Christianity 201

June 7, 2022

Eyes on the Problem or Eyes on the Master?

Today it’s a delight to introduce you to Lisa, a mother of four who became a widow far too soon, who has been writing since 2013 at the colorful website I Am Trusting God. Clicking the devotional title which follows next will take you to where these thoughts first appeared.

What if walking on water wasn’t the point of the story… What if it was….

One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”

-Luke 8:22–25, ESV

When I was reading Luke 8:22–25, this morning, two verses stood out:

  1. “They were filling with water and were in danger” (v23).
  2. “Where is your faith” (v25).

It is interesting how you can read the same passage many times, and never notice a particular verse. And then suddenly it will jump out at you, like you’ve never seen it before.

I have read Luke 8:22–25 many times. I have also listened to it preached about, watched a movie depicting it, and sang a song about it. I have also almost, as I talk about below, read a book about it. And yet, I don’t ever remember seeing or hearing the words “they were in danger.”

My impression was always that even though they saw the storm they were never in any real danger because Jesus was in the boat. But it says, “they were filling with water and were in danger.” I don’t know about you, but even thinking about the word sends my heart, and mind racing.

But there’s Jesus sleeping. The exact opposite of what you would think somebody would do when a boat is filling with water.

Why was he doing this? Warren Wiersbe answers this question, before asking another, Jesus certainly knew that the storm was coming, yet He went to sleep in the ship. This fact alone should have encouraged the disciples not to be afraid. What was their problem? [1]

Usually the teachings about this passage focuses on the actions of the disciples. They were afraid. They went to wake Jesus. They didn’t get out of the boat.

But let’s think about what Mr. Wiersbe said, Jesus certainly knew the storm was coming, and he went to sleep in this ship.

Jesus knew the storm was coming and he knew what their response would be, but that did not cause him to lose any sleep.

I remember hearing about a popular book, written about this passage, titled If you want to walk on water you’ve got to get out of the boat. I loved the title, and immediately wanted to buy it. Though somehow, I never got around to it.

In thinking about this passage today I’m starting to wonder if walking on water is the point of the story.

I hear a few intakes of breaths… but just go with me on this.

They were the disciples of Jesus, the one who slept in the face of danger. They were the disciples of Jesus, who himself, said of them, “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher” (Matthew 10:25).

They were to be like Jesus, but in the face of danger they forgot.

But what if they didn’t?

Just imagine how impactful the story would have been if instead of trying to do something about their problem, they kept their gaze on Jesus? What about if instead of coming to him in a panic, yelling at him, they went to him and stood at his feet and remembered who He was?

Jesus was sleeping and, I contend, so were they. In all their panic they were asleep to the truth of who they were with.

What was their problem? Warren says it is,

The same problem God’s people face today: we know the Word of God, but we do not believe it when we face the tests of life. It is one thing to learn the truth and quite something else to live it. “Where is your faith?” is still the key question. Are we trusting God’s promises, or are we trusting ourselves or our circumstances?[2]

Is this world scary sometimes?

Yes!

Are we in danger of having the waters rise above our heads at times?

Most definitely!

We don’t need to worry that we are going to drown.

But we don’t need to yell at Jesus to wake up.

Neither did the disciples.

I truly believe that if they would have come to Jesus and waited on him, instead of yelling at him, when he did wake, and they finally turned around, they would have seen that the storm, and danger had passed.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed
Hebrews 12:2-3 (The Message)

If you are now facing danger and are yelling at God to wake up and help you

God is saying to you….

Dear Sweet Child of Mine

I see you. and I see the full situation that you are in. I am in control, and I will not let you drown. keep your eyes fixed on me and not your problem. Bring to me all of your concern and your worries. and then look at me, continue to really look at me, and trust that I will be calming the storm around you as you do so. I love you and I will not let you down. You are loved.

Peace be unto you.


[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1992), 166.

[2] Ibid.

May 19, 2022

Truth-Telling in a World of Lies

Today we’re back for a second time with Rev. Taylor Mertins  who blogs at Think and Let Think, has co-authored three books, and hosts the Strangely Warmed Podcast and the Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast. Clicking the header which follows will take you to today’s devotional where it first appeared.

A Dangerous Adventure

John 14.27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

“Christians are people who tell the truth. And, if we cannot tell the truth, then at least we should not lie.” I have those sentences scratched in a notebook that I carried with me during seminary. And, if my notes are correct, I heard those words from a professor named Stanley Hauerwas during a hallway conversation after morning prayer.

His conviction about our truthfulness is nothing new. Martin Luther famously said that a theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil whereas a theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is.

Translation: tell the truth.

But telling the truth is no easy endeavor, particularly because we live in a world that runs on lies. Every ad we consume presents a false vision of reality so long as we purchase a particular product. The nightly news is designed to terrify us so that we will keep watching until we know what side we are supposed to be on for every subject. And even in our domestic dramas we often lie because we are trying to be good: we don’t want to tell our spouses how we really feel, we don’t want to upset the applecart at a family get together, we’d rather brush something under the rug than bring it to the surface.

All the while, as Christians, we worship the one who not only tells the truth, but is, himself, truth incarnate.

When Pontius Pilate was told that Jesus was the one who had come into the world to testify to the truth, he asked, “What is truth?” Jesus gave no response because Pilate was literally looking at the answer to his question. Therefore, should we truly desire to be a community of the truth and by the truth then we need not look further than Jesus Christ and him crucified.

The “and him crucified” is crucial. For, truth-telling is a dangerous adventure. But without an example of a truth telling community, the world has no alternative but to continue to run by lies.

Jesus leaves peace with his disciples and the peace Jesus leaves runs counter to the peace of the world. The peace of the world is achieved, kept, and maintained by violence. Whereas the peace of Jesus comes through vulnerability, sacrifice, and even suffering.

Part of the hard truth that the church has to speak into the world today is this: we have a problem with violence.

Mass shootings have become so commonplace that it’s hard to keep track of what happened and where. And yet we, as Christians, can advocate for a new peace, a peace given to us by Jesus, a peace that means we have to fundamentally reshape how we understand what it means to be in the world. Or, we can simply avoid going to churches, malls, supermarkets, concerts, cinemas, parks, pre-schools, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, college campuses, mass transportation, and any other place where a mass shooting has taken place.

We’ve become so accustomed to the war torn images of Ukraine (and war in general) that it leaves us feeling apathetic. And yet we, as Christians, can advocate for a new peace, a peace given to us by Jesus, a peace that means we have to fundamentally reshape how we understand what it means to be in the world. Or, we can let things continue on their merry way while more and more people are displaced, separated, and killed.

Speaking truth to power is no easy thing. But until we’re willing to call a thing what it is, we are doomed to call evil good and good evil. Or, put simply, the beginning of a faithful imagination comes with telling the truth.


Flashback link: From 2014, scripture verses which reference truth.

May 12, 2022

When Fear of Life After Death Scares the Life Out of a Christian

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through John 10:22-30

by Clarke Dixon

Does the fear of death scare the life out of you? Or perhaps the question is, does the fear of life after death scare the life out of you?

