Christianity 201

October 18, 2016

When the Worry Package is at the Door, Don’t Sign for It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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When the courier company driver is standing at the door and says, “We have a package for Paul Wilkinson;” I have a choice. I can accept the parcel or I can refuse it. That was the spirit of today’s header; advice I also need for myself. Today we’re returning to Devotions by Chris, the blog of Chris Hendrix. Click the title below to read at source.

Refuse To Worry

Many of us struggle with understanding the difference between fear and anxiety. Fear is an emotion triggered by real danger. Anxiety is an emotion triggered by things that may or may not happen. Fear can save your life and anxiety can cause it to end prematurely. They elicit a similar feeling inside, but fear goes away after you’re out of danger. Anxiety continues to eat away at your energy, your mind, and your life if you don’t put a stop to it.

At work, I do an exercise with people to get them to stop assuming. I get them to admit that they don’t know the outcome. From then on, when they assume something, I ask. “But do you know?” Assumptions of the future are what cause anxiety. The truth is, we don’t know the future, but as Corrie Ten Boon says, “We can trust an unknown future to a known God.” When we allow assumption and anxiety to take over, we in essence are not trusting our future to God. The key to losing anxiety is to admit you don’t know and to trust God to take care of you.

The Bible says a lot about anxiety and worry. Here are some verses about it.

1. Therefore I tell you, stop being worried or anxious (perpetually uneasy, distracted) about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, as to what you will wear. Is life not more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Matthew6:25 AMP

2. Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.
Proverbs 12:25 NLT

3. Casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully].
1 Peter 5:7 AMP

4. Don’t give in to worry or anger; it only leads to trouble.
Psalm 37:8 GNT

5. Whenever I am anxious and worried, you comfort me and make me glad.
Psalm 94:19 GNT

6. Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Philippians 4:6-7 MSG

7. So refuse to worry, and keep your body healthy. 
Ecclesiastes 11:10a NLT

8. I am filled with trouble and anxiety, but your commandments bring me joy.
Psalm 119:143 GNT

9. To worry yourself to death with resentment would be a foolish, senseless thing to do.
Job 5:2 GNT

10. And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours].
Philippians 4:7 AMP

 

August 20, 2016

When Christians Bear the Sweetest Fruit

“But the land into which you are about to cross to possess it, a land of hills and valleys, drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the LORD your God cares; the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year.

Deuteronomy 11: 11-12 (emphasis added)

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6 (both verses are NASB)

Today we are again paying a return visit to Katherine Harms at the blog Living on Tilt. One thing I really like is how she bridges topical and Bible study material, and sometimes in the same article! Click the title below to read at source.

More Than Survival

I just finished reading a long essay by a man who believes that everyone should acquire the knowledge that enabled people to survive and thrive before electronic technology existed. I agree. Electronics are seriously vulnerable, but the ways of pre-electronic society can and will enable a good life to anyone. God’s earth will still be here, even after the EMP or a hurricane or a world war.

People in today’s world need another “tool” in their “survival kit,” too. They need faith in Christ who redeemed humankind and all creation when he died and rose again.

Many people believe that it is “all up to me” and there is no help other than their own wits and strength. Self-sufficiency is an important and valuable character trait that keeps us from being needy and dependent on our fellow man and on government, but it is not enough to give us real health and long life. Only faith in Christ and a life lived in relationship with him will enable us to thrive in utterly destructive circumstances.

The first principle of a successful life before, during, or after disaster is to put all your hope in God alone.

Contemporary culture rejects the existence of God, and that stance means that one must be completely self-sufficient. God cannot help a person who denies his existence. God sends rain on the believers and the unbelievers alike, but only believers see God’s hand at work in the blessing of the rain. Unbelievers see a water control problem that they must fix. Unbelievers see no blessing in the seeming randomness of the rain, or in the gradual increase in the size of a desert, or in the transitions of natural climate change. Unbelievers see Inequality in the difference in rainfall, paychecks, or intellectual gifts. Unbelievers think that only equal pay, equal rain, and equal intellect is equality, and therefore unbelievers are always at war with God’s diversity and inclusiveness. God loves all people equally, but his gifts are distributed according to his perfect plan, not according to the ability of humans to measure equality.

To put your hope in God alone is to accept his work and his administration without fear. If you hope in God alone, for example, then when voters choose a tyrannical president as wicked and faithless as the ancient king Ahab, you do not lose faith in God. You recognize that a purpose and plan bigger than yourself is at work. When that godless tyrant begins to disassemble legal and moral structures that were God’s gifts delivered through leaders obedient to God’s direction, you recognize God’s judgment on people who chose the tyrant who hands out bread and circuses rather than a Godly leader who focuses on protecting opportunity for all. God has not stopped caring about the nation; the nation has stopped caring about God.

If you put your hope in God alone, then you trust God’s guidance and care for the nation and for you as an individual. You don’t despair when God’s will for the nation results in pain for you; rather, you give thanks to God for the privilege of suffering for His Name’s sake, in the same way the disciples suffered from human evil: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”  (Acts 6:41)

This is why Christians who mourn the collapse of Constitutional government and the moral rot perpetuated by government mandate in public schools do not, nevertheless, despair. The church, Christ’s body on earth, was not made for the easy times; it was born of inhuman suffering and it thrives in the most inhospitable times and places.

Christians thrive and bear the sweetest fruit when nourished by being like Christ — despised and rejected by men.

