Christianity 201

November 21, 2019

When We Face Lions

(This is from a series on The Book of Daniel called “Outnumbered. The Book of Daniel and Living As Christians In A Not-So-Christian Society.” The series begins here)

by Clarke Dixon

When facing the lions means facing the antagonism of society against Christianity, what do we do? There is no doubt that Christianity has held a privileged place in [North American and Western European] society from our beginning. But now? Not-so-much as church attendance drops to new lows, and traditional Christian values are dropped from the law books. The lions we face are nothing compared to the lions faced by the early Christians or the persecution felt by Christians around the world today. Nevertheless, many have a sense of fear that things will only get worse in our not-so-Christian-anymore society. How do we navigate the new and ever-changing normal? Daniel will help us. Daniel was a person of deep faith in a land where you could be threatened with lions. Let us pick up on some lessons from Daniel, chapter 6, when Daniel faced the lions.

First,

Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom. So the presidents and the satraps tried to find grounds for complaint against Daniel in connection with the kingdom. But they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him. Daniel 6:3-4 (NRSV)

Daniel is known for commendable service to king and country even though Darius is not his king, nor Babylon his country. When we first met Daniel as a teenager in Daniel, chapter 1, he had concern for his Jewish identity, but was also willing to serve the Babylonian king. Now that he is in his early eighties, he has served a few Babylonian kings and is still serving well. Daniel had a commitment to serve people who keep, and threaten people with, lions. Are we willing to serve [our nation and our people] no matter how threatened we might feel?

Second,

The men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.” Daniel 6:5 (NRSV)

Daniel’s colleagues are aware of Daniel’s faith. Daniel’s service to king and country is impeccable, so the jealous men are not able to find grounds for Daniel’s destruction. They know, however, that Daniel is a man of deep faith and conviction in his God. They know that he is man of prayer:

All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions. Daniel 6:7 (NRSV)

Are people aware that we have deep conviction that God loves humanity in Christ? Do people know that we pray?

Third,

Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously. Daniel 6:10 (NRSV)

Though Daniel has been squeaky clean in his service to king and country, the time has come for deliberate defiance. The time had come to make a choice between devotion to the king, and devotion to the King of kings. Daniel had the courage to keep walking the walk, even when threatened with lions. Would we have had that courage?

We should note here that Daniel’s defiant attitude only arose when his own ability to walk according to his faith was threatened. He was not demanding that all Babylonians pray like he did. Courage for the Canadian Christian in our day does not mean having the courage to enforce Christian values upon all Canadians. But it does mean the courage to follow Jesus as a Canadian, even though it may bring us into disrepute. Do we have the courage to walk the walk and talk the talk? How Canadians live is not our number one priority. How we live is. Enforcing Christian values through Canadian law is not the goal. Helping people know Jesus is.

Fourth,

When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him. Daniel 6:14 (NRSV)

Back in chapter 4, Daniel was distraught over Nebuchadnezzar’s looming troubles. Now the tables are turned and the current king, Darius, is distraught over Daniel’s looming troubles. If we were rounded up and taken to prison for our faith, would our neighbours care? Would anyone beyond our church community even notice? Perhaps the king was disturbed by Daniel’s troubles because Daniel was the kind of person who would be disturbed by the king’s troubles. When people are troubled around us, do we notice? Are we prepared to serve, defend, and care for people who are very different from us? Do we care for people who hold very different values, who live very different lifestyles? Do we get the point of Jesus’ Good Samaritan story? The point is not that we become Samaritans, but that we become good. We should be the priest who actually crosses the road to help someone no matter how “unclean” that might make us feel. Daniel was known for what he is for, and not what he was against. Daniel was known to be for king and country. In choosing the lions he was known for his devotion to God. What are we known for as Christians today?

Fifth,

So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. Daniel 6:23b (NRSV)

Consider the people who would have first learned about Daniel’s experience with the lions.

Those experiencing exile along with Daniel would have felt like they were living out a lion’s den experience. Would they survive? Would their faith survive? Would God abandon them there in the pit? Daniel trusted God and he came out of the pit alive. God’s people would be encouraged by that to keep trusting in God’s promises. The exile will end, they will come out of it alive. God’s people would face other lion’s den experiences once the exile was over. In later chapters, Daniel prophecies about difficulties the nation would face under Greek rule and rulers. Keep trusting, God will lift his people out of that lion’s pit also. Just as the story of Daniel in the lions den does not end with Daniel being eaten by lions, there is no storyline which ends with God’s people being destroyed. God has made promises. He can be trusted.

We may feel like the Christian Church in Canada is entering a lion’s den. We may feel like it may someday face extinction. There is no storyline where Christianity is destroyed. That is not how this story we live in will end. God has made promises. We can trust him.

What is true for Christianity is true for the Christian. There may be lion’s den experiences in our lives. We may feel like we have entered the lion’s den when we enter a doctor’s office to receive a diagnosis, or a counsellor’s office to work on a significant but hurtful relationship, or a workplace office to receive a pink slip. Daniel came out of the lion’s den alive. Jesus came out of the tomb alive:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 (NRSV)

In Christ, there is no future where you do not come out alive. God has made promises. We can trust him.

To summarize, though we think we may face lions here in Canada, let us keep serving all kinds of Canadians, even those who keep lions. Let us keep walking the walk, and talking the talk. Let us keep trusting in God for the future.


Editor’s note: Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This article originally was written with a more definitive Canadian context in its original title and opening paragraphs. I edited a few of those at the beginning as this has a much wider application, but left successive paragraphs in the original form.

November 15, 2019

Choosing: ‘The Gods of This Land,’ or The Lord?

Six months ago we introduced you to an author who was new to us, Mark Stephenson who co-pastors Horizon Church of Towson, Maryland and writes at Fire and Light. In more recent articles, he’s following the story of Gideon, but in this one, just a few days prior, Joshua’s story is about to wrap up.