There is plenty to worry about in our day, but this nagging worry about the afterlife has plagued people across generations and societies. Will we be okay when we die?

Some say there is no God, and so therefore no afterlife, so don’t worry about it. Indeed there are those who have embraced that line of thinking and have come to peace with the idea of not existing forever. Others who think death is the final end fight it tooth and nail.

Some say there may be a God or spiritual realities we know nothing about, but who knows? Many would say that not only do they not know, but that they believe no one can really know. So as for the afterlife, don’t worry about it, because who can know anything about it? Some are at peace with not knowing, some are scared to death of the great unknown.

Now we come to the Christian who of course believes there is a God, and the best way to know God is through Jesus and the Bible. So no Christian fears death, right? Actually, many do. Many Christians have a nagging worry about not being okay when they die. It is tragic that many atheists and agnostics worry less about death and life after death than many Christians.

The nagging worry that we will not be okay when we die often comes down to one of three thoughts:

  • I’m worried I don’t have enough faith.
    • “The person on the other end of the pew is a shining example of faith, while I struggle with doubts.”
    • “Sometimes I think I trust what scientists tell me more than what Bible teachers tell me.”
  • I’m worried I don’t know enough.
    • “I don’t have God and the Bible all figured out.”
    • “Some people know so much about God and the Bible, and I don’t. They are so much more deserving of a place in heaven than I am.”
  • I’m worried I’m not good enough.
    • “Some people are so such better than me. God will be pleased with them, but not me.”
    • “I’ve tried, and failed, at being better in this one area of my life. God must be greatly disappointed with me.”

There is a problem with each of these lines of thought, a problem easy to miss. In each case the focus is on ourselves, our our faith, our knowledge, our goodness, or rather our lack of each.

Worry takes centre stage when we take centre stage.

The solution, of course, is to get out of the spotlight. Instead of being focused on ourselves, and ourselves in relation to others, let’s focus on God and where we stand in relation to God, according to God:

My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Fatherʼs hand. The Father and I are one.”

John 10:27-30 (NET emphasis added)

Notice where we are; in the hand of Jesus, secure in the hand of God.

Okay, but how do we know if we are one of the “sheep” secure in God’s hand? Jesus said “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me.” Jesus did not say “My sheep have superlative faith, deep knowledge, and are shining examples of perfect people.” We can listen to the voice of Jesus, follow him, yet still have doubts, gaps in our knowledge, and messy flaws.

Jesus also said,

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven

Matthew 18:3 (NRSV)

A young child is dependent on someone loving them. The Christian knows their dependence on God loving them.

We can become stuck in thinking of God as loving us, but not really loving us. We can paint the picture of God being totally disgusted with us, of harboring a disdain for us. Then even when we talk about God’s forgiveness of us, we think of God as merely tolerating us. We know God loves us but we can not bring ourselves to think that God might actually like us.

The law court may be our go to image of our relationship with God. We are on trial, guilty, while God is the judge. The good news is that the judge grants a pardon, that Jesus paid the debt. The difficulty is that we have trouble thinking that the judge will want to have anything to do with the accused following the trial. Sure, I might be forgiven, but given my doubt, my gaps in knowledge, and how imperfect I am, surely I am on the fringes of the Kingdom, kept at a distance from the King. The good news is better than that. Jesus challenged us to think of God as our Heavenly Father. We can think of God as loving us so much that he has us in his hand, and wants us there!

You can be in the hand of God and still have doubts. Doubt may not always be a lack of faith, but of faith seeking understanding. In fact sometimes our doubts may not be a lack of faith in God, but a lack of faith in those who tell us about God. That is not always a bad thing. No Bible teacher or preacher is perfect, including me of course.

You can be in the hand of God and still have much to learn. While Christianity is not anti-intellectual, it is also not about our ability to figure it all out. It is simply about trust. When we were young, too young to know much at all about anything, all we could do is trust our parents or those who took a parental role in our lives to make sure we were okay. In Christ we trust God.

You can be in the hand of God and still have room for growth in character, thinking, and behaviour. A common theme for those of us who are motorcyclists is that it is not about the destination, but the journey. To make Christianity about the destination of heaven and how you get there is missing the point. The Christian life is a journey of growing as a Kingdom person, all the while being secure in the hand of God.

Are you a Christian but you have a nagging worry that you won’t be okay when you die? If you focus on yourself and how good you are, especially in where you stack up against other Christians, your worry may continue. If you focus on God and where you stand with God in Christ, then no worries! In Christ you are in the hand of God, and will be. Instead of stressing about life after death, let’s concern ourselves with life, with our next best step in our relationship with God right here, right now.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, about one hour east of Toronto. Read more at Thinking Through Scripture.

January 18, 2022

Promises When Terror Comes

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today another new writer to feature. Hope writes at Patiently Hopeful. In discovering this article earlier today, I really love the high value she places on scripture and the way she weaves the texts together. She states the goal of her writing: “I hope you are blessed by what you read and encouraged, for that is what I want my life to stand for: hope in the One that made us, for He is mine.”

Clicking the header below allows you to read it where it first appeared.

Sudden Terror

Proverbs 3:25-26 NKJV — Do not be afraid of sudden terror, Nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes; For the LORD will be your confidence, And will keep your foot from being caught.

The truth for the follower of Christ is, trouble will come, but we don’t need to fear it.

Matthew 10:28 NKJV — “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

When we place our lives in the salvation of Jesus Christ our souls are safe.

Matthew 10:32 NKJV — “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.”

Through this truth we can find security in the eternal life through Christ with the Father.

Psalm 56:10-11 NKJV — In God (I will praise His word), In the LORD (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?

Psalm 118:4-6 NKJV — Let those who fear the LORD now say, “His mercy endures forever.” I called on the LORD in distress; The LORD answered me and set me in a broad place. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?

Any troubles, trials, or difficulty we experience on earth is merely temporary and we have God’s Word as well as His Holy Spirit to guide us, comfort us, and hone us through these things.

That is not to say the pain here is trivial, but rather we have peace knowing we don’t suffer alone.

1 Peter 2:21 NIV — To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

Rather than fearing what may come, let us be strengthen by the examples set before us.

Jesus first and always.

His disciples and those courageous first believers we read about in the book of Acts, as well.

For Jesus, Himself gave us truth to cling to no matter the circumstances:

Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV — And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Jesus not only gave His instruction on how we are to live, He promised to be with us, always.

Romans 8:31 KJV — What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus,

Thank You for Your Word. Thank You for Your promise. Lord Jesus, please help each one of us to live for You this day, shining the light of Your salvation through our lives. Lord, please let no unwholesome word come out of us, but only that which would benefit those who listen, that we might not grieve Your Holy Spirit. Lord, please help us to love You and love others as You do.

Lord, please teach us what is right, true, honorable, and holy. Please show us any iniquity, that we might put away anything which would cause us to stumble. Let there be no unclean thing residing in us, our lives, or our homes.

Thank You, that we do not need to fear the future. Thank You that we do not need to fear wickedness or sudden terror. Thank You that we have the security of Your salvation and the comfort of Your truth. Please use us to spread the truth of salvation and the only true hope to a lost and broken world. Lord, thank You for all Your blessings. May our lives bring You glory and honor and praise! May many more come to faith and assurance in Your salvation! I love You, Jesus. Amen.