It is wise for Christians to prepare for disasters. A wise person will be ready for war, civil unrest, hurricanes, or whatever hard times he can foresee. However, all that common sense wisdom can be made worthless by disasters nobody could have foreseen. When that happens, it is good to be able to testify with Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) Only those who put all their hope in God alone will thrive in times like that.

July 26, 2016

Deliverance Will Rise from Another Place

Although we’ve quoted and linked to articles by author and pastor Aaron Armstrong at Thinking Out Loud before, we’ve never featured his writing at Christianity 201. His blog is called Blogging Theologically and as always, you can click the link below to read this at source.

One thing we can always have confidence in

Esther is a strange book. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great book, but it’s one where you can really easily miss the point. I mean, after all, God doesn’t actually appear as a character in the book even once. He isn’t directly mentioned. But he’s all over its pages.

Esther, after all, is a book about the providential work of God. He is at work at all times for the good of those who love him, according to his purposes. So when you come to the key moment of its story—Mordecai’s challenge to Esther—it makes sense that we focus on the famous words of 4:14—“And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

Relief from another place

We hear this text appropriated (and sometimes misappropriated) all the time, don’t we? “We’re here for a time such as this,” the message goes. This event or that cause is why God has given us life and breath. And that is certainly true. In Esther’s case, God indeed had placed her in the position she was in to do this exact thing—to help rescue the Jewish people. But there’s more going on here. Take a look at Esther 4:14 along with verse 13 for a little extra context:

Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)

Every time I read this book, I find myself drawn to the first half—to Mordecai’s statement: “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place

Tunnel vision and misplaced confidence

This is what I need to remind myself of constantly, because it’s a fact I keep forgetting. When difficulties arise in my life—and it can really almost anything from family tension to problems at work or even disagreements at church—I easily and quickly start fixating. I get tunnel vision and can’t always see past the problem.

So, being the sort of person I am, I try to fix the problem myself. I figure if we just do X, Y or Z, we’ll get this thing licked and life will go on. But often, the result is more problems and a lot of wasted time. While I should put my mind and abilities to work, my confidence is in the wrong person: me.

I’ve never been in a position like Mordecai, facing certain doom. But the fact that he doesn’t shut down is amazing. He does what he needs to do, but he doesn’t tell Esther, “If you don’t speak to the king, we’re all going to die!”

He has too much confidence in God for that. Instead, he says, “Deliverance will come, whether you speak or not.”

God is not hindered

And that’s still true today, isn’t it? Regardless of how bad we think things are in the west right now, God isn’t going to be thwarted. The gospel won’t to be stopped by the rise of the nones, or morally bankrupt politicians. Not even schismatic calls to abandon orthodoxy can do that!

None of these can thwart God. They can’t stop him and what he is doing. His plans are not hindered by anything.

In Mordecai’s time, God had a definite plan that he was working out through the Jewish people. He promised the Messiah would come, the one of whom all the Law and the Prophets bore witness. God was going to redeem for himself a people from among all the nations and no one would stop him.

Not a proud government official. Nor a king. Not even the devil himself.

No one.

So if there’s one thing we should be able to have confidence in, it’s that. Nothing can stop God’s plans. If nothing could stop the coming of the Messiah, he won’t be stopped from bringing his plans to completion. We will face challenges and what appear to be setbacks, but take heart. Put your confidence in the providence of God. You will never go wrong when you do.

 

July 6, 2015

On Being a Tree

 Today’s post is by Kim Shay and appeared at Out Of The Ordinary, a blog that is dominantly written for women. I felt this advice could apply to male readers as well. (I made two small textual changes, but then decided to change them back!) Click the title below to read at source.

I’d rather be a tree

While preparing a seminary assignment, I had cause to look at this passage in Jeremiah 17:5-8:

Thus says the LORD:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places
in the wilderness
in an uninhabited salt land.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when the heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

We either trust God or we trust something else, usually man, whether it is ourselves, another person, or a man-made system. It’s not wrong to trust people, but when we trust people above God, we are walking on dangerous ground. Jeremiah says that the one who trusts in man has a heart which turns away from the Lord. The result is that he is parched, dry, and sees no good. For the one who places all of his trust in man above God, this parched condition will ultimately show up when trials come. Human friends don’t always stick around when trials come, but God will not forsake us.

When we have a crisis, where do we turn first? Does turning to God in prayer come second, or even last? Do we run to a close friend before God? Our husbands? Our siblings? Our parents? Where do we find our value? Are we more worried about what others think than God? If we walk through a trial, these things will be revealed.

As women we are encouraged to be in relationships with people, especially other women. And we need those relationships. We need to be encouraged in the things of God and we need to minister to others. But it is very easy to put more emphasis on what others think of us than is good.

I picked up the book Trust, by Lydia Brownback, and I liked what she had to say about the risk of trusting too much in people:

Consider your motivations in showing love to others. If you detect an underlying compulsion to obtain a compliment or word of approval, it’s a pretty sure bet that you have placed your well-being in their hands.

Desiring the love and approval of the significant people in our lives is natural; however, if we feel we must have that to be happy, then a good desire has become a destructive one. We are attributing to people what rightfully belongs to God, which is why we are never able to live at rest with ourselves and at peace with others.

In this world of “likes” and “re-tweets,” and sharing of links, it can be a very subtle thing to begin living for the approval of others. We may think we’re putting God first because we travel only in Christian circles, or because our intent is to use social media to spread the gospel. But if we’re restless and frustrated when we’re not getting the attention we feel we deserve, that is a sign that our priorities may be off.

