality too. What does your Christianity smell of today. Smells are very interesting things. They can attract people or repel them depending on what type of smell they are. When people encounter you do they smell the sweet perfume of knowing Jesus or the odor of religion, with all its various scents of law and legalism – or worse, the pungent stench of hypocrisy?

We shouldn’t have to struggle to daily release the sweet scent of Christ from our lives, but simply remember that it is the natural reaction of His life resident within us.

Again, look at the natural body as an example. The reality is that whatever is in you, or put into you, can play a large part concerning the odor that comes from you. One of the times that I took Gina out to eat, I ate a very large chunk of garlic without realizing it was raw. By the end of the night it was manifesting its odor nicely from every pore in my skin and, by the next morning, had contaminated every inch of who I was – especially to my family who sadly had to experience my breath.

The fragrance of your life should be Christ-like in its scent simply because of two things:

• Jesus now lives in you. You are not a hotel He visits but rather His home (place of residence). He does not pop in and pop out when He feels like it but never leaves according to His promise. Christ in you is the hope of Glory but also so the source of the pleasing fragrance that comes from your life.

• You realize and accept that your life is now His home and, as you do, you daily yield and submit everything you are to Him. The fragrance of His life comes from every part or through every pore of who you are.

Also, while we talk about the principle of “what goes in affects what comes out”, it is important that you be daily feeding your life the stuff that you want your life to be smelling of. For example, if you keep feeding your life the law of Moses then it will be the law of Moses that you smell of. Feed your life daily the truth and grace that comes through Jesus and you will love the way your life starts smelling, and so will others.

Bless you and consider again the One who has now become the very contents of your life. Let His life flow out of you again today.

May our lives today release wherever we go that sweet aroma of Christ in us. May that smell attract people to follow Him.

Be smelly, in the right way!

 

March 1, 2016

We Are The Broken

Today’s post is by Iris, one of the writers at a multi-author website we have visited before, Laced With Grace. Click the title below to read at source, and then look around at other articles. (I had a hard time choosing!)

We Are All Broken

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:7-12

…It is our human nature that we want to be accepted by others. And if we are honest with ourselves, we strive for that daily. We want to be part of the ‘in-crowd’; yes even followers of The Way are not immune to that.. We want others to hear our voice.

But here is just the thing: we cannot please everyone around us, and especially not on social media. Remember when you were in school (the upper grades)? Although I did not go to school in America, there are always clicks [cliques] (in-crowds) no matter where you attend school. We strive to be part of that.

Over the years I have heard over-and-over…’you don’t amount to much’…’you don’t have what it takes to become popular’…

This morning as I was driving to work, I heard the song “Everything Comes Alive” by We Are Messengers. When you watch the song on YouTube, the singer has a testimony at the beginning and at the end. I encourage you to check it out when you have time.

You see, we are all broken. Some more than others. I know that I am broken, but my hope is not in what others think of me/my work or if others want me to part of their in-crowd. But God, in His mercy and grace, uses our brokenness to point to Him. We just need to be open to that and let Him use us for His Glory.

Lord of mercy and grace. We are all broken. Help us to recognize our brokenness and help us to be open to be used by You for Your glory. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen

Related:

*Some of the same material appeared in an expanded chart form in August 2013 – The Proud vs. The Broken

February 27, 2016

Scripture Provides a Model of Being an Encourager

NLT Phil 1:4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now...

So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News.

Today we pay a return visit to the blog, Counseling One Another by author and pastor Paul Tautges. Click the title to read at source, and if you have time, at least do a quick overview of another resource by him which is linked at the bottom of today’s reading.

Write a Letter of Affirmation & Encouragement

It is difficult to exaggerate the value of an encouraging letter, a letter which affirms the value of a person made in the image of God, and which affirms the work of God in others. In his excellent book, Practicing Affirmation, Sam Crabtree writes:

Even with the Bible’s emphasis on humble self-denial and its warnings against pride, the Bible praises people—to the glory of God, ultimately. The chief end of God is not to glorify man, as humanistic thought would have it; the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. Meanwhile, the praising of people does not necessarily preclude the praising of God, if the people are commended ultimately for his glory. God is glorified in us when we affirm the work he has done and is doing in others.

As Christians, we are too often light on commendation, and heavy on criticism. We sometimes have the strange idea that if we praise a person for their work, character, and love then they will become proud. And we somehow think that it’s not God’s job to keep a person humble—it’s ours. So we tend to be light on praise and heavy on criticism, light on commendation and heavy on complaining.

But the apostle Paul did not think that way. Instead, his mind’s eye looked for that which was praiseworthy in people. Now, mind you, he was also not afraid to give rebuke when it was necessary. But his habit was to look for evidence of grace in the lives of others, and praise them for it.

