Christianity 201

April 24, 2022

Waiting on God; Hoping on God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I had bookmarked the site Welcome to the Brightside in my computer, and when I returned today, the about page and contact page had been scrubbed clean, so I couldn’t see who the writer was beyond a single name, Katie. But I decided to be true to my original impulse when I bookmarked the site, and run this devotional from June ’21 anyway.

The devotional is short, but links to another at First 15 by Grace Fox, some of which we’ve included. If you’re looking for more today, consider that a second helping.

Clicking the title gets you to read this where we sourced it.

What is the World Coming To?

In a time where it feels as if everything is crumbling around us and making us question everything, one thing I know for sure remains true: Jesus.

The Holy Spirit. God. The Universe. All that is Holy. It’s true. I rest in this space. It tests my limits – making me feel uncomfortable at times – but the discomfort is one of my own. It is a lesson being offered to me on a silver platter. I choose to work on these and iron them out in my sacred time.

This morning I read on the First 5 App a beautifully written article on Hebrews 6:13-20.

Hebrews 6:19 (ESV) “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain…” 

An anchor’s purpose is to hold a boat in place. Set in mud, sand or silt, it prevents the vessel from drifting. Just as mariners need a physical anchor properly set in the right foundation to secure their ships, so all humans need a spiritual anchor properly set to secure their souls.

The author of Hebrews reminds us of Abraham’s faith in God. God’s promises provided a spiritual anchor for Abraham. (Hebrews 6:13-14) This anchor gave him the courage to obey when God told him to leave his country and follow Him to an undisclosed land where He would make Abraham a great nation and a blessing. (Genesis 12:1-3) It gave him the power to trust God for a son even though the thought seemed ludicrous. After all, he was an old man. His wife was beyond childbearing years and barren. (Genesis 17:1;  Genesis 18:11;  Genesis 21:1-7) Abraham’s faith also gave him the patience to wait nearly 25 years to see the promise of a son fulfilled. (Hebrews 6:15)

Abraham’s hope was securely grounded in God’s inability to lie and in the covenant He made with him. (Hebrews 6:13-18;  Numbers 23:19;  Genesis 15:9-20) Traditionally, someone who swears by an oath calls on a person with greater authority to hold him to his word, but God swore by His own name because He is the ultimate authority on Earth and in heaven. (Exodus 32:13;  Isaiah 45:23) There is no name higher than His. (Psalm 138:2) The oath is like an extra layer of reliability that He will do what He says He will do.

Abraham’s faith kept him from drifting into despair through years of waiting for the impossible to happen. Most importantly, it made him right with God. (Romans 4:1-5) We, too, are made right with God when we take refuge in Him through faith in Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 6:18;  John 3:16;  1 John 1:9)…

[…to read the full devotional, including the above cited passage with links to the scripture verses, click this link…]

The biggest takeaway for me this morning: Jesus is the hope that anchors our souls.

Jesus is the anchor when our souls have lost hope.

So I flip open my Bible to connect deeper and I stumble upon this page in Matthew 26:55.

NLT.Heb.26.55 Then Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there teaching every day.

It could do us all a lot of good to reflect. Think about it – if God waited 700 years before bringing Jesus to us – why do we constantly think we need to slay the enemy right now? Instead of focusing on defending what we believe to be ours… focus small. Otherwise we fall victim into the enemy’s plan.

Stay focused.


March 26, 2022

Holiness Makes Some People Squirm

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is our fourth time with Eric Wright, a retired pastor and missionary that I have had the privilege of knowing personally. Eric is the author of several books in different genres, including inspirational, doctrinal and (especially) fiction. You can learn more at Country Inspiration. To read this on his site (with pictures) click the header which immediately follows.

Does Talk of Holiness Make You Uncomfortable?

In times past, Christians have been called holy-rollers or holy-joes. Downright weird. Generally, those who openly profess Christ are assumed to think of themselves as holier than thou. The very term, holiness¸ seems not only archaic but a word that makes people feel uncomfortable.

But in this 16th in my series about celebrating redemption, we come to holiness, a vital aspect of sanctification. According to 2 Corinthians 7:1 if we are to progress in sanctification, we must grow in holiness. “Dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” According to Hebrews 12:14; ”Without holiness, no one will see the Lord.” And in Hebrews 10:14, sanctification is “being made holy.”

In essence, holiness is separation from all sin, from everything that morally contaminates, from everything that would anger the thrice-holy God of Isaiah 6. In a vision Isaiah saw two seraphs crying to each other as they flew; “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty” (Is. 6:3). This vision of God’s holiness made Isaiah cry out “Woe is me…I am a man of unclean lips” (6:5).

In a non-moral sense, God, is in essence, holy in being completely separate from all His creation. In a moral sense, he is holy in being separate from all that is evil. The laws he has given us define evil negatively and holiness positively. Disobedience to God’s laws either in act or thought makes us unholy.

It is crystal clear that the goal of every follower of this Holy God, is to perfect holiness in the fear of God. Having been born again, we are to put off the old sinful self and “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).

“Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD…Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees…I seek you with all my heart, do not let me stray from your commands” (Ps. 119:1, 5,10) Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands.”

If holiness is our goal, we won’t go around projecting an image that we are “holier than thou”, for holiness is an attitude as well as an action. The beatitudes define holiness as humility, meekness, mercy, compassion, etc. (See. Matt. 5:3-12) Galatians 5 defines holiness as love, joy, peace, longsuffering… (Gal. 5:22,23). Or in the Jesus’ response to a lawyer’s question, the essence of the law is love for God and love for one’s neighbour. Clearly, then, holiness is not a one-dimensional quality, it is not just the absence of sin but the presence of those qualities of life that reflect love.

But how to we grow in holiness? For grow we must. The very essence of sanctification is growth. No growth—no life. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ [the holy one]” (2 Peter 3:18).