Notice the contrast in the Jeremiah passage: the one who trusts in flesh is a shrub; a little shrub, living in a parched, dry land. The one who trust is God is a tree, tall, strong, flourishing, and well-fed. Perhaps our times of feeling spiritually dry and frustrated are symptoms that we are trusting in man more than God. When it comes right down to it, whom do we trust? It’s a question worth asking.

April 14, 2015

Head for the Hills

Psalm 121 – The Voice

A song for those journeying to worship.

I look up at the vast size of the mountains—
    from where will my help come in times of trouble?
The Eternal Creator of heaven and earth and these mountains
    will send the help I need.

He holds you firmly in place;
He will not let you fall.
    He who keeps you will never take His eyes off you and never drift off to sleep.
What a relief! The One who watches over Israel
    never leaves for rest or sleep.

 The Eternal keeps you safe,
    so close to Him that His shadow is a cooling shade to you.
Neither bright light of sun
    nor dim light of moon will harm you.

The Eternal will keep you safe
    from all of life’s evils,
From your first breath to the last breath you breathe,
    from this day and forever.

Today’s post is from Jon Foster, a pastor in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada.

Higher Than the Hills

God can do anything, anytime, anywhere, and in any way. There’s just nothing he can’t do. Do you believe it? In Luke 1:37, the angel Gabriel was commissioned to take that message to Mary, the soon-to-be mother of Jesus. He keenly assured her that “with God nothing is impossible.” She was not too small, weak, or insignificant to benefit from the personal touch of God on her life. Later, in his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul made it clear to his readers that they too were beneficiaries of the same divine power. Speaking of God, he wrote: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

To put limits on what God can do is simply wrong. Yet we do this more often than we’d like to admit. There are times when we feel tempted to “throw in the towel” saying, “It’s hopeless! I’ve tried and tried but this is a no-win situation.” But giving up without intently looking to God for help is just another way of saying, “This is impossible… even for you, Lord.” Ouch! …and we wonder why we’re not making progress. Simply put, God can’t help us overcome obstacles that we are unwilling to face with faith.

I like to think of God as the great “Picture Changer.” He specializes in transforming what seems hopeless to us into pictures of promise and blessing. But sometimes He allows us to reach the end of our rope because it’s often only when we’re there, hanging on for dear life, that we get desperate enough to invite Him to come and take control. And when He comes, He comes not as a mere tinkerer, but one who has the power to completely alter the landscape of our lives according to His good purpose.

In Psalm 121, the psalmist wrote, “I lift up my eyes to the hills where does my help come from?” In the old days, a person fleeing for his life would often escape to higher ground; they would, as the saying goes, “head for the hills!” There were logistical (and tactical) reasons for this. Not only could “the hills” provide suitable hiding places — they also gave you a better chance of spotting your adversary before he saw you! The benefit of higher ground is even more obvious when the imminent danger is from rising floodwater. But in the very next verse we learn that the psalmist’s confidence ultimately was not in mere physical or logistical advantage. No, he had his eyes much higher than the hills! In verse 2 he declares, “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). The help he was looking for is the same kind of help we all need in order to be the kind of spiritual overcomers the Bible says we can be.

In these modern times (and in this part of the world), it’s easy for us to take for granted that “help is on its way.” We have developed structures and systems to ensure our well-being and, to a large degree, we have put our trust in them. But true spiritual help will not come from these “hills.” True spiritual help comes only “from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

At the beginning of a new year it’s appropriate to acknowledge our ultimate source of help and strength. We don’t know what the year will bring but we do know that there will be both challenges and blessings. And we know that we serve a God with whom “all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Take some time to affirm your trust in God. Let him know that you are serious about walking with Him, abiding in Him, and being fruitful for Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank you that with you, all things are possible. Thank you for making me your child and giving me new life in Christ Jesus. Thank you for your promise to be with me each and every day and to provide the strength and help required to overcome every obstacle. Help me to walk closely with you so that others may see enough of you in my life to inspire them to put their trust in you. I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

March 8, 2015

The Lord That Heals

…I am the LORD, your healer – Exodus 15:26

As I write this, I am recovering from one of the worst night’s sleep — or lack of sleep — ever. Whether or not I was food poisoning we might never know, but 24 hours ago I was feeling fine and now I feel like I survived a massive physical ambush.

I have experienced longer, more sustained illness, but this type of thing has been rare for me in the last 20 years. Nevertheless, I am always amazed at systemic healing; how the body has created in such a way that it want to right itself when things go wrong. You see this most in a cut finger; clotting begins almost immediately and in successive days, as long as you properly care for it, the gash begins to disappear. Thankfully, our modern medicines allow us to give the body’s natural tendencies a hand and speed the healing of infections, or reset broken bones.

(As an aside, I think this is why various cancers are so dreaded, they don’t follow this pattern; almost by definition things get worse.)

It’s easy to place this systemic healing in a category of “all things work together for good;” not the misquoted and mis-applied version of the verse, but the idea that the body is naturally pointed toward healing, and in this God deserves equal credit as he would in a situation where his intervention is more sudden and more apparent, as in the case of a condition that has been lingering.

I believe that God is positively disposed and favorably inclined to hear and answer our petitions, including those for our physical bodies. I wrote about that phrase in this article.