All Faithfulness

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:14-15

Joshua was nearing the end of his life and so he challenged the people of God one last time. He wanted them to know that God was giving them land they previously didn’t own, cities that they did not build, and farms that they did not cultivate. All of this was God’s inheritance for them, but He expected them to be a covenant people. God expected them to be faithful to Him and worship Him only.

Joshua warned them against worshiping the gods of their ancestors. He then warns them about worshiping the gods of the land they now possess. The gods of their ancestors were originally the Sumerian gods worshiped in Mesopotamia and then the Egyptian gods worshiped in slavery. The local religion was a little different as it included the gods of the Canaanites (Amorites, Perizzites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, etc). Joshua was warning them that all of it was a trap and that they should worship Yahweh alone.

In America, the god of our ancestors is a civil religion, a nominal Christianity that amounts to a powerless moral deism. It is more about being a good boy or girl and being a true American than it is about a relationship with Jesus.

In America, the local gods of “this land” and this culture are gods of humanism, doubt, fear, sexual immorality, comfort, pride, and self-absorption. Freedom is defined as lack of boundaries, standards, and norms. Worshiping this sort of pantheon creates a perpetual identity crisis and a life of permissive morality.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to complete devotion to our Lord. We must reject the gods of this culture and the gods of our ancestors in favor of complete surrender to Jesus. Our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are being imprisoned, beaten, and killed for their faith. Meanwhile the American church sits around echoing the words of enemy in the Garden of Eden, “Did God really say that was wrong?”

We, as the Church, have to return to a complete abandonment to Christ. We must declare with our words, our life, and our faith the words of Joshua, “…as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!”

November 10, 2019

End of Life Revisions

(It’s a play on “end of life decisions.” Makes more sense after you read the article.)

As I said yesterday, Christianity 201 has been blessed over the years to feature Elsie Montgomery who writes at the blog Practical Faith. She is faithful in writing and consistent in terms of the content of what she posts. I’ve broken a rule here and have re-posted some recent things from her blog both yesterday and today. Visit the blog and click the headers for individual articles.

To-do list for old timers (and newcomers too)

Bette Midler once said regarding her body, “After fifty, it’s just maintenance, maintenance, maintenance.” Those in that age bracket will agree. However, I try not to focus on the state of my body since this is too easy the topic of conversation for us seniors. It tends to fill my head with a ‘me’ focus that is not healthy for my spiritual life.

At the end of 2 Peter, this disciple writes about focus as God’s people wait for the end of life and the return of Jesus Christ. He puts the focus on my spiritual state and gives me some practical assignments . . .

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him . . . You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ . . . . (2 Peter 3:14–18)

Be found by Him without spot or blemish. This isn’t about freckles or pimples but about sin. No one is sinless in this life, but keeping short accounts is possible. That is, God wants me to confess and forsake any sinful and selfish attitudes and actions as soon as I realize they are present. The benefits include continual fellowship with God and His people, having a child-like humility and attitude toward life, and a good night’s sleep!

Be at peace. No worrying. How is that even possible? For me, it means trusting the Lord with everything, and to do that, I must believe in His love and power. He is sovereign over this world and all that is in it. If not, I’d be in a stew about everything because nearly everything seems to be coming unraveled. Trusting the Lord means being able to take my burdens to Him and leave them in His care. I cannot do that without firmly believing He hears me and will answer my prayers. His answers may not be what I expect, but trust isn’t concerned about my thoughts and opinions, only about His loving wisdom.

Count patience as salvation. Peter also said that I’m to consider patience as a huge factor in salvation. Impatience is me trying to run things my way — and that is the essence of sin. Patience is evidence of faith, of knowing God is taking care of things and being okay with that. It is not an anxious ‘wait and see’ but a settled and peaceful yielding to His will.

Don’t get carried away. Spiritual maintenance includes standing firm on what I believe, not carried away by the teaching of those who have no regard for the basic principles of faith. The foundations of trust and obey, of knowing and believing, are the firm places. I don’t need to study error to know it — I only need to study truth.

Grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Last but not least I am to grow by studying Him, spending time with Him. Listening. Following His leading. Seeking His face. Reviewing and remembering His words. Doing whatever is necessary to deepen my relationship with this man who is God — who saved me for all eternity!

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Jesus, this is simple stuff for this old-timer, basic for those who are new to the faith, yet powerful. Doing the will of God is not as challenging as wanting to do the will of God. I must want to abandon the habits and old sinful ways and dictates of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Keep me close as I desire to stay close. I love You and want to bring You glory in this life and in the life to come!

Today’s thankful list . . .

– having basics to keep me growing and in God’s will.
– faith is practical!
– a good workout at the gym.
– motion detector light switches.
– time for a much-needed nap this afternoon.
– chicken tacos and salt-free chips.

 

October 30, 2019

Start Something

This was a the 4th part of a four-part tag-team teaching Ruth and I did this past weekend encouraging people to “start something” unique to their vantage point on the world. There is much scripture here which I haven’t highlighted today, but I am sure many of you will know what is quoted and what is original.

by Ruth Wilkinson

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

He was with God in the beginning.

All things were created through Him,
and apart from Him not one thing was created
that has been created.

Life was in Him,
and that life was the light of men.

That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness did not overcome it.

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering like a mother hen over the surface of the waters.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Then God said, “Let Us make humanity in Our image, according to Our likeness. To watch over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl.”

So God created humanity in His own image;
He created them in the image of God; He created them male and female.


And that’s how God started something.

He sat in His own infinity of light and love and He imagined time.
He imagined energy and matter.
He imagined life and diversity
and he imagined us.

Having imagined us, he made us
to be just like him.

He made us to watch over creation and to watch over each other.
He made us to look into emptiness and see possibility.
To see something new.
He made us to see what could be.
He made us to imagine.

To ask, “What if?”

What if I said something? What if I did something?
What if I sat down next to her, opened that door,
asked for permission?

What if I challenged the status quo?

What would happen?

Well, what happened when God started something?

It began well. It began with life and love, understanding, friendship and community.

And then?

Then, somebody stuck their oar in.
Somebody with big ideas and ambition. Somebody who thought they knew better.

Then there was division and disagreement, grief and separation.