While reading Hope’s devotional today, I was reminded of a song we’ve posted before, based on Psalm 91. This link takes you to both the music video and a version of the Psalm from a different translation.

 

January 6, 2022

Worried? 2021’s “Bible Verse of the Year” Will Help

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through Matthew 6:33

by Clarke Dixon

  • Click here to watch the sermon on which this is based.

Are you worried? Stressed? Anxious? Who isn’t these days?!

For the past few years we have looked at the “verse of the year,” “the verse shared, bookmarked, and highlighted most often throughout the year” by those who use the YouVersion Bible app, which is a lot of people.

This year’s verse of the year is a great one for anyone who is worried. What is it?

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:33 (ESV)

When we first read this verse on its own, we may become even more worried. We might jump to the conclusion that Jesus is making a promise, namely, that if we are righteous according to God’s standards, then life will be perfect. We may think Jesus is speaking of a transaction, namely his blessings for our obedience. And so in addition to everything else we worry about, we may worry that we are not keeping our end of the transaction, living up to God’s standards. More stress.

We may also worry that we might not have found the correct standards. Are we to be striving for God’s standards according to Baptists, Roman Catholics, or those in United churches? These, and many more, present some different standards of what “the kingdom of God and his righteousness” look like. More stress.

Yet when we read this verse along with what Jesus said before and after, we will be worrying less, not more:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV, emphasis added)

Jesus’ main point is, do not worry. Look at the birds, Consider the flowers. Life happens. Life keeps happening. There is a lot of beauty as life happens and keeps happening. God’s got this, for this is God’s world. God’s got you. Therefore, we can stop trying so hard to get and secure all the things we think we need. God’s got that covered, so rather than allow all that stuff to overwhelm and consume our minds, we are to “seek first” the Kingdom of God. To seek first the kingdom of God is to give our minds first to the reality of God’s kingdom and our part in it, rather than the things we are worried about.

We seek first, God’s kingdom. This world is God’s kingdom. This is God’s world. There are bullies and tyrants here and there, not just people, but diseases and viruses, but what are they compared to God? This is God’s world, and while there is ugliness in the evil around us and in us, there is much that is beautiful. Yes, we pray “thy kingdom come,” but yes, this already is God’s world, God’s kingdom. To seek first the kingdom of God is to consider what God’s kingdom is like, to turn our minds first to the fact that God takes care of it.

We seek first, God’s righteousness. We might assume that this means we are to strive to be righteous as God is righteous. That is a good thing to do, yes, but part of the point Jesus is making here is that we are to fill our minds with the fact that God does the right thing, God does the good thing. This is God’s world and God takes care of it. Consider the birds of the air, and the lilies. God takes care of them. To seek first God’s righteousness is to consider what God is like, to turn our minds first to the fact that God cares.

When Jesus says to us “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” he is not making a promise that life will be perfect if we are, nor is he saying that we should not show appropriate concern for the troubles we face, or make proper preparations for situations ahead. This verse is not a promise to be claimed in every specific situation, but is more like a proverb, a general truth that with God caring for us, it will all be alright. If it is a promise, it is a promise that God loves us. Consider the birds of the air. Consider the lilies. Consider Jesus, his teaching, life, death, and resurrection. Consider the reconciliation we have because of the cross. God takes care of us.

When I hop on a motorcycle, I still wear a helmet. Something bad could still happen while I ride a motorcycle. If it did, it would not be proof that I had not sought first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Nor would it be proof that God does not care about me. God cares, is involved, and because God is involved, it will ultimately be alright.

When we put God’s Kingdom and His righteousness uppermost in our minds we are overwhelmed with the goodness and love of God. Given that life happens, beauty happens, this world is God’s kingdom, God does the right thing, the good thing, and that God loves us, we can know it will all be okay.

There will be things to worry about in 2022. But let’s be overwhelmed by the love of God, and not those worries. The best way to not let anxiety and concern overwhelm our hearts and minds is to allow God to overwhelm our hearts and minds first.


More sermon recaps from Clarke Dixon are available at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

July 25, 2021

Utter Dependence on God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today once again we’re featuring the website Out Of The Ordinary. We’ve showcased writing here by Rebecca and Kim before, this time it’s the third member of the team who goes by Persis. She wrote this in May of 2020 when the global pandemic was just a few months in. How little did we realize for how long we would need to depend on God as our source of strength and comfort. She also (in the first paragraph) quotes a theologian whose name I have been hearing much in the past few weeks. Click the title below to read at source.

The Place of Dependence

We live in a strange world, a world which presents us with tremendous contrasts. The high and the low, the great and the small, the sublime and the ridiculous, the beautiful and the ugly, the tragic and the comic, the good and the evil, the truth and the lie, these all are heaped up in unfathomable interrelationship. The gravity and the vanity of life seize on us in turn. Now we are prompted to optimism, then to pessimism. Man weeping is constantly giving way to man laughing. The whole world stands in the sign of humor, which has been well described as a laugh in a tear.1

Herman Bavinck may have have written those sentences 111 years ago, but he could be describing the present. Life as we know it has changed drastically for the entire world. Every level of society has been impacted, and what we once knew may never return. I am more aware than I have ever been of the complex tangle of human lives, basic needs, information, and decisions that are “heaped up in unfathomable interrelationship.”

In March [2020], two pastors on Twitter asked if Christians would be willing to fast and pray for an hour on Friday afternoons regarding the coronavirus. I was gung-ho the first two weeks and eager to pray. The hour passed quickly as I prayed for everyone and everything I could think of. But as the weeks passed, the number of situations and people needing prayer seemed to grow exponentially. When the last prayer time rolled around, I began to think of government employees from national to local levels, medical staff and researchers, essential workers, the unemployed, the elderly, those with compromised health or mental illness, and the list went on and on.

All these people so dependent on each other.  Some have positions of authority with decision-making power over many. But there are others previously overlooked who we are literally depending upon for our daily bread. So many people. So many lives. Any attempt to untangle these interrelationships would inevitably result in harm to someone because this is a no-win situation. These thoughts were too overwhelming, so I had to give way to the tears and lament that had been building up inside. The only words left to pray were, “Lord, you know.”

In our inmost selves, we are immediately  — without benefit of reasoning, that is, and prior to all reasoning — conscious of ourselves as created, limited, dependent beings. We are dependent upon everything around us, upon the whole spiritual and material world. Man is a “dependent” of the universe. And further, he is dependent, together with other created things, and dependent this time in an absolute sense, on God who is the one, eternal, and real being.2

If our sole dependence rested on other fallible human beings, we would have good reason to fear. There is a limit to the best wisdom, knowledge, and skill any person can offer, and that “best” is still tainted with sin. But there is Someone greater, wiser, and more powerful under-girding our interrelationships and interdependence on each other. Someone on whom we truly depend. He is not the watchmaker god of the deists who winds the timepiece and observes what will happen from afar. Our God sees perfectly and judges righteously. His purpose will not waiver and neither will his love. He took on humanity that he might redeem us, purchasing pardon with his death and providing righteousness with his life.