But like the Romans 8:28 reference there is more to be said about God’s healing power in Exodus 15:26 than what I quoted above. See the three dots (ellipses) before the verse begins “…” ? You have to be very careful when people quote verses that way.  The full verse reads:

[The Lord tested them] saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.”

This immediately tells the verse is

God affirms his position as “healer” but even there, the promise is preventative. Does this mean God’s can’t heal you of the physical need you face right now? Of course not. But I believe it means we should ask not claim.

Physical healing is part of the hesed or grace of God. Our faith should be such that we ask; asking for even the greatest miracles. Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. But do this in faith in God’s limitless ability, not his obligation that is based on a verse that may be out of context or have conditions you are required to meet.

Ask expecting not a miracle of healing, but an undeserved administration of grace. A lyric that often runs through my head — part of a song I wrote myself — in times like this is

Touch me, heal me
You’re a God of mercy
Touch me, heal me
You’re a God of grace
Touch me, heal me,
Lord I cry out to you
Won’t you touch me and heal me I pray.


Speaking of song lyrics reminded me of this song by Don Moen, I am the God that Healeth Thee.

 

 

January 6, 2015

If It Were Not So I Would Have Told You

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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CEB John 14:1 “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.”

Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.

John’s quotation from Jesus in John 14: 1-6 begins with four statements, the fourth seeming a bit uncharacteristic:

  1. Don’t be afraid
  2. Trust Me
  3. God’s house contains many ‘mansions’
  4. I would have told you if anything were different

In many translations this last comment is bundled into the phrase which followed or even appears as a unified question, “If that were not true, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you?”

Of course, there is a lot of mystery about what awaits beyond this life about which Jesus has not told us. But this passage is seen as the clearest promise of the second coming. The NIV Application commentary states:

The KJV “mansions” (for Gk. monai, “rooms”) was a seventeenth-century expression for modest dwellings; thus, 14:2 should not build a picture for us of heavenly palatial residences. This is not Jesus’ point. God’s “house” refers not to the church but to the heavenly dwelling where he lives (cf. Heb. 12:22; Rev. 21:9–22:5), and a mone is a place of residence there with him. This word is related to the common Johannine verb meno, to remain or abide. To “remain” with Jesus is the highest virtue in John’s Gospel (15:4–10), and he is promising

Matthew Henry sees the “I would have told you” as a direct comment to The Twelve:

If you had deceived yourselves, when you quit your livelihoods, and ventured your lives for me, in prospect of a happiness future and unseen, I would soon have undeceived you.” The assurance is built, [1.] Upon the veracity of his word. It is implied, “If there were not such a happiness, valuable and attainable, I would not have told you that there was.” [2.] Upon the sincerity of his affection to them. As he is true, and would not impose upon them himself, so he is kind, and would not suffer them to be imposed upon. If either there were no such mansions, or none designed for them, who had left all to follow him, he would have given them timely notice of the mistake, that they might have made an honourable retreat to the world again, and have made the best they could of it. Note, Christ’s good-will to us is a great encouragement to our hope in him. He loves us too well, and means us too well, to disappoint the expectations of his own raising, or to leave those to be of all men most miserable who have been of him most observant.

It’s interesting that this would seem to affirm their confidence in him and his teachings and ministry, but next he is going to quiz them as to where he is going.  The IVP NT Commentary notes:

After speaking of himself as the agent of their future access to the presence of God, he throws out a statement that steers them toward the next stage of his revelation: You know the way to the place where I am going (v. 4). This could be taken as a question: “Do you know the way to the place where I am going?” Whether or not he is asking a question, Jesus seems to be alluding to his earlier teaching about being the gate through whom the sheep “will come in and go out, and find pasture” (10:9; cf. Talbert 1992:204). If he is alluding to this, the disciples miss it. Indeed, all of Jesus’ teaching in these chapters is mystifying to the disciples (cf. 16:25). But he is walking them through it so the Spirit will be able to unpack it for them later (14:26). This statement (or question) triggers the next question by a disciple, which leads Jesus to further develop the thoughts he has already expressed in very condensed fashion.

The point is that they knew in part and saw only in part.  But pieces of the puzzle were not doubt starting to come together.  I like to think that in these moments they were also struck by an increase in his passion as he imparted these truths to them for what would be the final time.

The second statement, “If it were not so,” really relates to the second, above, which we’ve rendered as “trust me” or better, “Do you trust me?”

 

 

December 3, 2014

What Science Cannot Accomplish, God Can

Regular contributor Clarke Dixon begins a series of Advent meditations. Click the title to read at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. (Should that be Shrunken?)

Finding Hope

small__5645102295We Canadians can tend to be a hopeful bunch. Perhaps for some of us it is learned through the yearly reaffirmation of that hopeful phrase “there is always next year” when the Toronto Maple Leafs are knocked out of contention. Perhaps it is our yearly experience of spring following a hard winter. Whatever it is, we are hopeful.