Further articles, books, and stories by Eric are at: http://www.countrywindow.ca

March 25, 2022

Chasing Achieving the Wrong Things

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Matt.7.21 “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. 22 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?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

CSB.Mark.6.36 For what does it benefit someone to gain the whole world and yet lose his life?

Today we have a new author’s writing to highlight. Rachel doesn’t have an “about” page so far, but her blog, In Rachel’s Words is very well-written. In this devotional she talks about the secondary doctrines that often block our focus from the things that matter.

Clicking the header which follows will take you to read this directly where we found it, and then check out some of her other writing.

Does It Matter?

Does “X” Matter?

I had a conversation with a friend, and I said, “X doesn’t really matter. It’s not a requirement for salvation.” I don’t know if offended her when I said that, and at the same time, I wasn’t sure I should have made that statement. “X” is something that really matters to a lot of people. It’s something that matters to me.

What “X” represents in the statement above is not critical for this dialogue. In fact, you can insert whatever it is that you value most in this life as the substitute for “X.” The only substitute you cannot use is God (i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ) because that would be heresy.

So, “X” could be not being poor, never getting sick with a life-altering disease, starting your own business, having a good education, buying a house, having a family, or traveling to as many countries as possible.

Do these things matter? Certainly. Arguably, we might say some of these things matter more than the others. But, what if none of these is greater than the other? What if none of these things matters the most?

I am not confident that it ultimately matters that we are able to achieve or receive what we most value in life, whether it be not to be poor, to be self-sufficient, or have the most epic family. I think what matters is what we did with the life that we were given.

For example, you have a life in which you were born into poverty, and for whatever reason(s), you were unable to escape poverty, your socioeconomic status is not held against you when you stand before the Judgement Seat. What really matters is what you did with the life you had.

Will the Lord say He knows you (Matthew 7:21–23)? That’s what matters.

The answer to that question depends on what you did with the life He selected for you. You can’t pick the family you are born into, nor do you have authority over a lot of other things that do or do not happen to you. But, you can control how you respond to and navigate the life that you have.

How did you treat the other people the Lord placed in your life? How did you treat your spouse and your kids? How did you treat your siblings and your parents? Were you a witness in your spheres of influence? Did you stand for what was true and right when no one else did? Did you suffer for Christ? Did you lay down your life and follow Him (John 13:8)? Was your life a testimony?

Did you say, “Not my will, but your will be done?” (Luke 22:42).

Or, did you go out into the world, dissatisfied with the life you have and manipulate people and finagle situations to get what you want? Did your lack of “X,” even if it severely impacts your quality of life, such as having a terrible cancer, transform you into someone bitter and ungrateful and hateful? I think that attitude of dissatisfaction, disgust and hate for what Lord intended, and/or intentional manipulation of life to get what you want matter far more than “X.”

How did you spend the life you have? How did you use what the Lord has given you—even if it’s difficult or not what you want—for His glory?

What is the point of achieving “X” if, in some cases, you gain the world and lose your soul (Mark 8:36)? One day, both the world and you and “X” will disappear, and only one thing will matter.

Did He know you?


Second Helping: By the same author, here’s a piece where although she didn’t actually use the word, “Deconstruction,” it’s a word making the rounds currently in many of our church discussions, and the first thing I thought of while reading. Check out Demolition or Renovation?.

February 12, 2022

Should You “Follow Your Heart?”

Today I discovered a short devotional which has a truth worth sharing, however the article didn’t specifically reference a scripture passage which is usually de reigeur for us, so let’s begin our thoughts with these verses.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. – John 16:13 NLT

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. – 2 Timothy 3:15 NLT

Today’s thoughts are from James Young, who is being highlighted here for the first time. He writes at Keeper of the King’s Light. Click the link which follows to read this there.

Emotional Reaction ≠ God’s Will

 
Easily, one of the most over used and Hallmarked concepts is: “Follow your heart and it will never steer you wrong.” Disney has made an entire empire out of the idea of following your heart and dreams as your guiding stars. Such a mindset could not be further from the truth.
 
Our hearts are naturally deceptive and wicked. If we have a strong desire to sin and listen to our flesh, then our heart and dreams will always be to follow the path of things that are wicked I’m the sight of the Lord. A thief and a con-artist has no desire for charity or selfless giving. A liar has will never tell the truth in a court system. An individual who loves in fleshly desires will never stay pure and wait until marriage.
 
Well, what about the idea of “letting Jesus into your heart”? How can a heart be wicked if Jesus resides there?
 
Simple: the expression, like many others we pull from sources such as Benjamin Franklin, is not Biblical in origin. While may be used as a way to explain accepting Christ as your Saviour; the expression itself does not give the true meaning of coming to Christ justice. Believe me when I say I’m shocked to be typing this as much as you are reading this. This was a Sunday school question for years and until just a few minutes ago: I never questioned it. If you are interested in looking into it further; here is an article I found that is actually very compelling in explaining it further: https://www.christianity.com/wiki/salvation/is-asking-jesus-into-your-heart-in-the-bible.html
 
So, how do we discern what is the Holy Spirit and what is our own will and wanting? It sounds like a church answer, but it is so true: stick close to the scripture and be in complete openness to God when you pray. He already knows what you want and He wants you to talk to Him about it. When He answers; it will come in 3 ways: yes, no, not yet. Like a loving Father; God has our best interest in mind. He may not be after making millionaires out of us, but He wants us to live in such a way that honors Him.
 
The last website you were on? The last video you watched? The last song you sang? The last thought you had? Do any of them point to God or to yourself? When Christ left us to return to Heaven; He left in His place the Holy Spirit to guide us and to lead us. But how can The Spirit lead if our hearts are wicked and unyielding to God?
 
So, how do we know what’s right and in God’s will? Stay close to His word, stay in constant and open communication with Him, and learn to wait on Him. His timing is perfect in all His ways. As Jesus tells us, if the birds of the air don’t worry: why should we?
 