But God didn’t walk away. Didn’t give up. He kept on looking into the darkness and seeing what could be.

He kept working. Kept reaching out.

Because he has a goal. There is something that only He can accomplish. He knows that only He can bring us back to where we belong – next to Him.

When we start something, when we turn our “What ifs” into action,
—we take a chance – on the people we work with, on the circumstances that will arise, on ourselves.

People drive us crazy. Circumstances conspire against us.
We disappoint ourselves.

All we can do, the best we can do is remember…

There is a reason we tried in the first place. There is something that we can do. Maybe not only you.
But definitely you.

God is still walking us through His plan, his story from eternity to eternity.

Jesus kept walking through the plan, from birth to resurrection.

And he walks alongside us and within us and for us.

It’s been said that the difference between a good idea and a vision is that a vision is something you can’t not do. Something that fills you with fire and won’t let go.

If that is where you find yourself, struggling to find the courage to step out,
keep this in mind…

God doesn’t call you to go anywhere he hasn’t already been himself.
He knows our weakness,
our strength.

Everything we can experience,
He has experienced in the flesh.

He has been there and He will help.


There is a time for every activity under Heaven-
a time to plant and a time to uproot;
a time to tear down and a time to build;
a time to be silent and a time to speak;

This I know… that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

When we will see a new heaven and a new earth,
for the first heaven and the first earth will have passed away,
and the sea will no longer exist.

When He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Death will no longer exist;
grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer.

When the One seated on the throne will say,

“Look! I am making everything new.”

June 15, 2019

Light and Darkness

This is our third time highlighting the site Discovering the Bible, written by Deborah, a retired doctor now living in Swansea, Wales. Choosing a devotional (or two smaller ones) for today was a tough process; there’s so much good material. Click the header below to read this at source.

Learning to walk in the light

Psalm 89:15

“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You,
who walk in the light of Your presence, LORD.”

What is it like to know God? The people who get to know Him develop an attitude to life that is full of confidence and gratitude. They are not merely drifting through life; they know what they are doing and where they are going. They are ‘walking in the light’.

This sounds deceptively easy, but it doesn’t come naturally even to Christians. In fact, it’s something that we have to learn to do.

The pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21)

Ex.13.21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.

When we start out on our Christian journey, God often seems especially close, because He makes things easy for us during our spiritual ‘babyhood’. It was like this on Israel’s first crucial journey out of Egypt: His unseen presence was made visible as a pillar of fiery cloud, and all they had to do was follow it.

In the desert, it’s easier to travel at night (when it’s cooler) – but in the darkness it’s all the more vital to know where you are going! And in a world that is spiritually dark, we need to know which road to take. Whenever we come to a moral decision-point, it’s to God that we must look for direction. We don’t have a convenient pillar of fire (or an audible voice from heaven) to lead us; we must learn to discover God’s will by reading the Bible and by discussion with other believers.

The light of the world (John 8:12)

In Jesus’ time, the four great candelabra in the Temple courtyard were lit during the Feast of Tabernacles to remind the people of the pillar of fire that had led their ancestors through the wilderness. John tells us that at the end of the festival, when the lights were being extinguished, Jesus declared Himself to be the Reality behind the symbol:

“I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Decision (Isaiah 2:5)

Walking in darkness is the ‘default option’. We have to make a positive decision to become followers of Jesus in the first place; and thereafter we must make a conscious effort to reject the ways of the world and keep following His light.

Is.2.5 “Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.”

But if we stop paying attention to where we are heading, we will gradually drift off course and back into the darkness again!

Walking together (I John 1:7)

1Jn.1.7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Walking in darkness includes such things as having bad relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters (I John 2:9). We cannot have full fellowship with God while refusing to join and work together with other believers!

Walking in the light is also by its very nature a communal activity; for everyone who is following close to Jesus must also be close to one another. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” And that fellowship also helps to keep us together on the right path.

Our destination (Proverbs 4:18)

Prov.4.18 The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
    shining ever brighter till the full light of day.

The path of light is one of safety and growing certainty. As we grow in our faith, and diligently put it into practice, we come further and further into God’s light – and it actually becomes easier to make the right decisions.


Bonus devotional: If you have time, here’s another from the same author…

The Gospel: Some Questions Answered

25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— Romans 3:25,26

Our sins could not be forgiven without atonement being made. So what about those, like David, whose sins were forgiven before Christ came?

2.Sam.12.13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.

Paul’s answer is that the cross is a ‘once-for-all’ method of dealing with sin, effective both retrospectively and prospectively

Heb.9.26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Before Christ came, God had refrained from executing full judgement on sin because of His mercy.

“He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:10)

But this was not because of moral indifference; rather, judgement was withheld until it could fall upon Jesus.

The cross also answers the question of how a righteous God can remain righteous while forgiving our sins – which seems to overturn the whole concept of justice. Justification is not an amnesty; our sins are not being ignored or ‘swept under the carpet’. In fact, justice has been done – and seen to have been done – in the public execution of Jesus Christ. Because His sacrificial death fully satisfies the demands of justice, God can justify sinners without compromising His own righteousness.

June 4, 2019

Knowing God

by Russell Young

The importance of “knowing” God, and of being known by God, is revealed in the Scriptures. In his condemnation of “many” who thought that their hope was secure, the Lord claimed that he did not know them. “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 perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers.’” (Mt 7:22−23) He is not presenting that he wasn’t aware of them; he knows the heart of all people and he was aware that these had ministered in his name. The issue is that he was never sure of their commitment. Although they had claimed to represent him, he classified them as “evil-doers” who had not followed his commandments and who had not conformed to his moral standards; they did not characterize him. They were hypocrites or were ignorant of his nature. He could not identify with them, did not know them. Christ’s knowledge of a person’s commitment comes from an intimate relationship with him or her through his indwelling Spirit. (In this passage “know” is translated from the Greek ginosko which means ‘to know with certainty.’)