As his children, we have an open invitation to the throne of grace. We are welcome to pour out our hearts in petition, but we are also free to come when we are too overwhelmed to even know what to pray.  We can come to the end of our rope and the end of ourselves in this place of dependence. A place where Christ accepts a feeble, “Lord, you know,” and gives us assurance that he does.

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb. 4:15-16 NASB


1. The Wonderful Works of God, Herman Bavinck, Westminster Seminary Press, 2019, pg. 29.
2. Ibid. pg. 27.

July 24, 2021

Death, The Intruder

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted. – Ps. 23:4 (The Voice)

This is our third time visiting the writing of Jake Hunt at his blog Wiser Time. Though he doesn’t write frequently, we wanted to share this more recent article here. Jake writes from Prague in the Czech Republic.

Now ye need not fear the grave

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

All our fear is ultimately the fear of death. It is, as Paul says, “the last enemy.” It is the ultimate worst case scenario.

My grandmother died this year. She was 92. She lived a beautiful life, passed her final days in my parents’ home being cared for by those she loved the most, and died trusting in Christ. This is the way to go. Having seen her decline, and knowing she was tired and ready, I had even prayed that God would take her before too long.

And yet, this was the toughest blow of a tough year for me. I think of her daily. I miss her terribly. It hasn’t fully set in that I can’t pick her up and take her to dinner the next time I’m in Georgia.

This is because death, even a good death, is awful. It’s an intrusion into the good world God created. And we pass our entire lives under its shadow, knowing it awaits us all, awaits those we love. Death is inevitable. The fear of this makes us subject to life-long slavery.

Jesus stepped into time and space, became human with all that entails, in order to change this. He was acquainted with death, more so than many of us. He lived in a time when death was much more a part of everyday life than it is for us. People didn’t get taken to the hospital and then the funeral home; they typically died at home, were mourned at home, and were buried by the family and community.

Jesus seems to have lost his earthly father at a fairly early age, as Joseph departs the narrative between his adolescence and young adulthood. He saw children die– doubtless more than just the few he raised from the dead. He wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. But more than all this, he passed his entire life on earth in the shadow of the cross. He knew it was coming. He knew what he was here to do. “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.”

The fact that he also knew the Resurrection was coming didn’t change the fact that the suffering was coming as well.

Hebrews 2:14 and following is one of my favorite passages, and especially my favorite passage for Advent. One thing that always strikes me: The author doesn’t say that Jesus delivers us from death. Of course, in the greatest sense he does, but unless we are alive at his return, knowing Christ does not deliver us from the physical experience of death. He does, however release us from slavery to the fear of death.

This is not just about knowing that heaven is coming, though it is that. It is about knowing that because Jesus’ humanity is so genuine, his becoming one of us in every way so complete, we are united with him in every stage of our life, including the final one. How has he destroyed the power of death, and the work of the devil? Through death itself. He didn’t pretend to die, or seem to die. He died. His death destroyed death forever. And he accomplished this for us– for “the children” of whom he is unashamed, who share in the flesh and blood that he willingly adopted.

“Now ye need not fear the grave.” Because Jesus has been there already. And so we will not go there alone.


Here’s how Eugene Peterson renders today’s key text:

MSG.Heb.2.14-15 Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it’s logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death.

April 7, 2021

Who are you looking to in the middle of the storm?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today I skimmed about 50 devotional posts from previous years, but only investigated one site further because its name, 1014 Experience Street, caught my eye and I didn’t remember that we had sourced material there before. Writer Phillip Pratt covers various subjects — he’s currently doing a series of quotations from U.S. Presidents — but I found this article from October that I wanted to share with you today. Click the header below to read this at source.

“But We See Jesus”

I’ve been meditating on vision lately: physical, spiritual, prophetic, all that good stuff. When I was younger we were admonished to be very careful to guard our ear gates and especially our eye gates: we are visual-centric people, it’s a major portion our genetic makeup. What we see, what we focus on, determines our perceptions, our decisions, our faith.

Growing up, my folks used to have two vision-related sayings on their fridge:

“What you focus on becomes magnified”
and
“How you see Him is how you serve Him”.

When you focus on imperfections (your own or others), whether that’s a mole, a scar, a lisp, a limp or other things like weight, height… it can become so magnified that it affects behavior, self image, relationships, etc. Same as when you focus on circumstances, on lack, on empty bank accounts, on sickness and infirmities, on fear-based news, on what could happen; all of these things never lead to peace.

However, when you focus on the Lord; on His goodness; His greatness; His majesty; His love; His grace and mercy; His provision; His healing power; His plans and purposes; you walk in a peace that others covet. Spend a minute with a person or read their posts/tweets and you can always tell what they’ve been focusing on and magnifying. This is not an indictment on anyone, we’re all human, but so many are focusing on and being distracted by, the storm.

There’s prophetic insight to:

– see what’s going on in the storm
– look through the storm
– look ahead of the storm

We need to be people of God who look through the storm and are able to see the form of Jesus & what God is doing.

Here are some Scriptures on seeing [the form of] the Lord:

Numbers 12:8

“With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees (nabat = to regard with pleasure) the form of the Lord…”

Hebrews 2:9 “but we see (blepō = with the bodily eye, to discern mentally) Jesus…”

John 12:21 “…we wish to see (eidō = to turn the eyes, the mind, the attention) Jesus”

Luke 23:8 “When Herod saw (eidō) Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see (eidō) Him…”

Luke 19:3 “And he sought to see (eidō) Jesus…”

Hebrews 12:2 “Looking (aphoraō = to turn the eyes away from other things and fix them on something) unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith”

Matthew 14:22-31

“But the boat [by this time] was already a long distance from land, tossed and battered by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night (3:00-6:00 a.m.) Jesus came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw (eidō) Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately He spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I! Do not be afraid!”

Peter replied to Him, “Lord, if it is [really] You, command me to come to You on the water.” He said, “Come!” So Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw (blepō) [the effects of] the wind, he was frightened, and he began to sink, and he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus extended His hand and caught him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

This passage perfectly highlights the importance of focus: You can be aware of the storm but stop looking at the storm and magnifying it, keep your eyes on Jesus. There’s so much going on in this world and going on around us, so much fear, so many people looking at the storm but as people of God, “we see Jesus”.

What’s in your heart right now? What are your thoughts?

If it causes fear  = you’re looking at the storm.

If it causes peace = you’re looking at Jesus.

All the news reports, prophetic words, predictions, dreams, etc; do they cause fear or faith? Do they point you toward the storm or toward Jesus?

John 14:26 “let not your heart troubled, nor be afraid”

Philippians 4:8 “…think (logizomai = meditate) on these things”

I want to highlight two Scriptures that go hand in hand:

Isaiah 26:3

“You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed (camak = to lean or lay upon, rest upon, lean against) on Thee, because he trusts Thee”

John 13:23

“Now there was leaning (anakeimai = to lie at a table, eat together, comes from two root words, ana = in the midst, among + keimai = laid down, destined) on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.”