 
One of the earliest posts here at C201 very briefly looked at the 2 Timothy passage (above) with some imagery at the end of the verse describing walking along a path. Check out All Scripture Had Its Point of Origin in God’s Mind.

 

 

December 29, 2021

Persons Claiming They Don’t Have Need for Bible Teaching

This is our fifth full-length post from Bill Muehlenberg at the website Culture Watch and it’s only the first part of a longer article. You’ll need to click through to continue reading some of the reactions he had when he posted this. It’s a very timely topic right now, especially as people have used Covid-19 as an excuse to sever themselves from local churches. Click the header which follows.

Difficult Bible Passages: 1 John 2:27

This is another passage that is so often abused and misused. That is the main reason it can be so difficult or problematic. A subtitle to this article might be: “This Is How Cults Arise”. That is because those who mangle this verse are prime candidates for the cults or may well already be in one.

The verse says this:

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”

This verse, and John 14:16-17, 26 and John 16:13, are so often wrongly appropriated by some believers. The texts in John’s gospel are a bit different: they refer to the fact that Jesus will soon be leaving his disciples, and he wants to assure them that he is not abandoning them, but he is leaving the Holy Spirit with them to assist and guide them.

These verses are often used by those who claim that they have no need of “human” anything: human learning, human teaching, human counsel, human books, human study, etc. They imply that they have a direct pipeline to God, so are totally self-sufficient in and of themselves. They have no need of anyone else.

I just wrote about these “Holy Spirit-only” believers. At the end of the day what we have are not super-spiritual believers, but usually arrogant and fleshly Christians: billmuehlenberg.com/2019/01/26/holy-spirit-only-christians/

In a moment I will give a concrete example of this sort of twisted thinking. But first, how might we answer this? It is quite easy actually. If we simply run with the two most basic rules of biblical interpretation, we will have no problems here at all:
1) study every text in its context
2) compare scripture with scripture

As to the first, the context shows that John is dealing with some heretical, Gnostic, and/or secessionist teachers who were claiming special spiritual insights and revelations. It is THOSE sorts of false teachers that these Christians have no need of, and need to avoid.

Concerning the second, it is clear from numerous biblical passages that we DO need teachers, counsellors, advisors, overseers, etc. – all of them “mere” humans. The New Testament everywhere speaks of how God has given teachers and others to the Body of Christ to help it grow and develop.

Simply based on all these other texts, there is absolutely NO way anyone could believe that John is saying we should not have teachers. Indeed, the letters of John are ALL ABOUT teaching, instruction and helpful information to believers. Throughout the New Testament human teaching – properly understood – is NOT being downplayed, but extolled and encouraged.

I realize that these hyper-spiritual types especially dislike things like biblical commentaries, but let me quote from just a few of them anyway. While they may despise and look down upon these godly biblical teachers, I am happy to run with their Spirit-directed wisdom and insights.

One of these great Spirit-endowed men of God was John Stott. He said this about the passage in his commentary:

True, in the last resort the Holy Spirit is our absolutely adequate Teacher, and we maintain our right of private judgment by His illumination of the Word of God. But we must see this verse in the context of an Epistle in which John is, in fact, teaching those who, he says, have no need of human teachers! And other passages of the New Testament refer not only to the general ministry of teaching in the Church (e.g. Acts 4:18, 5:28, 42; 2 Tim. 2:24) but also to specially gifted ‘teachers’ (1 Cor. 12:29; Eph 4:11).

Obviously John’s epistles are full of teaching and instruction. As James Montgomery Boice puts it:

When John says that the Christians of his day “do not need anyone to teach” them, the statement must be understood in its context. It does not mean, for instance, that there is no value at all in teaching or that there is no such thing as a teaching ministry in the church. In fact, as Bruce observes, “What is John himself doing in this letter if he is not ‘teaching’ his readers?

Or as Marianne Meye Thompson comments:

While ultimately the Spirit “will teach you all things” (Jn 14:26), the Spirit does so through human beings. Thus, when the Elder writes you do not need anyone to teach you, he does not mean that they have never needed any teachers—for he himself was and continues to be their teacher! But they do not now suddenly need new teaching about Jesus, such as the secessionists are offering.

Let me now turn to some recent remarks that came my way on all this…

[…continue reading here]

October 10, 2021

Jesus and the Rich Young Yuppie

Today we’re introducing you to Rev. Taylor Mertins  who writes at Think and Let Think, has co-authored three books, and hosts the Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast. Clicking the header which follows will get you direct access to today’s devotional, along with a Lego image of the ‘sorrowful’ young man who walks away from Jesus.

Jesus And The Yuppie

Mark 10.17

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

Jesus is doing his Jesus-thing, teaching about the upside down nature of the kingdom, when a yuppie shows up and asks about the requirements for salvation.

We only know what we know about this particular character based on what scripture tells us, and his story is a cautionary tale (and a beloved one among preachers).

Notice – the rich young man is already a success story in the eyes of the world: he’s a winner.

But he wants more.

What could drive someone to such a desire? Surely none of us know of such thirst and such hunger for more.

Robert Farrar Capon, in his seminal work on the parables, imagines the innermost thoughts of this yuppie with Jesus like this:

“Oh yes, I have had what once I would have called success. I moved the vices out of the city into a chain of reconditioned lighthouses. I introduced statistical methods in the Liberal Arts. I revived the country dances and installed electric stoves in the mountain cottages. I saved democracy by buying steel… But the world is not better and it is now quite clear to me that there is nothing to be done with such a ship of fools adrift on a sugarloaf sea in which it is going very soon and suitably to founder. Deliver me, dear Teacher, from the tantrums of my telephones and the whisper of my secretaries… deliver me from these helpless agglomerations of disheveled creatures with their bed-wetting, vomiting, weeping bodies, their giggling, fugitive, disappointing hearts, and their scrawling, blotted, misspelled minds, to whom I have so foolishly tried to bring the light they do not want… translate me, bright Angel, from this hell of inert and ailing matter, growing steadily senile in a time forever immature, to that blessed realm, so far above the twelve impertinent winds and the four unreliable seasons, that Heaven of the Really General Case where, tortured no longer by three dimensions and immune to temporal vertigo, Life turns into Light, absorbed for good into the permanently stationary, completely self-sufficient, absolutely reasonable One.” (Capon, The Parables of Judgment, 42).