All people have acquaintances, those about whom they are aware but don’t really “know.” They also have relationships with a few others whom they know more intimately, with whom they share their heart and life’s blessings and trials. The meaning ascribed to “know” has great significance when it comes to relationship with God. Paul taught that God requires absolute assurance of the confessor’s commitment to righteousness and to him. God’s children are to be holy and blameless in his sight (Eph 1:4) and they “must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6) This requires knowing his heart.

In his epistle to Titus, Paul wrote that even though some claimed to know him their actions denied that knowledge, consequently their disobedience made them unfit for doing anything good (Titus 1:16); they lacked awareness of his holiness and of his sovereignty.

John has written, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8) He is presenting that knowing God compels loving him and others. He is not suggesting an “acquaintance” relationship, but an understanding and appreciation of the nature of God–his heart and the things that please and hurt him and others. Knowing God is evidenced by a heart fully given to him.

The parable of the twelve virgins reveals that those who know Christ and who love him are fixed on anticipating his return. They wait anxiously. Six of the virgins were not anticipating his call to the feast and their indifference left them unprepared when the call came. The door was closed when they had finally made themselves ready. He also admonished all to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door” (Lk 13:24) by avoiding any “evil-doing.” because “many” will claim to have fellowshipped with him and that he had taught in their streets but they would be cast away. He did not know them and apparently, they did not know him.

The Lord knows “his sheep” and they know him. Their knowledge will be like that which existed in the relationship between Christ and his Father. His sheep listen to his voice and they follow just as he listened to and obeyed his Father. (Jn 10:14…27)

The knowledge about which the Lord speaks is absolute certainty of commitment and is evidenced through a person’s actions. Knowledge develops as the Lord observes those who hear his voice and obediently follow. He is not talking about the sheep that have heard his call and who go their own way. These will become lost.

The man who loves God is known by God.” (1 Cor 8:3) The Lord knows his own because their love for him is revealed through honor, respect, and obedience.

What a person thinks about another dictates his or her feelings. Knowing God and his expansive love and provision will compel love. The most important commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:30) Knowing God will result in loving him with all that a person has. When knowledge is lacking or when truth is distorted, so may be knowledge of God’s holiness, of his heart and of his love commitment to them. Love must be learned and earned.

The Lord is more than a worldly friend; he indwells confessors as Holy Spirit enabling the obedient to gain victory over temptations and unrighteousness, making them acceptable offerings. The “one who searches our hearts” (Rom 8:27) knows our needs and enables the obedient to be conformed to Christ’s likeness, assisting the Spirit to accomplish God’s will in the transformation of souls. Knowing God means appreciating the fullness of his commitment, provision, and heart.

Some teach that God’s love is “unconditional.” Implying no need for the appreciation of his nature, but Christ said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (Jn 15:10) The confessor’s knowledge of God will dictate how he or she feels about him, and how they feel about him will determine how they respond to him and to his call upon their life.

Paul’s admonition should be taken to heart. “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” (2 Thess 1:8−9) Those who desire to dwell with him must understand his heart. His complaint from the beginning was that the constant evil imaginations of people brought pain to his heart. (Gen 6:5−6).



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link

May 22, 2019

Real Faith Faces Reality With Eyes Wide Open

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Job.1.13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

16 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

17 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

18 While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
    and naked I will depart.[c]
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
    may the name of the Lord be praised.”

22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.


NIV.Matt.18.21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Today again we’re back with Sam Williamson, author of Hearing God in Conversation, a book I was able to review a few years back. There’s also a longer introduction this, so click the title below to read the entire piece.

Trusting Doubt

Doubts Meet Reality

Nearly seventy years ago, Norman Vincent Peale published one of the most influential self-help books of all time: The Power of Positive Thinking. And its message infected our culture like the plague. Christians and atheists alike confused faith with the self-hypnosis mantra of repeating “I can do all things in Christ” ten times a day. Twenty times would be better.

The Power of Positive Thinking is heretical, but every successful heresy works only when it resembles the real thing. Peale’s version has faith, but it rests its faith in “faith” rather than in God. And it ignores Scripture. When all sorts of terrors inflict Job, he screams, rips his robes, shaves his head, and sits in a pile of ashes. And Scripture says, “In all this, Job sinned not.”

Maybe Job should have read The Power of Positive Thinking. Probably not.

Real faith looks at reality with eyes wide open, and whenever we honestly examine reality, we will find doubt. If God’s nature is infinite, then our limited understanding of him always falls short of his reality. Which means our sense of reality and his real reality are in conflict.

Jesus Always Reveals Our Doubt

Spiritual growth only takes place when God’s ultimate reality confronts our false reality. That is why Jesus constantly exposes our doubts. He provokes our spiritual growth—not that he makes us to doubt, but because we already do doubt. We just won’t admit it.

When Jesus tells his disciples that they should forgive their repenting brother seven times in one day, what was Jesus doing? He revealed a true-spiritual reality that differed from the disciples’ limited-spiritual reality. How do we know? When they hear his command, they cry, “Increase our faith!” Which means they admitted their doubts.

Which is exactly what Jesus wanted in the first place.

The disciples’ dinky reality led them to forgive their brother, but only with limits. Jesus shows them a spiritual reality of unworthy humanity, repeatedly rebelling against God; and yet of such value to God that he himself comes down to absorb its sins at infinite cost.

Jesus does not fear our imperfect sense of reality. Instead, he constantly incites reactions in us to reveal our doubts so we can grow into a deeper and truer spiritual understanding.

We will always grow most when we take our most perplexing questions to God and look to him to stretch our minds beyond our doubts—our dinky realities—into a new understanding of Him.

As Einstein once said, “Never lose a holy curiosity.” Even when we doubt.

Sam

P. S. Jesus stirs up those doubts in us so we bring them to him; so we can grow in intimacy with him. So we can hear his voice.

To grow in that divine dialogue, please watch this 1-min video, and read, Hearing God in Conversation.

 

May 20, 2019

If God Brought You There, Don’t Turn Back

 

Ex.16.2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat round pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’

Ps.73.24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterwards you will take me into glory.