In that room, the noise of the city, the blaring sounds of commerce, crime and community were tuned out, even the room itself was loud with conversation and fellowship; during all of this a lone disciple managed to lay his head on the chest of the Prince of Peace, of Love Incarnate and listened to the heartbeat of Life Himself. There he was safe, there he found peace in the port of the storm of life.

“but we see Jesus…”

The author and finisher of your faith will not be found in the form of the storm, only in the form of Jesus. We see in part, we may not see everything that Jesus has done for us, given to us and happening around us “but we see Jesus”.

Interesting note on Matthew 14: the sea was not calm where Jesus walked, He could have easily had a 20 foot perimeter where it was calm, like glass, but He chose not to calm the sea immediately around Him. He walked on top of the waves, He could have walked a few hundred feet and perhaps even rode a few waves with some foot surfing, who knows?

Some storms we can rebuke, some we ride out, others we sleep through, but we are never utterly cast down nor destroyed.

Your faith is founded on the Rock, the Rock is not moved by the storm.

Our focus determines our direction, our decisions, whether we are paralyzed by fear or propelled by faith. It impacts not only us but everyone around us. It’s imperative in the storms of life that “we see Jesus” and our focus is Him and Him alone.

January 13, 2021

It is a Time to be Stirred

Again today we have a new writer for you! Alex Steward is the pastor of a rural ELCA congregation in the greater Detroit area. He blogs at A Mysterious Way: A Journey Through the Desert of Life. Click the header which follows to read this in full on his page and then he encourages you to browse the rest of the site for other articles.

He begins with a paragraph describing his family’s downsized Thanksgiving which happened to coincide with the Perseid Meteor shower. In the scripture passage, Jesus talks about the stars falling. That’s where we pick up the devotional…

God Wakes Us

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’[a]

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[b] is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert[c]! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

…Jesus sets out in the gospel lesson to provide an apocalyptic image of his return. He is preparing the disciples for what lays ahead of them. He begins with darkness and the stars falling from the sky. It is quite the image and one that often will generate fear in some people. However, this is not the purpose of apocalyptic literature. The purpose of apocalyptic literature is to inspire hope and not sow fear.

From Daniel in the Hebrew Scriptures to Revelation in the New Testament, we read of a promise and hope in the promise which points us to an unflappable God that reigns down with mercy and love.

It may be difficult to find the mercy and love that God promises to all of creation in the past eight months. From a pandemic that seems like a plague, to an election that divided many Americans,  to wars around the world, and civil unrest in our own country, it may seem as though we are living out the last days that much of the apocalyptic literature writes about. Yet, Jesus reminds us to keep awake because we do not know when the master of the house will return.

If we look at the history of Mark’s Gospel, we will find out it was the first gospel written and provided a basis for both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel, thus the similarities. It was written thirty to forty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Up to this time everything was shared through stories and word of mouth. It was written around the time of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and was most likely shaped around those events. Mark encouraged his community not to get involved in the revolt of the Jewish people against the Roman Empire.  This is a time of high tension for the followers of Jesus as they witness the destruction of a community in which they grew up. As Mark reflected on Jesus’ words, there is the thought which the day of the Lord must be near and surely not a generation will pass away before seeing that day.

And yet, here we are. Still waiting with an impregnated hope and living in the promise of Jesus Christ. As we enter this Advent season, we come bearing deep wounds of events that have been cancelled and lives turned upside down as we face struggles and challenges which the majority have never had to even think about. God’s creation continues to groan and limp forward as we await something greater to come.

As Christians, we are set apart by our faith, placing our hope in the promise that has echoed throughout the millennia. As we hear these words from Jesus, it is not a time to panic or to be set on edge. It is not a time to fear and bury our heads in the sand or snow depending upon where we live. It is not a time to fret.

It is a time to be stirred. A time to be fully present to the season and contemplate on what Jesus’ birth means not just for us personally, but for all of creation. A time to be alert to those wondrous sightings of God in our world, like viewing a sky full of stars and witnessing meteors streak through the vastness of that sky. This past week in one of my morning devotions was the refrain:

Wake us to your presence, Lord: that we might not waste our times of trial.

The trials we have faced for much of this past year have been debilitating. There are mornings that it is just enough to get out of bed and take a shower. We are in unfamiliar territory and it is easy to get tired when confronted with the unknown. Our bodies are so incredible in telling us what we need, and at times we also need to push ourselves to move forward. Our relationships are more important now than ever before, even if that means we cannot reach out and give someone a personal greeting face to face.

It is times such as this that God invites us into the mystery. A mystery that has shaped our faith for the last two millennia. A mystery of God incarnate. God has come down to us in the form of a newborn baby to lead the way and give us a sign of hope. A sign that shows up in those very same stars that Jesus says will come falling down. A star that shines so brightly announcing the birth of a new reign of God. A time that God in Jesus walks among creation and is one with us in humanity. A time that we are invited to participate in the mystery of Christ’s reign in creation.

As we are awakened and become alert, we learn about ourselves and the place of our community in the greater aspect of creation. The trials that we face today are only a step along the way to that glorious new creation that will come down to earth. We participate by meeting our friends and neighbors where they are. We stare up at the stars together and are reminded of how connected we truly are and how God’s creation is limitless. A creation that invites us to be an active part of the welcoming of a soon to be newborn baby.

I leave you with a prayer from that same devotional I mentioned earlier:

What would you teach us today in our trials, Lord? Make us receptive. Help us to see your victory and compassion rather than look for every answer to our troubles. So make us expectant, Lord, and patient. AMEN


  1. Mark 13:25 Isaiah 13:10; 34:4
  2. Mark 13:29 Or he
  3. Mark 13:33 Some manuscripts alert and pray

August 14, 2020

Simply “Claiming” a Biblical Promise is Not Enough

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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“Simply claiming God’s promises without speaking to Him about the issue for which you are claiming them is more a reflection of your reliance on yourself … rather than your reliance on God.” – Biblical Diagnosis

Today we have two shorter devotions on the subject of prayer. Our first thoughts today are from our 7th visit to Biblical Diagnosis and are appropriate for the season we find ourselves in these days. The second is from one of our most-quoted sources here, Canadian pastor Kevin Rogers’ The Orphan Age.

Click the respective headers for each to read at their original site.

It is Not Enough to Claim God’s Promises

The notion of God’s protection has taken on a whole different dimension in light of the Coronavirus outbreak. It certainly goes without saying that we should all follow the practical tips our officials are giving us, and apply some common sanitary sense.

But with the Lord’s permission, I would like to give you, my dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, a very important advice:

DO NOT JUST CLAIM GOD’S PROMISES

Yes, you can comb through the Bible and find all the promises of God’s protection. You may recite them, claim them, appropriate them for you and your family. BUT THAT IS STILL NOT ENOUGH.

You need to TALK TO GOD. You need TO PRAY FOR PROTECTION. You need to COMMUNICATE WITH GOD. Simply claiming God’s promises without speaking to Him about the issue for which you are claiming them is more a reflection of your reliance on yourself (i.e. how strongly you can claim them, how high your faith may reach, or even how well you can memorize them), rather than your reliance on God.

How about speaking with Him about this problem in prayer? How about petitioning for you, your family, and for your neighbors? How about seeking insight from God as to why this is happening, rather than conjecturing with your own mind? 