The yuppie certainly has a problem: he is a winner who cannot fathom, whatsoever, the end of his winning. He is positively bewitched by the idea that there are no limits to what he can achieve by his own power.

Jesus responds by adding insult to injury and gives the man an impossible list of goals to achieve, namely the Ten Commandments. But the yuppie assures the Good Lord that he is, was, and forever will be perfect in the eyes of the Law.

And then, as Mark puts it, Jesus looks at the young man, loves him, and says something like, “Okay hotshot. There’s only one thing left for you to do: sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Hopefully removing all your winnings will free you to see that the only real way to win is by losing, the only way to be great is to be the least, the only way to live is to die.”

But the yuppie walks away sad, because he has many possessions.

And yet, here’s the really sad part: the yuppie walked away from the only really good news he would ever hear. Because all of that winning, in whatever form it took (material, moral, or even spiritual success) would eventually pass away like the wind in his death.

Or, as Jesus puts it, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

The rich young man couldn’t stand the thought of being a loser. But Jesus saves sinners (losers) and only sinners.

In the strange new world of the Bible, only the winners lose because only the losers can win – that’s how reconciliation works. If winning could’ve saved the world we would’ve done it a long time ago. Evil cannot be destroyed by moral score-keeping. The only way to save the world is to do what God did – by taking evil out of the world by taking it into himself in Jesus, nailing it to the cross, and leaving it there forever.

What must we do to inherit eternal life? Well, nothing. Nothing because, we can’t save ourselves.

But, thankfully, Jesus is in the business of making something of our nothing.

September 30, 2021

The Predictably Unpredictable Life

Thinking Though the Unpredictable Life of Joseph from the Book of Genesis

by Clarke Dixon

Life can be anything but predictable.

We face many new beginnings that we could not predict. Who would have predicted in January 2020 that we would all be facing a pandemic for the last year and a half? Who could have predicted at the beginning of this year that Afghanistan would be completely under the control of the Taliban before the year was done?

In our own lives, we all experience things that we did not and cannot predict.

How do we handle such unpredictable times, and the predictable unpredictability of life?

There is a character from the Bible we may be able to relate to.

When Joseph was living happily on his father’s farm, could he have predicted that he would be sold by his brothers into slavery? When Joseph was serving in Potipahar’s home as a trusted servant, could he have predicted that he would end up in jail? When Joseph was in jail, could he have predicted that he would end up being the main administrator over all of Egypt?

In each of these new unpredictable situations, there is something in common, something very predictable. Despite the unpredictable nature of his life, Joseph himself was a predictable kind of guy.

Joseph was always the same Joseph, with the same God given gifts around dreams, with the same God given gift, or as some would put it, natural talent, for administration, exercising the same integrity.

In the Bible we read of something else which made Joseph predictable:

The LORD was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master. Genesis 39:21 . . . But the LORD was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the LORD made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. . . . So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?

Genesis 39:2,21;41:38 (NLT emphasis added)

The presence of God in Joseph’s life was predictable. Joseph’s reference to God throughout his life was also predictable. Joseph was predictable, in a good way.

In being predictable Joseph actually reflected something true about God. God is predictable in a good way!

With God there is a consistency, a constancy. We see this played out in God’s commitment to all His covenant promises. We can think of God’s relationship with His people as recorded in the Old Testament. God stuck by His people, even though they were predictable in their rebellion against God and constant idolatry. Yet God is predictable in a good way, always making a way for His plans and purposes to be carried out.

The writers of the New Testament came to know that God is predictable. For example, the apostle John wrote “God is love” in 1st John chapter 4. You cannot earn a description like that without being predictable in your love!

If God can be described as love, what word might people choose to describe us?

Clarke is ______.

Please don’t yield to the temptation to answer that in the comments, but please do ask that about yourself. People will fill in that blank based on what is predictable about us. Is it a good word? Do any of these words show up; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? These are the fruit of the Spirit, the consequence of living a life filled with God. Are we predictable in a good way because of our growing relationship with God?

Being predictable does not mean never surprising others.

In fact Joseph, despite being predictable, was likely very surprising, especially for Potiphar’s wife who probably assumed Joseph would be easily seduced. His integrity would have been surprising. Is ours? Joseph likely surprised the jailer who probably assumed that Joseph would be like every other inmate. Instead Joseph was like a breath of fresh air in a very stale jail. Are we experienced as a surprising breath of fresh air? Could Pharaoh have predicted that a seemingly insignificant foreigner sitting in jail would be the person who would save Egypt from starvation? Do we turn out to be of greater significance in people’s lives than they ever could have imagined?

God, though predictable, is full of surprises too.

In fact Joseph’s story reflects that of God’s people in the Old Testament. Joseph had this dream of his older, and therefore more “significant”, brothers bowing down to him. Yet in the end, surprise, they bow down to him and look to him for salvation from starvation. There were bigger stronger, and seemingly more significant nations around God’s people, like Babylon, and Egypt. In comparison God’s people were weak and insignificant. But God did something profound through this little “insignificant” nation. In fact people from every nation look for salvation in what God has done through this little “insignificant” nation, and its “insignificant” king who was crucified on a cross by the “significant” people. Surprise!

Speaking of Jesus, here is another surprise; God came to humanity in Jesus. We killed him. God still loves us and offers reconciliation and a new relationship. Surprising, yet predictable, because God is love. God worked in a very surprising way to help us see what we knew about God all along, that God is love.

Do people find us to be surprising in good ways? Are those surprises consistent with the good things people find predictable about us?