Luke 2.61 …another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ 62 Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’

Today we are returning to the writing of John R. Shuman at Truth Fully Spoken. Click the title below to read this article in full at the original site.*

Don’t Go Back

Turning back, although wrong in itself is more dangerous than going forward. God has brought you to where you are, and he is leading you to where you are going; to turn back would be to turn away from God. The Bible is full of stories about what happens when you try to hide from God, or run from God, or ignore God. Jonah, did not want to go where God led, God brought him there in the belly of a fish. God told lot to leave and not look back, his wife turned back and suffered the punishment. But, the story that made me think about this topic is the Jews leaving Egypt.

While in Egypt, the Jews lived a rough life, they were the slaves to the Egyptians. And God brings Moses to lead them to the promised land. And God promises them the land and the safe journey to the land. All the way there God shows his power, and love to his people. He fed them daily with manna from heaven, gave them water when they needed drink, he even parted the Red Sea for them to pass through (and when the Egyptians tried to use God’s path they died). Now, all the while the Jews are complaining that the want to go back. If they were to turn back, they would not have food and water supplied by God, they would not have passage through the red sea, and the Egyptians would most likely kill whoever did make it back because of all the Egyptians that were killed at the start. And, God would no longer be there for them.

God brought them to the promised land safely, but all they did was complain. Thousands of people unhappy that God gave them all they needed and kept his promise to them. And when they reached the land, they did not trust God to deliver it to them. The land was perfect, the land was theirs because God said it was. But their lack of faith caused the punishment of forty years of wandering. Even during that time, God provided their every need, gave them all that was required for them to survive while traveling. But, they were not happy because it was not what they wanted it to be. This sounds like a familiar theme here, we do not get what we want, but God gives us what we need!

My point is this, remember God has brought you to where you are right now. It may not be what you want, and it may seem “worse” now than it was before, but God is leading you and giving you what you need. To go back will not be the same, it will be harder to get back there than it is to continue moving forward. God is in control, and he is guiding you on your journey through life.

Prayer: God lead me…. direct my path, ever forward. And help me to appreciate all you are doing to get me there. Lord, I know I complain all the time about my station in life, forgive me. I know that I have made it safely here, and I have had all that I needed to get here (which is obvious now to me because I am here). Lord, help me to keep my eyes on you and help me to KEEP a heart of gratitude for all you have done for me.



*Portions of today’s article were reformatted electronically using Case Converter.

April 30, 2019

If You’re Pure, You’re Blameless

NIV.Ps.66.18 If I had cherished sin in my heart,
    the Lord would not have listened

Today we’re again highlighting a new writer, Pastor MaryAnn Nguyen-Kwok.  The articles I read before posting this were very insightful and very transparent. As always, click the title below to read this at her blog, Searching for Treasures.

Pursuing Purity

I’ve just been thinking today that there are never any regrets for pursuing purity.

This morning, I came across, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord…The one who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3-4).

How do we get to hear God?

By pursuing purity in our lives.

Reading this verse reminded me of the time years ago when God really convicted me with it. At that time, I saw an image of a child walking on a path with Papa God, holding his hand. It was a leisurely walk down Sawyer Camp Trail next to Crystal Springs Reservoir. And I thought about how that was such a picture of peace. How incredible it would be to walk with God like that! And I recognized that I need to have the innocence of a child to walk with God in that way. How could I hold the hand of the Holy One with unclean hands? If I cherished sin in my heart, then the Lord would not hear me (Ps. 66:18), and I would not hear the Lord. Choosing purity would mean confidence of getting to hear God and confidence that God will hear me. It means having the confidence of a close and intimate relationship with God.

I have been really feeling convicted by this desire this week to seek purity and blamelessness before God, so that nothing would hinder me from hearing his voice and going his way.

Purity, to me, means blamelessness. Blamelessness looks like proactively seeking to follow God’s ways, proactively refraining from doing things that displeases God, proactively seeking to live and act in ways that honor God (e.g. if you know it’s wrong to steal, don’t steal; if you know you should forgive, then seek to forgive; if you’re prone to lusting, make a plan for how you’ll refrain from a “second look”, etc.).

We sometimes tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter if we don’t pursue blamelessness in our lives. God doesn’t see. God doesn’t know. God will forgive me anyway. But it does matter. It impacts our bond with God. He will forgive us, that is certain, but there’s a break in our communion with him all all the while that we are seeking our own way. When we seek HIS way, we have close and intimate relationship with him.

There is also something about seeking blamelessness that results in freedom. If I am doing what is right, I am free. If I’m not speeding down the road, I don’t have to keep looking in the rear-view mirror with anxiety that a cop will get me. My heart doesn’t have to race with nervousness about getting caught. I will get to live in freedom because I’m seeking to do what is right. This is where I want to be.

Though I know I can’t be perfect in my striving to be pure, I don’t want to give up on it before I’ve begun. I know it’s a worthy pursuit, because what I will get out of it is a deep and intimate relationship with God. I’ll get God out of it. And how could I ever regret that?


Secret Sauce Reveal: We discover new writers through a variety of means, but today’s author was discovered on WordPress Reader, using the tag “devotional.” Feel free to explore, but be discerning.

April 6, 2019

God Didn’t Need It, But God Used It

Today we’re back with Jim Thornber, who’s website is called Thinking Out Loud. (Weird, huh?) This is the first devotional here that begins to focus our thoughts on christ’s path to Jerusalem. Click the header below to read this article there.

The Never-Ridden Donkey

“Go into that village over there. As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.” (Luke 19:30)

I’ve been teaching through the book of Luke at my church, and this one passage about Jesus riding the young donkey has been on my mind for a couple of weeks. I like this part of the story about Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem because it reveals a number of things. It shows how often Jesus requires the use of our possessions and why it is always an honor to give back to God a portion of everything He has given us. But the takeaway part of the story for me is to realize how God can use those things little things in our life the rest of the world wouldn’t say is possible.