It is easy to recite and to declare Bible verses boldly. But where is the humble Spirit to kneel at the Lord’s feet to intercede and to listen? 

Our Lord Jesus is a personal Lord. GOD our Father, is a GOD OF RELATIONSHIPS. Do not just attempt to take what is HIS (i.e. His promises). BE WITH HIM in PRAYER.

BE WITH HIM IN PRAYER MY DEAR FRIENDS.

And let His peace guide you. Let Him reveal you His secrets (if He so chooses). Let Him show you how you should navigate and how you should strengthen your brothers and sisters, and why not, even the unbelievers. For just as He did with the Apostle Paul, when He committed to him all the souls on the ship he was traveling on, who knows whether He will commit to you some souls for their protection?

Acts 27:23,24last night an angel of the God I [Paul] belong to and serve stood by me 24 and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul. It is necessary for you to appear before Caesar. And indeed, God has graciously given you all those who are sailing with you.’

Run to the Father. PRAY. Talk to HIM. SEEK HIM.


John 17.11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.

15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

Intercede on Behalf of Others

As we see in priestly descriptions, there is a place between God and man that priests inhabit. You may have heard of people being described as intercessors. That is a priestly description. To intercede is to appear on someone’s behalf to present their condition to the one God who can help them.

When we intercede, we recognize a person’s brokenness and appeal to God to come and be present in their life in a way that will break through the barriers shielding them from God’s grace and truth.

Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John chapter 17 is an intercession. He appeals to the Father based on his own relationship with the people he has loved.

A real intercessor is not a reclusive, power-hungry, spooky person claiming to have secret knowledge. Intercessors are deeply personable and considerate of people because they understand their priestly function. They may feel torn between the house of prayer and the outer courts. But they move from the people to the altar and back again.

We are tasked with being intercessors for the world around us.

 

June 25, 2020

Spectacular and Sensational: Are Christians to Be Known Primarily for Working Miracles?

by Clarke Dixon

In these days of a pandemic, should we as followers of Jesus be known for doing spectacular and sensational things? Should we be fearless in the face of infection? We’ve prayed about it, we believe that God can protect us, so should we then act like we are immune? Should we declare the pandemic will be over soon? We keep praying it will be.

Of course, this is not just about the pandemic, but all of life. Is the working of miracles the Christian solution to all problems? Is the spectacular and sensational the defining mark of the Christ follower?

Jesus clarifies the defining mark of his followers in the Sermon on the Mount:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

The defining mark of the Christ follower may not seem clearly evident here on first glance. Let us put ourselves, for a moment, in the shoes of the scribes and Pharisees. We have a passion for God’s law. We study it, memorize it, and teach it, hoping that our zeal for pleasing God is contagious.

Along comes Jesus, doing spectacular and sensational things, like casting out demons, healing people, and works of power. Yet he does some surprising things too, like healing on the Sabbath. Have you not read your Bible Jesus? Working on the Sabbath is forbidden.

We are concerned. Jesus is attracting people with the spectacular and the sensational, yet his track record of keeping the law and traditions we teach is suspect. Will the Jesus followers, of which there are now many, be all show, and no substance? Will Jesus be taking people away from righteousness through all the spectacular and sensational things he is doing?

To that Jesus says,

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 7:21 (NLT emphasis added)

The defining mark of the Christian is not the spectacular and sensational, though those things may happen. The defining mark of the Christian is the doing of the heavenly Father’s will. Jesus’ followers can not be described as “workers of lawlessness” (literal rendition of ‘evildoers’ in verse 23).

In other words, Jesus is not taking people away from God and godliness, Jesus is taking people deeper into God and godliness.

Let us remember what Jesus said near the beginning of his “Sermon on the Mount” back in chapter 5

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20 (NIV emphasis added)

When Jesus speaks of the need for a righteousness that excels that of the scribes and Pharisees, he is pointing out that there’s is a faulty righteousness. There is something missing. They were all about the letter of the law, missing God’s heart.

When Jesus goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to teach about character, he is taking us toward a righteousness that captures God’s heart.

Here is the defining mark of a Christ follower; a character that captures God’s heart. In developing a character that captures God’s heart, the Jesus follower develops a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. Of course eternal life depends on God’s grace and not our ability. However, salvation to eternal life does not preclude becoming more like our Saviour as we follow.

Yes, Jesus was going about doing spectacular and sensational things. And no, Jesus was not keeping the traditions in ways that would keep the scribes and Pharisees happy. However, Jesus was, and is now, calling people, not to be workers of the spectacular and sensational, nor to a wooden adherence to a set of rules, but to a deep righteousness formed of God.

What about us? What defines our Christian walk? Is it a focus on the spectacular and sensational? Do people know us to be a people who walk about with the expectation that God will hand out miracles like candy? Do we see miracles as the solution to all our, and the world’s, problems?

We should pray for miracles. I believe they happen. But while we pray for miracles, we can recognize how character that captures God’s heart solves many of our, and the world’s problems. We can think of problems in family relationships, marriage, race relations, and so much more. If our character is growing in Christlikeness, many of our problems wouldn’t exist in the first place!

We may think that we would be most like Christ if miracles would happen all around us, and through us. We are most like Christ when we love as Jesus loved, when we sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed, when we serve as Jesus served, when we forgive as Jesus forgave.

Ours is not to make people think we are the second coming of Jesus by the working of miracles every time there is a problem. Ours is to be a people who live in a deep relationship with God through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. We respond to every problem, including every pandemic, with Christlike character. We will be known as Jesus followers, not by our miracles, but by our character.


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. His family are currently riding out both the pandemic and the heat wave next to their pool. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

June 6, 2020

Times of Trouble

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Your devotional life in times of lockdown

For many of us, it’s coming up to the three-month mark of the world becoming something we’d never experienced before.

I obviously know only a very small percentage of the people who read this devotional/Bible study page each day, but I do know that three things are true of most of you during this time of worldwide pandemic:

  • You have more time. While for some this time has been increasingly hectic — especially front-line medical workers and parents who suddenly found themselves homeschooling — most people have had activities greatly curtailed or suspended. This gives you more time for devotional studies, Christian books, Christian sermons online, and Christian podcasts. More time to consider eternal things. “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” (Mark 6v31a) “…I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself…” (Ps. 131v1)
  • You have a better understanding of human vulnerability. Who would have thought, even six months ago, that we would be living in a time of worldwide plague? Weren’t plagues something for Old Testament saints, or people who didn’t have our access to medical technology?  “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” (Ps. 144v4 BSB)
  • You have increased dependency on God. Hand in hand with the above is recognizing our utter dependency on the one who made the stars above and the lakes and rivers below. Again, this is a time to consider eternity, but not just the vastness of it, our personal place in relationship to it. Where does our help come? From the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. “I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Ps. 121v1-2 CSB)

A year ago we introduced you to Jack Garrott, a “Third Culture Kid” which describes someone who when they think of ‘home’ in terms of a country, it is not the same as the country on their passport!  His website is Virtual Vitamins. Click the header below to read today’s article there.