In Conclusion . . .

Our lives may be unpredictable, but we can be predictable, in a good way, living with a constancy, a consistency, and integrity, like Joseph, like God, like Jesus.

As God grows our character, developing within us the fruit of the Spirit, God’s work within us will show up through us no matter what is happening around us.

Life is totally unpredictable and full of nasty surprises. We can learn to be predictable in a good way. And full of good surprises.


Regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. You can watch the preaching of this sermon here.

September 9, 2021

New Beginnings! Thinking Through Adam and Eve’s Experience, and Ours

by Clarke Dixon

[read and comment at source: Click here]

When we think of new beginnings, we may think of things like a wedding, the birth of a child, or winning a lottery. For most of us a new beginning may come with much less celebration. A new beginning might be a divorce, a broken relationship, the loss of a job, a fire, a bereavement, a health crisis, a mental health crisis, or some unwelcome, really bad news. COVID was a new beginning for all of us, so too are the faltering steps we are taking towards a post-COVID world, if that is indeed what we are doing.

For many people, their new beginning might be described as Adam and Eve may have wanted to describe their new beginning, as cursed. Perhaps you were thinking Adam and Eve’s new beginning was in their creation and placement in the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis chapters 1 and 2? Nope, that was their beginning, their new beginning was the experience of being kicked out of the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis chapters 3 and 4. Not exactly the kind of new beginning we would like either. Let us think through their new beginning and discover what can help us with ours.

There are four things Adam and Eve could say if they took a step back and looked at the big picture of their new beginning.

First, we are still here!

God had said “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Genesis 2:17 (NRSV). Some translations interpret “the day you eat of it” as emphasis on the fact that death would happen. Hebrew language and thinking does not quite work the same way as ours, so we should not get too caught up in the fact that Adam and Eve did not die that very day. The reality of death certainly did, however. Still, God did not say “when you eat it, you will live outside the garden, then die.” To be still alive would have come as a welcome surprise. They could say “we are still here!”

Second, God is still with us!

While we do not hear too much more about Adam and Eve, as Genesis 4 gets going, God is as available to Cain outside of the Garden of Eden as He was to Adam and Eve inside the Garden. There is conversation, there is presence, there is guidance. Though humans were now stuck outside the Garden of Eden, God was not stuck in it.

Third, there are signs of grace!

Adam and Ever were not just still alive, they were also experiencing further signs of God’s grace. Consider the births of Cain and Abel. There was the promise of death as the consequence of taking of the forbidden fruit, yet before we see death, we see the gift of life. In fact even the curse given in Genesis 3:16; “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children,” (NRSV) is a sign of grace. There will be life, there will be future generations.

Fourth, there are opportunities!

For starters, Adam and Eve would have the opportunity to fulfill God’s call to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 2:28). God’s call on humanity still stood. God still had, and still has, a plan for us!

Though we are not told much about Adam and Eve and their relationship with God and each other, we can suppose they also had increased opportunities for supporting each other in ways they did not have opportunity to do so before. They would also have had the opportunity to lean on God more than they ever had to before. Things were great back in the Garden. Not so anymore, so leaning on God and others, and being available for others to lean on, became opportunities to help and be helped.

When we face a new beginning.

When we are facing momentous change, a new beginning, whether one anticipated with great excitement and celebration, or one that is thrust upon us, we can look at the big picture.

But before we go there, there are two very practical matters we learn from life. First, change brings stress. New beginnings are stressful whether they are anticipated with joy, or experienced with dread. Let us watch for stress and the need for strategies to cope, things like getting enough sleep, eating well, exercise, breathing exercises, mindful moments, prayer, and the enjoyment of hobbies. Second, change brings loss. New beginnings require grief. We have all faced loss one way or another in this COVID era. Let us watch for signs of grief, like anger and denial, and consider a strategy to deal with grief.

Now back to the practical matters that we learn from Adam and Eve. When we face momentous change, a new beginning, especially one that might be perceived as a curse, there are four things we can say.

First, we are still here!

You are still breathing, so breathe a sigh of relief. God is not done with you yet. And in fact, God never will be done with you. So even when you wake up someday and you are not here, that will be an even greater blessing! Paul knew this when he said,

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NLT)

Second, God is still with us!

In the very last words of the Gospel of Matthew we read the promise of Jesus: “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 8:20 NLT)

We need not face our new beginnings alone. God’s presence is available through all the change we experience in life. In fact God’s presence is available to us even if we brought about the disastrous change we may be experiencing. God is not stuck in the Garden of Eden. In perfect love, God offers help to the imperfect.

Third, there are signs of grace!

We may have trouble seeing them, but they are there. We can pray for eyes to see them. They are the assurance of God’s presence, not just His presence, but His presence and love. There is no greater sign of God’s grace than Jesus, his being with us, his teaching, his death, his resurrection, and his presence now through the Holy Spirit. The bread and the cup we receive through the Lord’s Table are constant reminders, signs of God’ grace.

Fourth, there are opportunities.

Here again, we may have trouble seeing them, but they are there, and will be there as some come later. Again, we pray for eyes to see the opportunities, but also for the the courage to take them.

Our new beginning may feel like a curse, but it may turn around to be a blessing somehow to us, but potentially, for others.

Let me give a personal example of a new beginning we have faced and of the opportunities that have come though it. When one of our sons came out as openly gay, that was a new beginning for our son, and for all of us. With that new beginning comes opportunities. There is the opportunity of being in a relationship based on honesty, rather than our son feeling he has something to hide from us. There is the opportunity for my wife and I to be on a journey of understanding, challenging the usual story of fear, exclusion and broken relationships when there is a “coming out.” My wife and I have been on a journey of walking with our son as we continue to walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. Going forward, I have no doubt that I will have the opportunity to grow as a person and as a pastor, to be a better pastor than I have been, to those who are, or those who have connections with the LGBTQ+ community. For some people, a child coming out as gay might seem like the end of the world. We are still here, God is still with us, there are signs of grace, and there are opportunities.