Where do we place our greatest hope? Some might say on winning the lottery, but when you look around, science must be near the top of the list. And for good reason. Because of science we getting better at treating diseases and closer to finding cures. Because of science we enjoy quite good health care and many other comforts. As Christians we celebrate science and encourage our youth to pursue it with excellence. It is a very hopeful and hope inspiring enterprise. But it is limited:

Science cannot lift the shroud of death. Even if a cure is found for all kinds of disease, we will die from something else, old age if nothing else. Old age is an age old problem. Even if we produce some kind of miracle cure for aging, people will still die from violence, accidents, or disasters. Science can help us live longer but what it cannot do is keep us from dying. Compare this to hope placed in God:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
(Isaiah 25:6-8a NRSV)

This prophecy of Isaiah points forward to the coming of Jesus, whose death and resurrection took place on that very mountain of Zion. His resurrection points to the fact that God has power over death. That is a power we cannot replicate through our best scientific endeavours. Only the Creator has the power to mess with the creation to that extent.

And only God has the ability to deal with the core problem that leads to death. We think the core problem is that our bodies are prone to failure, and so we seek physical cures. But think back to Adam and Eve and the banishment from the Garden of Eden and the introduction of death. We die because our spirits are prone to failure, we die because of sin. Science can help us deal with some of our physical problems, but only God can deal with our sin problem. He does, has done, and will do:

 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
  “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ
(1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NRSV)

Science cannot wipe away all tears from all faces. Science can help wipe away tears, and does keep certain tears from streaming. How thankful I am for what good science has meant for my child with Type 1 diabetes. Just a century ago grief filled tears were the only prognosis for a parent. But here also, science is limited. Though science can save a good number of people from the effects of disease, how far does it go to ensure people do not experience the effects of injustice, fighting, hatred, and war. Tears have always been with us, but with God things will be different:

Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
(Isaiah 25:8b NRSV)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
(Revelation 21:3-5 NRSV)

God, who is Creator, is also the One who is re-Creator. “Every tear” includes every tear ever shed by His people.

Science cannot take away disgrace from people. We should mention here that it is not science itself that gives hope. It is good people using science for good ends that inspire hope. The advances made possible through science can also be used for evil. If we look at the history of humanity, it is a history of bright moments and achievement. But it is also a history of disgrace. While the name Nobel is often associated with awards for pursuing peace, it is also associated with the creation of deadly weapons, which have been used to maintain peace and wage wars alike. Such is the history of humanity, a mixture of beauty and disgrace. But while we continually fall into disgrace, it was in God’s heart to lift us to a place of grace:

. . . and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
(Isaiah 25:8c)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
(Romans 8:1 NRSV)

In no moment of world history has humanity fallen into disgrace further than when we lifted up Jesus to crucify him. And in no moment of history has God’s grace been more evident.

It is good to have hope in scientific discovery and advance. But as good as it is, it is limited. I am reminded of a van we once owned which proudly displayed a “limited” badge. We bought it with some excitement, but years of ownership proved its limitations alright. It was limited in power, in endurance, and in reliability. It earned its “limited” status well! We approach science with great excitement over its ability to inspire hope. But it is limited. When we stand before the Creator we have sinned against, our only hope will be in the salvation revealed in Jesus Christ.

It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
(Isaiah 25:9 NRSV)

September 3, 2014

Building Spiritual Muscles: Wait Training

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Today is the first of two “borrowings” we’re going to do from Steven C. Mills at the blog Steve’s Bible Meditations. We have a rule here of not going to the same source more than once every six months, but because we’re going to run both parts of this, today and tomorrow I am going to ask you really strongly today to click the title to read this at Steve’s blog and send him some ‘stats love.’ Then take a few minutes to look around the rest of the blog.

Wait Training – Isaiah 40:31

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31, KJV).

When I was younger, we often sang this verse at prayer meetings or Bible studies as a song. Then, at the end of the verse we added this refrain to the song: “Teach me Lord, teach me Lord, to wait.”

The Hebrew word that is translated “they that wait upon” in the KJV finds its root in another Hebrew word that means to wait or look for, to hope for or expect. The sense of the waiting in this verse is eager expectation or anticipation. So, the NIV translates it as “those who hope” and the HCSB translates it as “those who trust.”

Unfortunately, when we talk about “waiting upon the Lord,” it’s not necessarily waiting with hopeful anticipation, but more like waiting with dreaded apprehension! For us, waiting upon the Lord is exceedingly distressful and practically unbearable. Instead of eagerly waiting upon the Lord, we impatiently wait upon the Lord.

But “waiting upon the Lord” is a discipline that is actually related to “trusting in the Lord” or “hoping in the Lord.” In fact, I would argue that “waiting upon the Lord” is the same thing as “having faith in God” or trusting or hoping in God.

Here’s what I mean. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as: the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV). Faith is substantively comprised of hoping for outcomes that haven’t yet occurred. So, to me, “having faith” is a lot like “hoping for,” which is technically the same as “waiting upon.”

To hope for some outcome and hope that God is going to do it, we have to wait for God for it; we have to wait for God to work according to His will! Paul explained in Romans 8:25: “But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it” (KJV).

But this verse has a lot more to teach us about waiting on the Lord than just informing us that we should do it. This powerful verse tells us why we should wait upon the Lord. It explains the spiritual value and benefits of waiting upon the Lord. When we wait upon the Lord, our faith is strengthened because it develops God’s perspective in us so that our faith can sustain us spiritually both in the short-term and the long-term! It’s Wait Training!

To see what I mean, let’s unpack Isaiah’s metaphors in this verse.