For example, just in this little letter called Philippians, we find the apostle commending the recipients no less than seven times. Paul praised them for:

  • Their partnership in the gospel (1:5)
  • God’s saving and sanctifying work in them (1:6)
  • That they were partakers of grace in his imprisonment, in contrast to those who forsook him, or those who were enemies of Christ (1:7)
  • Their love and prayers (1:19)
  • Their progress and joy in the faith (1:25)
  • Their kindness in meeting his $ needs, and supporting the work of the gospel. Their gift, he said, was a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice to God (4:15-20)
  • The spiritual fruit that was increasing to their account because of their love and generosity (4:17)

This is a cheerful letter of encouragement.

How about you? Are you heavy on criticism and light on praise? Instead of looking for evidences of God’s grace in the lives of your fellow believers, do you more quickly look for their flaws? Do you write letters of encouragement that build others up, or are you more prone to write angry, caustic emails?

As Paul began his letter to the Philippians, he began with words of affirmation and encouragement, and he greeted them with grace and peace. The order is significant: grace precedes peace, true peace only comes to those who experience grace. We need to remember, too, that Paul’s continued prayer means the supply of God’s grace and peace has not run out. There is still plenty there for you, and for me. And there is plenty to pass on to others.

So, here’s your homework (Yes, this blog post contains homework!). This weekend, write at least one letter of encouragement to a brother or sister who has been a blessing to your life. Note the evidence of God’s grace that you see in their lives. Tell them you are thankful to God for them and how God has used them to enrich your life, model Jesus, and help you to grow spiritually. Extend to them the grace that God has so richly extended to you. And then pray…ask God to make you the kind of believer who is heavy on praise and light on criticism or complaining.

[These thoughts are from last Sunday’s sermon, A Letter of Encouragment.]


There was another article by Paul on the same website that I wanted to include, but the format was quite different. Still, if you’re willing to copy and paste the references into a Bible program online, this would make an excellent study. Check out 14 Trinitarian Works… Revisited. (We might use this in the future as a scripture medley!)

August 16, 2015

Lord, I Can’t Do This; Please Get Somebody Else

A few days ago we looked at how Moses was reluctant to be God’s chosen mouthpiece and his reasons why God should get someone else. Our particular focus there was the public speaking aspect of the job God was calling Moses to do.

But sometimes it’s not public speaking, we have other reasons why we just wish God would choose someone else. (After writing this, I realized there’s also a tie-in to our devotional from two days ago; that often we just wish we could be somewhere else.)

I never really thought of this verse in this context until a sermon I heard this morning, but certainly God understands when we are struck by our limitations:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses – Hebrews 4:15a

and an earlier verse in the same book:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity – Hebrews 2:14

In Christ we have a role model, who as he took on a mission that, in his humanity, as Calvary loomed large, caused him to ask if there were not a better way or a different way. It’s like he was almost saying, ‘Maybe someone else can take over at this point.’ Okay, I know that’s not the way it works, but you do get a sense of the anguish that Christ as feeling at that time.

But sometimes we hesitate to enter into the mission God has for us because of condemnation. This is a difficult subject to address because sin needs to be dealt with before a person is fit for public ministry (which might include everything from teaching a class to helping at the soup kitchen.) But sometimes the condemnation is simply an attack of the enemy.

I John 3:20 states,

If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

From the Forerunner Commentary at BibleStudyTools.org:

When we commit the occasional sin, are we no longer acceptable to God? Is our fellowship truly cut off? While it is true that sin separates us from Him, do we remain unsatisfied because we feel there is no communion? Once again, God’s grace rescues us from what would otherwise be an impossible situation.

The answer to this confounding situation lies in a change of our natures arising from repentance, receipt of God’s Holy Spirit, and—perhaps above all—access to God through Jesus Christ. Through these come fellowship and experience with Them throughout the remainder of life and access to God’s merciful grace when we fall short. There can be no doubt we are saved by grace through faith. Our depression and extreme self-condemnation reveals a lack of faith in God’s willingness to forgive upon repentance. Though works are required of us, we cannot earn our way into the Kingdom through them because they will forever fall short in providing payment for sin.

As mentioned earlier, there is a tension between the two extremes of excessive guilt and feelings of worthlessness in contrast to the casual, careless, irresponsible, “God will just have to take me as I am” disregard of our responsibility to glorify God in all we think, say, and do.

This is why John says, “God is greater than our heart.” He is ever willing to accept us as Christ—even though we personally bring Him blemished offerings in our life’s experiences—as long as our attitude has not turned to trampling the sacrifice of His Son underfoot and treating it as a common thing.

We will never enter into God’s acceptance and fellowship based on any work of offering we sacrifice to Him. The only thing He will accept is the unblemished offering of Christ’s life, and because it accompanies or precedes us into His presence, we are accepted, have communion with Him, and are fed.

[read more at Bible Study Tools]

Ephesians 3:12 states:

 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

If we find ourselves in a battle, Ephesians 6:13b reminds us:

…[W]hen you have done everything you could, you will be able to stand firm. (ISV)

Our local congregations are in need of people who are able to give their time in ministry service, but many are afraid to step up because of what the commentary above calls excessive guilt; however, our texts today I hope help us see that this may just be another tactic of the enemy to get us to quit.

Don’t get discouraged and don’t get overcome by feelings of inadequacy.

 

 

 

 

 

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