New beginnings in our church.

Every church family has faced momentous change, a new beginning in these days of pandemic. As society falteringly moves from a COVID era to a post-COVID era (hopefully?!), we can say we are still here, God is still with us, there are signs of grace, there are opportunities.

What about you?

Are you facing momentous change, whether an anticipated blessing, or something you would rather describe as a curse?

Are you taking care of yourself, watching for stress and creating strategies for coping, naming and grieving your losses?

Are you aware of the bigger picture? You are still here! God is still present! There are signs of grace! There are opportunities!

(Thanks for reading. You can watch me preach this sermon here.)

September 4, 2021

Moving Past an Inherited Faith

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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A year ago we introduced a new author to you, Hannah, who writes at Morning Glory Journal. Of three articles I looked at, I chose this one for us today, but you can discover more by clicking the link in the previous sentence, or the one in the header which follows.

Genealogies: Pitch Our Tents Near The Well

When neither of your parents are around you suddenly have to decide who God is to you. You suddenly need to figure out if you think He was just a fable they believed in, or if you will believe that He is real, alive, and loving just like they always told you. I think the journey starts while we are with our parents; that’s where the foundation is set. But it’s when we are alone that we decide if we believe in that foundation or if we will give in to our deceptive senses.

Abraham had lived a full and satisfied life. After Sarah’s death, he had married another woman named Keturah. With her he had Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. His son Jokshan had two sons Sheba and Dedan. And Dedan had three of his own: Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. Midian, another of Abraham’s sons from Keturah, had five sons whose names were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. Now, because Isaac was the promised son, Abraham left everything to him. It was while he was still alive that he gave gifts to his other sons. He then sent them away towards the east, away from Isaac.

Genesis 25:7-11; NASB
7 – These are all the years of Abraham’s life that he lived, 175 years. 8 – Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. 9 – Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, 10 the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth; there Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. 11 – It came about after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac lived by Beer-lahai-roi.

He’d lived a good life and, just like God said he would in Genesis 15:15, Abraham died in peace at a good old age. The first man mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, one who was called God’s friend, was put to rest. And so, the torch was passed on to his son Isaac. Both of his parents were now dead, buried in the same cave. By now he must have been around his 40’s. But without his dad around, would he still follow God? Since his parents weren’t around to influence his decisions, would he still choose God?

I like to think he chose to simply because of verse 11. Let’s look at it again: “It came about after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac lived by Beer-lahai-roi.”

Where did he live? Close to “the well of the living one who sees me.” He and God were already building a unique relationship. He believed in the God who saw him in the midst of all the sorrow and pain that comes with life. Where will we pitch our tents? God wants to build a unique relationship with each of us today, right now. He’s not a blind god but the God who sees you and me. Let’s put our tents up near Beer-lahai-roi and start to really get to know the God we’ve heard so much about.

 

August 30, 2021

Two Characteristics of Followership | Voyaging in Peace

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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The first writer we’re introducing and featuring today is Pastor John Jakes who writes at Calvary Baptist Church in Indianola, Iowa. (Yes, I thought it would be in Indiana, but I guess they already have Indianapolis.) Clicking the header which follows next will take you there to read this as it appeared earlier today.

The Test of Commitment

In today’s world we lament a lack of commitment.  We applaud and show excitement when people last long in in their job or position.  Why? We applaud because we don’t see it very often!  We lament that people just can’t stay committed.  We complain.  Yet, when talking about encouraging commitment to God’s church we get shy about it.  We sometimes say we can’t push for it because it will drive people away. This makes me ask – What does it mean to be a disciple?

When Jesus was asked what it meant to be a follower of His, He described discipleship in two ways.  First, He described it as a type of love.  In fact, the type of love we were to have for Him was supposed to make all other loves look like hate.  He said, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26)  No shying from commitment there!  In fact, this teaching almost offends us, doesn’t it?

The second way Jesus talked of being a disciple was in cross-carrying.  He said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)  Two words leap out at me from that description: cross and daily.  Both of those words speak of commitment.  A cross is tough to carry.  It is especially tough when you think about the end of the journey: death.  Doing anything daily is a conscious decision that requires commitment.  Put the two together, and you and I receive this call – commit permanently to a hard choice: follow me.

As we consider what is necessary in the Christian life, we must take a close look at the type of commitment we are giving Jesus.  Without a Jesus-level of commitment, what are we saying about Him?  What are we saying about this truth upon which we say we are risking our lives?  If His call doesn’t demand much from us, then what is it? It is past time for God’s people to commit to His purpose for them. Are we committing to that purpose?

Something to think about.


NIV.Mark.4.39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

The second new writer we’re featuring today is Scott Dixon of Eagle, Idaho, who writes at Exploring Jesus. Clicking the header which follows will also allow you to see some graphic images which go with this short devotional.

Peace in the Storm

Jesus was always on the move, so when He said, Let us cross over to the other side” (Mark 4:35), the disciples set sail… and then a great windstorm arose. Storms are common on the Sea of Galilee and these were experienced sailors, but we learn from the original Greek that this was an exceptionally violent wind-tossed sea that threatened their boat.

I wonder if the disciples anticipated smooth sailing just because Jesus said, “Go.” Herein is a lesson for every child of God.

To voyage with Jesus is to voyage in peace, even in a storm.

In the presence of Jesus, we can have peace in the wildest storms.

In desperation, the disciples turned to Jesus. He rebuked the wind, and its fury ceased. He commanded the sea, “Peace, be still!” and there was tranquility. At the sound of His voice, the tempest quieted, giving them infallible proof: He is LORD over ALL.

He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven.”

Psalm 107:29-30

Do you belong to Jesus Christ? Have you followed Him only to experience wave after wave of trouble? Are you being tossed by fear and doubt over how it will end? Then insert your name and circumstance into this account and its eventual outcome because the same LORD is with you today.