“Waiting upon the Lord” causes us to rise above our present circumstances to get a higher view, a more objective view, a God-view of them (“soar with wings like eagles”). From that vantage point, you can gain perspective about what it is that you hoping and trusting God to do and then develop a better understanding of God’s plans and purposes for you. And when you better perceive what His will is, then you will have the resolve and the willpower to accomplish His will in your present circumstances unhesitantly and without wavering (“run and not grow weary”). And, this willingness to do God’s will that you develop in your present circumstances will lead you into a lifestyle of continually and confidently hoping and trusting in God for all that you do and ask Him for in your life (“walk and not faint”).

And the end result of this waiting is that your faith is strengthened, it’s renewed. It becomes faith with precision and fidelity, faith aligned with God’s will. It becomes front-end faith instead of should-have-been faith. It becomes proactive rather than reactive faith. After all, wouldn’t you rather be having faith for what you know God wants to do instead of hoping what you want to do is what God wants?

When you’re waiting upon the Lord for what you know He wants to do, then you wait with eagerness, expectancy, anticipation.

So, teach me, Lord, teach me, Lord, to wait!

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13, NASB)

March 16, 2014

Entering Into God’s Rest

A year ago we introduced you to Greg Winfield, the author and creator of FaithsMessenger.Com.  Today we pay a return visit with a piece that appeared a week ago at that site.  Click here to read at source, and then look around at other articles.

Entering into God’s rest is one of those scriptural topics that take on different meanings to different people. With me being the black and white person that I am, I take the verse that talks about entering into God’s rest literally.

Most of the time the example I use when describing the degree of rest I’m referring to is taken from Mark 4: 35-41. In this passage of scripture we find Jesus and the disciples getting into a boat and Jesus giving the command “let us go across to the other side”.

Entering into God’s rest is having more confidence in what God says than what circumstances have to say

The bible says that as they were crossing, a great storm arose to the point that the waves were breaking into the boat and filling it with water. But Jesus was in the back of the boat asleep on a cushion. In the middle of the storm, the disciples woke Him up asking Him if He cared that they were going to die.

They didn’t wake Him up to ask Him what they should do to save themselves and the boat. They didn’t wake Him up to ask Him to save them. They woke Him up only to find out if He cared that they were going to die. Their minds were made up that they were about to meet their demise based upon the storm they were facing.

Somewhere between the time Jesus said “let us go to the other side” and the point where they felt the need to wake Jesus up, the storm changed their minds and got them to move away from what Jesus said and onto thinking that they were going to die.

The story goes on the say that Jesus arose and rebuked the wind and commanded the sea to be still. The wind ceased and there was a great calm. Immediately He turned to them and asked them why they were so fearful and how it was they had no faith.

Entering into God’s Rest

The part of the story I want to focus on is the rest that Jesus was experiencing prior to being awakened by His disciples. This is the kind of rest I believe we all should be experiencing in the middle of the storms of life.

Sleep is the ultimate form of rest. When the Word of God has been issued concerning what we may be going through in life, we too can experience rest to the same degree that Jesus did in the boat that day.

What Situation or Circumstance carries more weight than God’s Word?

In the story above the disciples gave the storm more credibility than the words Jesus had spoken. They committed spiritual adultery by being enticed by what the sea and the waves had to say more so than what Jesus had to say.

On the contrary, Jesus was resting. What need was there to do anything else? His Words were more powerful than any storm. Entering into God’s rest is having more confidence in what God says than what circumstances have to say. Any circumstance that arises between the time the Word of God is received, and the fulfillment of that Word coming to pass in your life is merely an annoying inconvenience.

Entering into God’s rest is a quiet assurance that you have placed your faith in something much stronger than anything else you may be facing in life. Entering into God’s rest takes place after we have done the will of God in any given situation and are waiting to receive the promise.

When you feel overwhelmed with life, I encourage you to enter into God’s rest. Realize just how little control we have in most of the situations we face in life. Enter into God’s rest. Lift up the standard of God’s Word in your life by shouting “Peace, be still!” to the storms if your life. Then quietly find a cushion and go to sleep.

September 10, 2013

There is a River

I saw this on Brian McLaren’s blog… it’s actually from the devotional blog iDisciple, the author is N. Gordon Cosby and it appeared under the original title Trust The Stream. Water imagery flows (pardon the pun) through scripture, and so we don’t forget, over 70% of the earth’s surface is water. I’ve added a related worship song video (audio only) at the bottom; Psalms Alive is one of my favorite worship song collections.


“There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city…” (Psalm 46:4, CEB).

The stream flowing through our lives is from eternity to eternity. It is artesian. It is totally adequate. Everything we need is borne by that stream. Its origin is the realm beyond, and it carries infinite resources. In this space-time realm, conditioned as we are, the stream can seem to be a trickle. It seems puny against the drugs we’re battling, against the divisions among us or the power of greed that fuels our economy.

When we’re up against all the world’s needs and lacks–the way we perceive life–the stream seems inadequate. But in fact, it is a powerful, surging, cleansing tide that purifies all it touches. It is a grace torrent. It flows irrespective of merit. It carries everything that a human being has ever needed–and could ever want. Whatever we need will flow by at just the opportune moment. Our problem is that we’re not attuned to the stream. We don’t see it. We’re not even looking in the river’s direction.

But when we wait in expectancy, looking at the stream and then recognizing what we need as it floats by, we simply reach out and take the gift. It’s an effortless way of living. Usually we’re not attuned to effortlessness. We’re too busy striving. We’re holding forth and carrying on and trying to reach our goals. The wisdom of the stream is the opposite of this. What I’m talking about is moving from a conceptual awareness of God’s care–the idea of God’s providence–to trusting the flow of that stream that carries everything we need and will bring it at just the opportune moment.