Matthew tells us the two disciples looked for a donkey tied with its colt beside it and brought both the donkey and the colt with them (Matt. 21:4-5, 7). Now, I’m thinking about the owners of this young donkey no one had ridden. Did they look back after they understood the significance of the event and marvel, saying, “God used us! US! All we really had were two donkeys and Jesus used the smallest one, the one no one had ridden, the one with the least experience, the one no one else would think of using, and with the least of what we had Jesus used it to accomplish His purpose on earth. Wow!” Ponder this: Can you see God using those little things in your life everyone else has dismissed as unusable?

God doesn’t need to use what I have. He could use anything He wants. The Father could have created a donkey out of mud and placed it where Jesus needed it, but He didn’t. Instead, this story tells us He wants to invite us into the events of His purposes. He invites us to trust Him with the gifts He has given us. To be honest, if I was the owner of this little colt, I’d be wondering when I’d be getting my livestock back. “When are you going to return it, Jesus?” would be my question. Or, I might go selfish and wonder how the Lord will bless my donkeys. Will He bring back four donkeys? Will my donkeys always have healthy colts? What’s in it for me? You’ve heard preachers tell you, like with Job, “God will give you double for your trouble?” That might be true, but I don’t want to go through what Job went through to find out!

Furthermore, I want to be like the owners of the animals who, when they heard, The Lord needs them,” (Luke 19:31), they immediately (Matt. 21:3) let them take his possessions. While most people would consider the miracle part of the story being Jesus sitting on a donkey who had never been ridden without being thrown off, in my life the challenging miracle of the story is the “immediately” part. To be honest, I’m still working on my “immediately” responses. In too many ways, I don’t always believe Jesus can use my unridden donkeys, those areas of my life I don’t think anyone has any use for. But this story tells me differently.

Here’s the question I’ve been pondering, so I’ll share it with you. What is your unridden donkey, and how can God use it for His purposes? Then, when you find out, work on your “immediately.” I know I will!

 

March 25, 2019

Everyone Had a Different Perspective on Joseph

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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“And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him.” – Acts 7:9

But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. – Genesis 37:4

The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. – Genesis 39: 2-5

By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. – Hebrews 11:22

Occasionally, I will read the name of a popular Christian author, and then check to see if they a blog from which could glean some material to highlight here. Today for the first time we’re featuring Darlene Sala, whose entire career has been built on writing devotional material, including the books: Encouraging Words for Women, Journey into Grace, You are Here, You Are His, You Are Blessed, You Are Loved and You Are Chosen. (Clearly the type of author our female readers here would want to get to know!)

She writes regularly at EncouragingWords.Today (love the blog’s domain name!) and you can read this there by clicking the header below.

How God Sees You

Bernard Kipsangut, a friend of mine in Kenya, is not only a pastor but also the chaplain of the Kitale Men’s Prison. He posted thoughts on his Facebook page that I found inspiring. I never was able to find the original author, so I will give credit to that famous writer, “Author Unknown.” Anyway, here it is–based on that Old Testament favorite, Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob.

Jacob looked at Joseph and saw a good son.
The ten brothers looked at Joseph and saw a useless dreamer.
The travelers looked at Joseph and saw a slave.
Potiphar looked at Joseph and saw a fine servant.
Potiphar’s wife looked at Joseph and saw a potential boyfriend.
The prison officers saw in Joseph a prisoner.
How wrong were all of them!
God looked at Joseph and saw a Prime Minister of Egypt in waiting!

Don’t be discouraged by what people see in you!! Be encouraged by what God sees in you!! Never underrate the person next to you because you never know what the Lord has deposited in that person. It doesn’t matter how people see us; it matters how God sees us.

How quick we are to evaluate ourselves and those around us! The apostle Paul wrote, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master than he stands or falls” (Romans 14:4). We are all servants of God. He is our master, and all that really matters is what He thinks of us.

Remember that the next time you feel like you have failed in living up to someone’s expectations, including your own. God sees our true potential. And He isn’t finished working on us yet. He wants to make us a blessing to those around us and use us to accomplish His purpose. Just you wait and see!

What has God recently told you, who you are because of His love?


This rather obscure classic CCM song, is a reminder that:

He sees us
Not as we are but as we shall be…

The song appeared on a live Noel Paul Stookey album, but this one is a solo by Karla Thibodeau.

It’s based on 1 John 3:2, which is rendered this way in the Passion Translation:

Beloved, we are God’s children right now; however, it is not yet apparent what we will become. But we do know that when it is finally made visible, we will be just like him, for we will see him as he truly is.


Today’s opening scripture selections all ESV

 

March 18, 2019

Videoing God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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…and Videoing Ourselves

Seven years ago we visited the website Glory to God for All Things written from an Orthodox perspective by Fr. Stephen Freeman. Somehow we lost track of Father Stephen in the intervening years, but today we catch up. I believe that our Orthodox friends have much to teach us in many different areas. You’re encouraged to click the header below in order to read this at source.

Facing Up to God

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Cor. 3:18

Among the most striking of all images in St. Paul’s writing is his description of beholding the glory of God with an unveiled face. It’s a very difficult passage to translate. The word rendered “beholding” in the translation quoted above is actually “to see something as in a mirror” (κατοπτριζόμενοι). One commentary describes this as a mirror making something visible that would otherwise be invisible. This is, in fact, Christ Himself, who is the “glory of God.” In Christ, we see God Himself. It is equally striking that St. Paul describes this “seeing” as transformative. How is it that merely gazing at something, we are changed into its very image?

This question takes us into the heart of Biblical and Orthodox understanding. The Greek word for knowing, is related to the word for seeing. Indeed, it has the same root as our word “video.” It imagines a form of seeing, a depth of seeing, that is often absent in our conversations. It is there to a certain extent in our phrase, “Do you see what I mean?” There is an assumption that truly seeing, truly understanding, and truly knowing are one and the same act. We hear this echoed in St. John:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He [Christ] appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. 1 John 3:2

Of course, a key in all of this is found in the word “truly.” Its implications are found in Christ’s saying, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” When read in the light of St. Paul’s “beholding as in a mirror,” this is revealed to be an ongoing, reciprocal action. As we see, we become pure. As we become pure, we see more clearly.