Rest in His power alone and trust Him to take you over to the other side.

August 14, 2021

The Source of Peace, Love and Joy Lives Within Us

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:34 pm
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Today we’re looking at the Fruit of the Spirit and in particular, peace, joy and love. God gives us these things and if we’ve given him our lives, we simply need to access what we already have. We’re featuring the writing of Jim who writes at Jesus Gives Life. This is an older piece, but I encourage you to click the title below or the link in the previous sentence to discover his more recent writing.

Love, Joy, and Peace; The Greatest is Love

I saw a birthday card that had the following three keywords on it; Joy, Peace, and Love. It was not meant to be a religious card, but those words reminded me of what eternally is at the heart of what true Christianity is all about. The gift of God to us is Jesus, God our savior.

I know I will not be doing these words the ultimate justice they deserve, especially from a biblical text standpoint, but with the help of God, hopefully it will put things in the proper context.

We have all heard the words, or the various quoted biblical texts about the fruit of the Spirit. The quoted texts below have been used by many folks both in the Christian and secular worlds, and even those words have been used in many songs throughout the ages. I have to say though, the words have lost their true meaning, because we as a world, fail to realize of “who” the words are actually talking about.

Galatians 5:22-23

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

1 Peter 4:8

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

Colossians 3:14

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

1 Corinthians 13:13

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 John 4:8

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:7

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

Romans 13:10

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Bible quotes from English Standard Version

What I really want to point out here, is each and everyone of these attributes are of God, or should I say is how God displays himself to us through Jesus Christ.

Some folks might be thinking that you are able to outwardly perform one or two of those attributes described above sometimes, and even you might say to yourself you can do some of them most of the time, but inwardly they can not be attained not even close to 100% of the time, nor can you display those fruits to all people all the time.

What is Love? This is the question that has been asked down through the ages. Until we understand what God’s love has been, and is for us, we can not love the way God loves us.

Love is forgiveness; not as the world forgives, but as God has forgiven us. Before we ever asked for forgiveness, God forgave us all (the whole world) of all our sins. Yes, read that a second time, God forgave you of all your sins before you ever asked for forgiveness. He forgave you of all your sins before you even committed them. He forgave you of all your sins before you were even born. God in Christ Jesus, sacrificed himself for all of us on the cross. God is not upset with you. Love is Jesus and Jesus is love.

Once we understand true forgiveness from God’s perspective, then we can start to forgive others as God has forgiven us.

Joy in my heart, because he has done it all for me. There is nothing more I need to do to have God love me. I am forgiven for all time. I am loved for all time. Nothing separates me from his love.

Peace that passes all understanding. Jesus gives us the peace that passes all understanding. His peace is the greatest, because in spite of our circumstances, in spite of what we do, in spite of what others do to us; he will never leave us or forsake us, and totally loves us.

Philippians 4:7

And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Now is the time to receive his forgiveness, receive his love, receive his joy, receive his peace, and receive his life giving Holy Spirit today.

August 7, 2021

Lessons from Peter

Another new source for you! The blog By Leaps and Bounds  is an outreach of Arise Ministries, which is based in West Virginia. The author of today’s thoughts is Dave Snyder, a retired Church of God pastor who now serves in prison ministry.

Faith, Failure, and Good Sense

And when he had sent the multitude away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased (Matthew 14:23-32).

The Christian life is a journey. It is like a marathon and is so different from a sprint. Always, it is a walk of faith.

Sometimes along this journey, we fail. Anything from failing to pray to struggling with sin hinders us and feels like it will defeat us.

During these times of failure, good sense has to kick in. We remember that we cannot and do not have to do this alone. Then we call out to the One who desires to help us.

Faith, failure, and good sense are all necessary components of the Christian walk. Let us briefly examine each one.

Faith is the key ingredient to the Christian life. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). We must have faith to do three important things.

Look at the call given to Peter and Andrew.

And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he said unto them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And they straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20).

These men left their nets to follow Jesus — without knowing where that path would lead them. It takes faith to simply answer the call to follow Jesus.

Obviously, if we are going to follow Jesus, we must have faith to believe He is who He says he is. Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered with an emphatic statement of faith, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” There is so much power in declaring to our Savior, “You are the Son of God.”

Finally, it takes faith to leave our comfortable place. Peter was a man used to the sea- including times of turbulence. Surely, he had encountered stormy seas previously. It would seem to be more comfortable in the ship than out of the ship. When he stepped out onto the water, he left what comfort there was at the time. So it is with us. Faith requires stepping out of the ship to experience the greatness of God.

Down through the years, I have heard people criticize Peter for failing to complete his walk on the water. However, his failure is a reflection of the failure we all experience during our lives. Like Peter, we look at the storm around us and take our eyes off of Jesus. Hebrews 12:2 says, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith…” When we become distracted by all that surrounds us, failure is inevitable. This is when good sense has to come to the forefront.

When Peter began to sink, he did the most sensible thing he could have done. He cried out to Jesus — the One who had the power to save him. The Psalmist was so correct when he wrote, “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” We should be so glad that our Lord hears us above all the noise that is around us. One other use of good sense is repentance.

When our actions deny that we know the Lord, repentance is in order. After denying Jesus three times, Peter remembered that Jesus warned him of this great failure. He had boasted that he would never fail in this way; now his heart was broken. Again, good sense was exercised. Peter went out and wept bitter tears of repentance. There are times when we must do likewise.

Matthew 14:23-32 definitely links faith, failure, and good sense together. It takes faith to step out in the first place. Once we step out, our human frailties get in the way and failure shows itself. This is when good sense tells us to cry out to the Lord who can help us. Good sense also tells us to make things right so our journey of faith can continue.