Trouble

Psalm 30:4-5 Sing to the Lord, you saints of his;
praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may remain for a night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.

The last two lines of this passage are very famous, and have comforted and encouraged many down through the centuries. It is much like Jesus’ statement to His disciples just before His cross: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) David was indeed a poet, as well as a prophet, and the imagery here is very poetic. The Japanese has it as, “In the evening tears may come to spend the night, but in the morning there is a shout of joy.” Life on this fallen world is hardly an uninterrupted picnic, but by the grace of God it isn’t an uninterrupted slog, either. When it feels like an uninterrupted slog, we need to lift our eyes to the Lord!

Several friends of mine are dealing with the death of their spouse, and more than one are being very open about their journey as they write on Facebook. Others who have been through the same journey respond, and the interplay is very educational and edifying. I don’t like thinking about facing such a scenario myself, but I know it’s a real possibility. I have long considered Jesus’ words in John 16:33 to be something of a touchstone in my life, so that I am not surprised by the trouble I encounter. However, there are moments of joy in it all that overshadow all the trouble, and I am deeply grateful.

In balance, I enjoy life indeed, and people take notice. I think that is the sort of thing Peter was talking about when he said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15) I need to be careful that people understand that I am eternally optimistic not because “I have a good personality,” but because I have a hope that lets me see in faith beyond the current trouble, whatever that is.

Right now the whole world is suffering because of the pandemic, and then on top of that the US is having riots that take advantage of protests over a horrific killing that was caught on camera. That is trouble indeed, and the racial animus behind the killing is very hard to erase. I am not to despair, but rather trust my God and look forward to the “shout of joy” that David wrote about. That may not come until Christ’s return, but it will most certainly come then!

Father, I do pray Your grace and mercy, not just for the US but for all mankind. We act out in ignorance, unbelief, and mistaken belief, and the result is a mess indeed. I pray that Your children would be bold and consistent in speaking out, and acting out, Your truth in love, so that Your name may be acknowledged as holy and Your kingdom come as Your will is done, as perfectly here as it is in heaven, for Your glory alone. Thank You. Hallelujah!


We ran this worship song in October, 2013. It came to mind as I prepared to today’s devotional:

 

June 2, 2020

The Disciples in Lockdown

Today we’re also featuring a new (to us) writer. A.K. Francis has been writing fiction for more than ten years, but more recently started writing faith-focused articles as well. During the time of pandemic, that writing moved into a series titled In The Valley of Fear and Solitude which began in the Old Testament and has worked its way to the New. Click the links in this paragraph to read more, or click the header which follows to read today’s article at source.

The disciples behind closed doors

As we edge our way out of lockdown, it seems an appropriate time for a probably last blog post on faith in isolation. For today’s edition I have chosen two stories that are very similar in their structure and story from Acts and the end of the Gospels respectively.

The first story (from the gospels) is that of Jesus first appearing to his disciples after His resurrection. The disciples are together in a room with the doors locked, out of fear of the Jewish non-believers around them. Earlier that morning, some of their women had been to the tomb and found the place empty – it is unclear whether they believed in the resurrection from this or not. Jesus is suddenly in the room with them. He speaks to the disciples and encourages them. Then he is gone. Later he appears again and seeks out Thomas, who had been absent previously and had said that he would not believe the resurrection story until he saw the walking talking, and scarred evidence in the body of the risen saviour.

The second story is near the beginning of the book of Acts. The disciples are again in an upper room, with the doors closed. This time the room is suddenly filled with flames and wind as the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had promised, swept through the room and entered each disciple. They begin speaking in other languages as that spirit enabled them, and then leave the room to spread the word about Jesus to those in the city. As it is the festival of weeks, the city is full of Jews from across the then known world – making their languages essential to their message being understood. At first, their audience take them for drunks – but then are persuaded – and over 1,000 converted to belief in Jesus.

What are these stories telling us about isolation…and its end?

1. Wait, prayerfully and in hope.

In both these stories individuals are alone and waiting for something. At Pentecost (the second story) it is highly likely that the disciples were meeting in prayer at time when the Spirit came upon them. In the first story there may have been prayer, but there was certainly fear – enough to find the key for the door. In both of these stories God comes and meets with the disciples in their time of need – and builds them up for the next step in His plan. At both points they are in a place of loss – of Jesus on the cross in the resurrection story, and of Jesus to heaven in the Pentecost story – and in both places they have been given the promise of God’s presence – Jesus spoke of His resurrection prior to his death, and spoke of the Holy Spirit as a helper who would come after he had ascended. Both of these events show the joy of the disciples as they celebrate the fulfilment of these promises. Jesus also made a promise ‘to be with you always, to the very end of the age’ to the disciples and all His followers, when he ascended.

I do not think it is pure coincidence that the period of lockdown has fallen over the season in the year where churches focus on these events and celebrate them. Here is a message of waiting on the Lord, calling out to Him in hope that he is working his purpose – and then seeing the promise of His presence among them fulfilled – in resurrection and in the Holy Spirit. That spirit is still available to us today, the promise ‘to be with you always’ remains open to us. In our isolation we can lean on these fulfilled promises, and call on our saviour to face the fears of the world outside.

2. God meets us in the place of lockdown fear

In both of these stories, God walks among His disciples and strengthens them in their hour of fear and isolation. As I have mentioned throughout this series, there seems to be a big message in the Bible that it is often in our times of fear, loneliness and imprisonment that God walks among His people to strengthen them for His work in their lives and the lives of others. Here it is no different. Jesus steps into a room full of his mourning and terrified friends – at the point when they are most confused, doubtful and afraid – and turns their lives around. At Pentecost, the disciples are changed so much that they go outside and tell of Jesus’ resurrection – risking their lives as they have not yet done. This is the real starting moment of the church – it comes out of God strengthening His people in isolation and sending them out into the world.

In our time of isolation, it has perhaps been a challenge to be away from church, but perhaps this has allowed us as churches and individuals to spend more time away from the bustle of the world with the God who loves us, learning from Him about how we can be advancing His kingdom. As we face the fear of having to leave what may well have become the safe space of our home, I think it is good to stop, reflect and take time to let God walk into our lives, revealing how we should be working for His glory to come out of this time of fear and suffering.

3.Be built up, question, be sent out.

These two passages create a great image of what discipleship in isolation could look like. Here the groups of disciples have met in isolation and alone, here Thomas feels safe to question the judgement of others about the resurrection of Jesus, and to gain an answer from Jesus himself. Here the disciples experience the Holy Spirit as a gift for the first time as they turn to God in prayer and expectation. And out of these two events, one after the other, and the lessons that come from Jesus in them, comes the knowledge of God and the strength of the Spirit to go out into the world in confidence to share the message they have been given with those around them. To face death potentially, for what they now believe is the truth.

Thomas, as he recognizes Jesus, and proclaims him as his Lord and God, is told:

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen me and yet have believed.”