This same action could be described as a “refining fire.” What we see (of God) also reveals the truth of ourselves. The sight of that truth, when compared with the sight of God, “burns.” This burning, refining image is the only true mirror of the soul. It is this aspect of seeing God that often causes us to turn away.

It is a very rare thing to have an accurate glimpse of ourselves. The amount of debris and dissonance that shroud the soul make it difficult clouds our vision. We look for the self, but see shame. And though we imagine that clarity of sight would merely be a matter of the will, it is not that simple. The life of the soul has a great complexity and is not obedient to the whims of what we imagine to be the “will.” Our “willing” is largely the work of the “gnomic will” (when we’re not merely obeying our passions and calling that “willing”). This is a distortion of the true will (the “natural will”). To see the truth, even of ourselves, does not belong to those things we have at our demand.

The Tradition is filled with a different language regarding the heart. We pray, “Open to me the gates of repentance,” and “create in me a clean heart,” and “grant me an image of repentance,” and so forth. The “will” is evident in the offering of such prayers, but it is not in our power (alone) to make it so.

I once heard it said that if we were to see the true depth of our sin and brokenness in a single moment, we would not be able to bear it. I have also heard it said that if we were to see the truth of our existence in the image and likeness of God, we would be overwhelmed by the beauty and imagine that we had seen God Himself. Both are true and neither are to be taken lightly or deemed a minor matter. In plain speech, we’re not ready for such truth.

In the Scriptures, Simon Peter does not see the truth of himself. The first intimation is a revelation of glory – Christ names him, “the rock.” Another revelation comes when he is rebuked by Christ who says, “Get behind me Satan!” He is warned of his impending failure when he will deny Christ and is told that “the devil has desired to sift you like wheat.” A deeper and greater moment comes, following his denial, when he “went out and wept bitterly.” His restoration after the resurrection begins to reveal yet more. He sees both the failure of his love, as well as Christ’s steadfastness. He is told to “feed my sheep.” Lastly, we are told in a veiled manner of the final test and revelation of Peter who will end his life in martyrdom – having become the rock that is the truth of his being. It is the story of a lifetime.

St. Peter’s story points to the very character of our salvation. The journey towards the true vision of God is lifelong. It is as much or more the outworking of God’s providence than the outcome of some long chain of excellent choices on our part. What we see of St. Peter is a guide for us. He remained loyal to Christ. When he fell, he returned. When he returned and the questions became difficult, he remained. When his last trial of martyrdom came, he finally resisted the temptation to flee and journeyed to the place that Christ Himself was leading him.

This is a map for every day, as well as a lifetime. When you fall (and you will), get up. When the fall reveals more of yourself to you, don’t run, justify or pretend otherwise. Be steadfast and patient. You do not yet see as you will see – either of yourself or of God. But, we have a promise, when it is all said and done, we will see Him as He is, and we will be like Him.

In all faces is seen the Face of faces, veiled, and in a riddle; howbeit unveiled it is not seen, until above all faces a man enters into a certain secret and mystic silence where there is no knowledge or concept of a face. This mist, cloud, darkness or ignorance into which he that seeks Your face enters, when he goes beyond all knowledge or concept, is the state below which Your face cannot be found except veiled; but that very darkness reveals Your face to be there, beyond all veils. – Nicholas of Cusa, The Vision of God

 

March 9, 2019

To Help You Remember

Today we’re back at the blog Brothers of the Book, written by Bill Hood. He’s currently doing a study on the book of Numbers. I read several of the articles in preparation for choosing this one. Click the header below to read at the source.

Tassels Of Remembrance

Numbers 15

God commanded the Israelites make “Tassels of Remembrance” so that they would forget about Him.

At the end of today’s reading God tells Moses to have the people of Israel make tassels on the corners of their garments. They are to look at these tassels and remember all the commandments of the Lord.

Numbers 15:37-40 ESV
“The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.”

Why were they to remember the commandments of the Lord? They needed to remember these commandments so they wouldn’t chase after their own self-centered desires which would lead them away from God. They were to separate themselves from the world and consecrate themselves to God; that is what it means to “be holy to your God”. Doing things our own way and in our own power was a problem then just as it is today. We forget who God is, what He has done, and what He has promised to do in the future.

This forgetfulness brought devastating consequences for the people of Israel. God brought them out of Egypt, led them safely through the wilderness, and brought them to the land He had promised them. The people sent spies into this Promised Land who came back and said “Be afraid! Be very afraid! Don’t go into the Promised Land for there be giants!” Staring at the obstacles we face in life can only do one thing, cause us to take our eyes off of God. If you are staring at your problems, you are not looking to God. We have extremely short memories. If we take our eyes off of God, we tend to forget about Him and all that He has done and can do.

In their own power, the Israelites could never have taken control of Canaan. Separate from God, they had every reason to be afraid, but they were not separate from God. God had led them here and had gone with them and would continue to go with them. How could they forget that? Only two of the spies said “Hey the land is great let’s go get it for God is with us”.

Numbers 14:6-9 ESV
“And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

What was the consequence of the Israelites refusing to take the Promised Land as God instructed?

Numbers 14:30 ESV
“not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.”

God killed all of the spies except for Caleb and Joshua – that’s how grievously they had sinned against Him. The rest of the Israelites age 20 and above were condemned to die in the wilderness, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua once again.

Later in today’s reading we see a man who ignored God’s prohibition against work on the Sabbath. He was found collecting sticks. The man was put to death because He forgot to observe God’s commandment. He forgot about God and it killed him. When we take our eyes off of God, when we forget about Him, we end up far from Him – the consequences of that are staggering. God loves us and He doesn’t want us to forget about Him for our own sake. He commanded the Israelites to put tassels on their garments as a way to keep Him constantly on their mind. When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment He said this:

Matthew 22:37 ESV
“…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

All your heart, all your soul and all your MIND. God is supposed to be first in your life. How can you forget about that which is the highest priority in your life? I don’t know, but we seem to do it every day. Or is it that we say God is number one when He really isn’t? Does what we say we believe match what we do? Brothers, it is easy for us to forget about God. The world around us is full of noisy distractions. We need to put constant reminders of God before our eyes. We need to have our own tassels of remembrance!