Jesus found it difficult to understand his disciples’ anxiety. He was so in the river, he was so aware that the stream carried everything that was needed, that he couldn’t understand why others were having so much trouble with the idea. What he says is to set our minds on God’s realm, God’s justice, before everything else. Everything else will be given by the stream. This is different than achievement and different than making things happen. Do not be anxious about tomorrow, Jesus says. You’ll have plenty to think about when tomorrow comes. Now the stream is flowing.

Once we get accustomed to noticing the stream, and we spend more time near the stream, taking from it what is being given, there comes another step: actually getting into the water and resting in its flow. Even when the flow is a torrent, we know we are safe. We trust the flow. We become non-resistant. We become receptive. We trust the power of the divine presence, which longs to take our one little life to its divine destination. Even if we’re in deep water, we trust the flow and are not afraid. We simply wait in expectancy to round the next bend, looking in wonder at the view. Always a new view. Effortlessness, expectancy, and wonder are how we live, rather than striving.

Faith, in the biblical sense, is trusting the flow and reveling in the view and being carried beyond all existing boundaries. Faith is being excited about the final destination, even when the destination is a mystery. When Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe also in me,” he is saying, “Get into the stream with us. It’s a stream of pure grace and mercy. Go into its depths and find us there.”

Gordon Cosby, along with his wife, Mary, established Church of the Saviour in Washington D.C. in 1947; Gordon entered into the full presence of God earlier this year, well into his 90s. This meditation is reproduced with permission from inwardoutward.org.

April 1, 2013

When Panic Strikes

I have always been a very nervous person. I worry, and I worry that I worry. It seems inconsistent with the life of abiding in Christ we should be living. But sometimes the circumstances of life seem overwhelming. So when Pete Wilson spoke on this verse yesterday, I was all ears. (I watch Pete at 7:00 PM EST Sundays at this link.)

Sometimes in Bible translation, there is consistency from version to version as to a particular passage, and at other times there are a wider variety of terms at the translators disposal.  This is one of those.  This appeared earlier today at Thinking Out Loud.

Last night I was watching the online version of Cross Point Church’s Sunday service; the one where Pete Wilson takes live questions after he preaches.  He mentioned that he reads a chapter of scripture a day and is always amazed at how timely it is to whatever circumstance he is facing. Then he told a story of how God used a scripture reference in an unlikely place to meet a need in his own life.

But Pete’s sermon also had something I needed — and still need — to hear. One of those verses that arrests you in your tracks. It’s the rendering of Isaiah 28:16 in the updated NIV:

16 So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.

It’s that last phrase, which I underlined, that really got me.

The Message makes a rare use of capital letters here:

And this is the meaning of the stone:
A TRUSTING LIFE WON’T TOPPLE.

The ESV has:

‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’

The CEB:

…the one who trusts won’t tremble

The Amplified:

..he who believes (trusts in, relies on, and adheres to that Stone) will not be ashamed or give way or hasten away [in sudden panic].

The NLT:

It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on.
Whoever believes need never be shaken.

Finally, the NASB:

A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.
He who believes in it will not be disturbed.

Part of life in the modern world is the potential for fear and anxiety.  The translators use: disturbed, panic, shaken, trembling… This is a verse to claim for those who know what it means to panic.  Am I trusting in the cornerstone? Positionally, generally yes, but we live in two worlds and there are times I don’t allow my faith to permeate or penetrate my circumstances.

Blog Update:

While Thinking Out Loud continues to be my most visible blog project, Christianity 201 is fast becoming the more active franchise. Each day more people sign on for this potpourri of Bible study discussion and devotional thoughts culled from the widest variety of the Christian blogosphere.

At the same time, going on a daily “hunting and gathering” routine can be exhausting, so I’m looking for someone who is already familiar with the WordPress platform who might want to eventually have editing privileges here. To start, needed is someone who has been blogging regularly for at least a year themselves, so I can see where they are coming from, and then they need to be able to source out material suitable for C201 subject to the guidelines posted in the sidebar.You also need to be able to generate appropriate post tags; and need to work with HTML in terms of setting blockquotes within quotes and adding color to scripture passages and subheadings and adding to superscripts on Bible references. (Note: This particular theme is not H1, H2 responsive so you have to change font sizes.) Initially, submissions would be emailed in coded text.

A needle in a haystack person, basically; but if you feel that’s you, start by contacting me at the address on the “Submissions” page. Anyone who does not feel up to this task, but wants to send a particularly strong C201 guest post is welcomed to do that anytime by email.
 

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

February 5, 2013

Meditating on God’s Divine Providence and Love: Psalm 31

A completely different format today that I hope you will fully engage with. It certainly fits our situation, and I suspect it does for many of you. This was found at the blog of Tim Chester where, as always, you’re encouraged to read it at source.


In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
2 Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,

a strong fortress to save me.
3 Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
4 Free me from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hands I commit my spirit;
redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth.

  • From what do you need ‘rescue’ and ‘refuge’?
  • What’s the ‘trap’ in which you could fall? In other words, what temptation comes with your circumstances?
  • Highlight each time the Psalmist says ‘refuge’, ‘rock’ and ‘fortress’. How is God a refuge for you in the midst of your current problems?

6 I hate those who cling to worthless idols;
I trust in the LORD.
7 I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
for you saw my affliction
and knew the anguish of my soul.
8 You have not handed me over to the enemy
but have set my feet in a spacious place.