John 20 v 29

This is a wonderful reassurance for Christians living today, who have not seen Jesus in the flesh but who believe in Jesus as their saviour. In our times of isolation, we have had an opportunity to explore faith online and in our greater times of quiet and solitude, and numbers of those viewing church services online would suggest that people are looking to explore faith. Today, we should take these stories as pointers to ensuring we are being built up and sent out to His glory. The world outside the comfort of our Christian homes, and the privacy of our internet browser, is scary, and we, and those exploring faith, will need the strengthening of the Spirit and human encouragement in the challenging months to come. But I pray that these months have been, and will continue to be, the start of something of a renewal of faith in our world.

May 8, 2020

Imagine There’s No Truth

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Over the years at our other blog, Thinking Out Loud, we’ve found Sacred Sandwich to be a treasure trove for sourcing cartoons and images and satirical articles. But they have a serious side as well.

Today I want to share the middle section of a longer article and if you have time, I want to strongly recommend reading the full context. As usual, click the header below to read in full. The author is C. R. Carmichael.

Where Would We Be Without Truth?

“The church has lost her testimony! She has no longer anything to say to the world. Her once robust declaration of TRUTH has faded away to an apologetic whisper.” — A. W. Tozer (1897-1963)

…In light of humanity’s desperate need for God’s peace, can you imagine if truth were completely erased from our midst? It is too dreadful to contemplate! Yet think of the catastrophic condition of humanity if the world existed without the revelation of God’s truth. Like wayward Israel, the people would be “destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6), and would soon cry out in anguish like Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am lost!” (Isaiah 6:5).

Imagining A World Void Of Truth

According to the Scriptures, a world void of truth would be a desolate place. Fallen mankind would have no avenue of promise to find redemption and reconciliation with God. Without truth, there would be no regeneration; for it is by “the word of truth” that we are begotten and born again (James 1:18; I Peter 1:23). Without truth, there would be no justification; for we are justified by faith, which faith consists in crediting God’s truth, and so gives peace with God (Romans 5:1). Without the truth, there would be no sanctification; for the Lord himself says, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Without the truth, there would be no salvation; for “God hath chosen us to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (II Thessalonians 2:13).

In such an unsound world, where would you find the threefold graces of the Spirit: Faith, Hope, and Love? Without truth, there would be no faith; for the work of faith is to believe the truth (II Thessalonians 2:13). As the Bible teaches us, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ,” which is truth in all its power (Romans 10:17). The difference between true faith and the world’s delusion is striking: Faith believes God’s truth, and delusion credits Satan’s lies (II Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Without truth, there would be no hope; for the province of hope is to anchor in the truth of God’s word (Hebrews 6:18-19). This led David to say in Psalm 119:74, “I have hoped in Your word.” Indeed, it is “through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures that we have hope” (Romans 15:4). And where do we most clearly hear of this hope? It is heard in the word of truth, the Gospel (Colossians 1:5), which fixes our hope on the living God, even Jesus Christ, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers (1 Timothy 4:10).

And finally, without truth, there would be no love; for it is “the love of the truth” which separates the saved from the unsaved (II Thessalonians 2:11-12). Indeed this love of truth transforms believers into Christ-bearers who are then compelled to speak the truth in love to those who are perishing, for they now know that “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

Thus we see the tragic consequences of abandoning truth. Without truth, all the people on the earth would be lost in a stormy tempest of lies without a lighthouse to guide them to safe harbor. They would have no faith to chart their course, no hope in which to anchor their souls to God, and no love to fill their sails. Is this not the dire situation we are beginning to witness in the world today? How many poor souls are now living in fear instead of faith, anguish instead of hope, and anger instead of love?

The Bible teaches us that truth brings faith, hope, and love to full flower, but emphasizes that above all, love is the greatest of the three (I Corinthians 13:13). In I Corinthians 13:6, we learn: “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” In other words, love is delighted when truth is spoken, and therefore love is eternally married to truth. Love adores and promotes truth, just as those who bear God’s love in their hearts adore and promote truth. Truth, then, is firmly fixed upon the only love that has the power to destroy the depraved business of this world…

[…continue reading here…]


Some “Without Truth” passages taken and expanded upon from J. C. Philpot’s “Through Baca’s Vale”


By the same author: Why the World’s Dark Business is Booming

May 3, 2020

Don’t Let Them Stop You

A year ago we first introduced you to Mark Stephenson who co-pastors Horizon Church of Towson, Maryland and writes at Fire and Light. This article was posted this very morning, and is one of several great devotionals at his blog. As you are able, click the link above (or the header below) and explore more scriptures discussed at Fire and Light. (Also if the theme today sounds familiar, remember that Ezra and Nehemiah are interconnected books covering a particular time in Israel’s history.)

Opposition

When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build…” 

Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia. At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.

Ezra 4:1-2, 4-6

A large group of the people of God returned from exile to Jerusalem in order to rebuild the Temple. They were released to do so by an order from the king of Persia, King Cyrus. This was all orchestrated by the Lord.

…in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia…

Ezra 1:1

But once they started making sacrifices to the Lord and rebuilding the Temple, opposition came. Whenever we are called by God to accomplish His plans, there will be opposition. This is especially true when we are building something new or rebuilding something that should have always been. And notice the strategies of the opposition. Opposition to the Lord’s work usually goes through these same stages.

First, there’s the attempt to join the work in order to derail the work. This “friendly” and soft approach is often how opposition first arrives on the scene. If we invite the wrong people to give their input into the work we know we are called to do, it will get side-tracked, watered down, and compromised.

Secondly, there is an attempt to discourage through fear. This next wave of opposition is a series of people who are “concerned” about where this might lead. Fear is the main theme. Worst case scenario after worst case scenario gets listed as reasons why the work should stop. The attempt is to spread fear in such a way that people start getting discouraged and want to bail out.

If those two tactics don’t work, the next strategy of opposition intensifies into manipulation and accusation. The opposition starts recruiting people to their side with various forms of emotional bribery, manipulation, and false accusations about the ones leading the work of the Lord. (We read about how Absalom did this to King David in 2 Samuel 15:1-12). Lies about the leaders and character assassinations are the bread and butter of this stage of opposition.

Finally, if none of this stops the work of the Lord, the next move is making threats, including the threat of physical violence (see Nehemiah 4:11). While these threats are often empty, they can still cause a lot of pain and a lot of division.

For those who are called to step out in faith to accomplish a work of God, opposition will come. And the enemy isn’t creative enough to change his tactics. It usually looks something like the above strategies. The hard part is that many times this kind of opposition will come from people close to us. So it’s important that we face this opposition with love and grace for those who come against what God is doing. They think they are being helpful and wise even as they fight against what God is clearly doing.

I am reminded of times where I was the one pushing against and opposing a work of God. I thought I was being righteous and theologically sound. I thought I was in the right. I thought I was doing the right thing and warning against disaster. I didn’t realize until years later that I was actually fighting a work of the Lord. I didn’t realize until years later that I was the opposition; I was a puppet of the enemy. And when I came to realize my folly, I spent months in repentance for it. It was painful to realize how wrong I was. It was painful to come to an awareness of my own false accusations against those leaders God was using to lead a work of the Lord.

So when we do face opposition, we need to show grace. We need to show love. But we shouldn’t let opposition discourage us or stop us from what we’ve been called to do. God has called us to accomplish His work. It’s not our plan; it’s His plan. And we shouldn’t stop for any reason.

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