Vivere Victorem! (Live Victorious!)

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

March 5, 2019

Waiting Tests

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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The golden calf was constructed due to the Israelite’s disobedience in waiting as instructed. In our own lives we need to consider the peril of constructing golden calves when we fail the waiting test.

Today we’re back with Stephen & Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement. They are in full time ministry writing this weekday devotional, and doing chaplaincy ministry in central Pennsylvania.

A Lesson From A Golden Calf

“He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt'” (Exodus 32:4).

“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides You, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him” (Isaiah 64:4).

… The golden calf is what the people had made when they failed to patiently wait as instructed by Moses. In one way or another it seems we are all waiting for something in life. Realistically much of our waiting is trivial such as waiting for a traffic light to change or waiting in a long line at the grocery store.

But the wait periods of life are often hard. Like waiting for medical test results or news from a loved one we are anxious to hear from. It may be waiting for a specified change of direction in our life, perhaps in our work or ministry. Certainly for all of us it is waiting for the blessed hope. (Titus 2:13)

Obedience in waiting is one of the most important tests we have in life. Prior to going up to Mount Sinai, Moses gave a very specific command to the leaders of the children of Israel. He said to the elders, ‘Wait here for us until we come back to you’ (Exodus 24:14).

But the wait was long and the people grew impatient. Much to their shame they took matters into their own hands. When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow, Moses, who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him’ (Exodus 32:1). Soon they’re worshiping and carousing around a golden calf with Aaron as their leader! They miserably failed the “wait test” and grave consequences followed.

The Bible has many examples of waiting tests such as Abraham for the promised son, Jacob for Rachel, Saul for Samuel and others. Many of them failed the test of obedience in waiting which resulted in long-term, sometimes life-long consequences.

We also have many waiting tests in our lives. Even as you read this you’re likely considering a situation you’re praying about and waiting to see how God brings about His will in the matter. Trusting, praying and obeying during the wait can be very challenging, since we’re tempted to take things into our own hands rather than fully trusting God to work things out according to His will and His timing. In the wait process we may even hit rock bottom. But Tony Evans says that “When we hit rock bottom we discover that Jesus is the Rock at the bottom.”

Here’s a great truth to hide deep in your heart today based upon our second Bible text: God acts on behalf of those who wait for Him. This verse is a real treasure buried in a portion of the Bible not as familiar to many.  Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides You, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him. Today may this truth fill your life with peace as you trust in God, who always acts on behalf of those who wait for Him. God grant us grace to obediently wait.

Be encouraged today as we obediently wait on Him.

Daily prayer: Father, many times Scripture that speaks of waiting on You is followed by the directive of being courageous. Indeed it does take courage for me to trust You and not take matters into my own hands since that comes so naturally to my way of thinking and doing things. But as a loving, protecting and omnipotent Father You tenderly care for me as I commit my concerns to You. My unbelief and impatience leads to fearsome worry and unwise behavior. Getting ahead of Your divine plan and perfect timing only leads to more frustration and difficulty. Help me to remember that waiting coupled with prayer brings about growing courage and dependence on You rather than myself. Amen.

 

February 28, 2019

Jesus Measures Output, Not Input

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NIV.Matthew 15.10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” …

17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” [also found in Mark 7:17-23]

Once again we’re back with Arnold Reimer, for many years the pastor of Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto, and his blog titled Finishing Well. These days my oldest son attends that church, making him the third generation in our family to have some connection there. The title which I gave this piece — not the one in the link below — just came to me as a very concise way of summing up what Jesus said in the above passage. Overall, Pastor Reimer goes beyond the often heard line of ‘having a purpose in life,’ and defines what’s needed as a “holy purpose.”

Purpose

A lawyer once asked Jesus to identify the “great commandment in the Law”. Jesus responded: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The Old Testament statement, from which He was quoting, used the word “might” rather than “mind”. The point is we must love God with the totality of our being. The heart is fundamental to life itself. The soul is the fountain of emotion, passion and personality. The mind is the place of reason, understanding and will. And might combines the whole being into something active, strong and enduring.

Every faithful follower of Christ must purpose in his/her heart to love the Lord God with such determination and commitment. It is to be the very motive and focus of godly living. It is the foundation upon which life with its multiplicity of activities is to be built. Our relationships, thoughts, words, work, pleasure, learning, must all flow from, display and enhance our purpose to love God. That must be our unique and distinguishing feature.

Do not think for one minute that such a path is easy. Challenging such a holy purpose is the world, the flesh and the devil.

Never underestimate the impact and influence of the world upon us. Jesus’ great prayer for us is instructive. “But now I come to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world even as I am not of the world. I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Beware of the subtle attraction, allure and demands that draw us away from God and into the ways of this world’s systems. The hugely enhanced communication of our day tends to flood our minds and hours with images and influences that are destructive.

Even more deadly than the world is the flesh. Hear our Lord’s assessment: “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.” A poet explains: “God, harden me against myself, this coward with pathetic voice, who craves for ease and rest and joys. Myself, arch-traitor to myself, my hollowest friend, my deadliest foe, my clog whichever way I go. Yet one there is can cure myself, can roll the strangling load from me, break off the yolk and set me free.” Only the liberating work of Christ and a learned obedience to the gracious voice of the Holy Spirit can save us from self!

And then there is the devil. That roaring, devouring lion, that angel of deceptive light, wants his way with us. He is a liar, an accuser, a murderer, a god of darkness, despair, doom and death. He would ensnare us were it not that Jesus has defeated him, put him to open shame by the victory of Calvary. Praise God forever that “greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.” Exult with the Apostle who said, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

If you would love God with your whole being, immerse yourself in His love- letter to us, the Bible. Cultivate the beauty of His presence by prayer, hymns, obedience, thoughts, fellowship and conversation. Let His Spirit pour out His love into your heart. He will control you, speak to you and lead you into paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. What a life-changing purpose by which to order our lives!

 

 

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