  • What makes the Psalmist glad? How might these truths comfort you?
  • What does it mean for God to put you in a ‘spacious place’ in the midst of your current problems?

9. Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and my body with grief.
10 My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
and my bones grow weak …

  • How do your current problems make you feel?
  • Do you find it helpful to express those emotions before God?

14 But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies;
from those who pursue me.
16 Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.
17 Let me not be put to shame, O LORD,
for I have cried out to you …

  • ‘My times are in your hands.’ ‘Had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.’ (Charles Spurgeon) Do you believe this? How does it comfort you?
  • How does God’s face shine on you in the midst of your problems? In other words, how is God being good to you?

19. How great is your goodness,
that you have stored up for those who fear you,
that you bestow in the sight of all
on those who take refuge in you.
20 In the shelter of your presence you hide them
from all human intrigues;
you keep them safe in your dwelling
from accusing tongues.

  • God has great goodness stored up for you. Compare the hope you have in Christ with what you think you lack in life.
  • How do you think of God ‘sheltering you’ and ‘hiding you’?

21 Praise be to the LORD,
for he showed his wonderful love to me
when I was in a city under siege.
22 In my alarm I said,
“I am cut off from your sight!”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
when I called to you for help.
23 Love the LORD, all his saints!
The LORD preserves those who are true to him,
but the proud he pays back in full.
24 Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the LORD.

  • What comfort has the Psalmist given to those who feel abandoned by God?
  • Who could you tell how God has helped you? Who could you encourage to be strong, take heart and hope in the LORD?

Making Psalm 31 Your Own

O LORD, I take refuge in you from ____________.
Don’t let me be ashamed by my problems.
Be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.
Free me from the temptation to ___________.
I put myself in your hands for you are my refuge.

I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
for you see my  ___________.
and you know the anguish of my soul.
When I feel trapped by my circumstances
lead me into a spacious place.

Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am in distress.
Both my body and soul feel weak with sorrow.
But I trust in you for you are my Father.
My times are in your hands.
My problem ___________ is in your hands.
Let your face shine on me.

How great is the goodness you have stored up for me.
It’s much greater than  ___________.
In the shelter of your presence
you keep me safe me from  ___________.

Praise the LORD, for he shows his wonderful love to me
when I am besieged by  ___________.
In my alarm I said, “God has abandoned me.”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy.

Love the LORD for he protects his people.
Be strong, take heart, hope in the LORD.

September 30, 2011

Praying Through The Tough Times

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A few different things today…

First, I want to thank those of you who were praying for me.  Today I got my medical report and it was good, and we are very grateful to God for answered prayer.

Second, I don’t know why, but I felt a really strong leading to post an old song here that was a popular church solo, I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked.  After looking at what was available, I went with this one by Larnelle Harris which you’ll find after today’s devotional.  (It’s actually recorded from a Gaither Music DVD; I guess I’m not cool/hip anymore!)  Again, I’m not sure why this is here, but if it’s for you, let me know.

Finally, that brings us today’s thoughts.  This has been an exhausting week, but this appeared at T.O.L. on Tuesday and I wanted to share it with any who might have missed it. This of course was written before item one above, so I modified it somewhat…

When I’m going through a period of intense personal pressure, I find myself wondering about the condition and authenticity of my faith in light of the anxiety I am experiencing. There, I said it. Scratch my name off your list of Christian superstars. Whaddya mean it wasn’t there?

I’m a worrier. A sometimes chronic worrier.

My mother often quotes Jeremiah 12:5 to me at times like this:

If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?

In the NIV it reads,

 “If you have raced with men on foot
and they have worn you out,
how can you compete with horses?
If you stumble in safe country,
how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?

In other words, if you panic and are stressed by a little pressure, what are you going to do when something serious happens? Except this week things were more serious. “The swelling of the Jordan,” so to speak.

I say all this to say that it is so easy to espouse certain positional truths in scripture, but it is another matter entirely to live out those things practically when circumstances require a response.

In other words, we generally have all the answers — for someone else. It’s easy to straighten out someone else’s life; it’s hard to accept God’s instructions when we are the ones under pressure.

Mind you, I can’t imagine not having God to turn to.

I walked today where Jesus walked,
In days of long ago.
I wandered down each path He knew,
With reverent step and slow.

Those little lanes, they have not changed,
A sweet peace fills the air.
I walked today where Jesus walked,
And felt Him close to me.And felt His presence there.

My pathway led through Bethlehem,
A memory’s ever sweet.Ah! mem’ries ever sweet
The little hills of Galilee,
That knew His childish feet.That knew those childish feet

The Mount of Olives, hallowed scenes,
That Jesus knew before
I saw the mighty Jordan roll,
As in the days of yore.

I knelt today where Jesus knelt,
Where all alone he prayed.
The Garden of Gethsemane,
My heart felt unafraid.

I picked my heavy burden up,
And with Him at my side,And with Him by my side
I climbed the Hill of Calvary,
I climbed the Hill of Calvary,
I climbed the Hill of Calvary,
Where on the Cross He died!

I walked today where Jesus walked,
And felt Him close to me.

April 11, 2011

Laura Story: Blessings

The worship song, and the story behind it:

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long we’d have faith to believe

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not our home

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

The story behind the song:

There’s also an “official” video of this story available at this link.

Now that you know the story, click and listen to the song one more time.

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