April 22, 2021

No Other Gods

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Yesterday morning, the wife of an American journalist tweeted this scripture:

Joshua 23:16 “if you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

I was immediately struck by the principle — which we’ve shared here before — that while God’s dealings with people have changed between the First Covenant and the New Covenant, his essential nature; his character have not changed. He is, as scripture reminds us, the same.

While he may not drive us off our land — at least in a literal sense — he is angered; he is grieved when he are tempted and distracted by other lifestyles; other worldviews; other voices telling us how we should live. The times we wander off from his plan “A” are the times we are sinning. We’ve missed the mark; we’ve accepted less than his perfect way; we’ve trusted our own instincts or desires above his stated will for our lives.

The verse is part of the concluding two chapters of Joshua, his famous last words to the people of Israel. Chapter 23 in particular contains three exhortations. The first one:

2b [Joshua:]“I am very old. You yourselves have seen everything the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the Lord your God who fought for you. Remember how I have allotted as an inheritance for your tribes all the land of the nations that remain—the nations I conquered—between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea in the west. The Lord your God himself will push them out for your sake. He will drive them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you.

“Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.

The second follows immediately after:

“The Lord has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. 10 One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. 11 So be very careful to love the Lord your God.

12 “But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, 13 then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.

And the third and last, immediately after that:

14 “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15 But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. 16 If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

While commentators divide these accordingly, there is a common theme throughout: Don’t chase after (follow) other Gods.

It is a reiteration of the first of a set of commandments given by God to Moses to give to the people that we call “The Ten…” though some scholars see as many as 14 instructions.

Joshua says some other final things in chapter 24, and while that chapter is beyond the scope of this devotional, I do want to remind us of a verse 15, where not one, but two well-known sections of scripture are found in a single verse:

24.15 (italics added) 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.”

The website Precept Austin offers an insight into our key passage today which it calls “To Chase or Be Chased.” Pause and consider that for a moment. The battle in which we find ourselves doesn’t offer moments of neutrality in the action. (For my Canadian readers, think of a hockey game as the play quickly moves from one end of the rink to another.)

The Lord has also equipped His children so we can be courageous in a hostile world. Although the foes we face may seem to be more powerful, we can resist them because of God’s special provision. This doesn’t mean He always protects His children from physical injury or even death. But when a child of God works together with God and does His will, he is unconquerable until his work on earth is done.

How do we find the protection that helps us “chase away” the enemy? By trusting and obeying God. Joshua told God’s people that if they would obey the Lord, no one could stand against them (Josh. 23:10). The same God who fought for them will also fight for us. He will strengthen us to meet any challenge when we are doing what He wants us to do in the way He wants us to do it (Phil. 4:13).

Yes, the Lord will give us courage as we draw strength from Him each day.

In a sermon on this passage, Canadian pastor Hilmer Jagersma reminds us where the courage comes from in a New Covenant sense; quoting Acts 4:13

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

Returning to the covenant aspect of this passage, Hilmer adds that,

Whether you’re young or whether you’re old, God has called you has and set you apart for service, and you have promises that are extended to you and you enjoy the good things of the Lord… If you think about it… we grow up in a community that worships the Lord, and we part of a community where the word of God is preached, and many of you grew up in homes where the word of God is taught.

And that’s how God works. Through his Spirit. By his Word. God is working. We sing the promises of God. We teach the promises of God. As parents you’re trying to demonstrate and live out the promises of God.

But the warning that Joshua gives stands: Don’t take God’s grace for granted. The promises must be received in faith. And they have always needed to be received in faith.


Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon returns next week.

All scriptures today taken from the NIV.

Watch the complete sermon on Joshua 23 by Hilmer Jagersma at this link.

 

 

March 13, 2021

Fixing It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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Today’s is a shorter post, but I felt there was someone out there who needed to hear this; or perhaps hear these verses of scripture.

It all has to do with the word fix and its variants. What does it mean when we’re fixed on Jesus?  The site BibleResources.info offers this:

The Greek word “fix” contains the idea of concentrating your gaze; to focus all of your attention on one object. Paul explains that if we concentrate on Jesus, we will be able to avoid sin and experience peace. When Jesus walked on the water, the disciples were terrified. Peter, however, was able to walk on the water by keeping his eyes on Jesus. He faltered when he lost his concentration and looked away!

Let’s look at the texts when this word is searched in the NIV on BibleGateway.com:

Hebrews 12:2
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Deuteronomy 11:18
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

Psalm 141:8
But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death.

2 Corinthians 4:18
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Hebrews 3:1
Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.

When I think of the word fixed I think of affixed, the idea of being stuck like glue!

Let’s return to the page at BibleResources:

If we actively focus on Jesus through Bible study, prayer and service – Jesus will become the center of our attention, and we will not fall. Deuteronomy 11:18 tells us to fix “his words in our hearts and minds”. Proverbs 3:5-6 enjoins us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (ESV). Proverbs 4:24-31 reminds us that if we focus and “fix our gaze before us, making level paths for our feet in ways that are firm without swerving” (distractions), that we can “keep our feet from evil”.

Isaiah 26:3 promises “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee…”. If we keep this focus, we will not “be anxious about anything…And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

If we keep our focus on the Lord as our “light and my salvation… the strength of my (our) life; of whom shall I (we) be afraid? (Psalms 27:1) We will not fear, “…for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”. (Isaiah 41:10)

With our eyes, thoughts, hearts and words fixed on Jesus we will be able to be “strong and courageous- all you who put your hope in the LORD! (Psalms 31:24)


Keep my Eyes on You by Graham Kendrick:


Monday is Devotional # 4000 here at Christianity 201. If you’ve been helped in any way by these readings, let us know.

 

March 12, 2021

Having a Hope-Filled View of the Future

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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After a break of 18 months, we return to the ministry of Toronto area Bible teacher Gordon Rumford and his devotional website.  Gordon writes faithfully, and he writes well. I am privileged to have heard him teach in person many, many years ago. You can click the header which follows, but you’ll also see two other options for viewing today’s reading.

Hopeless

“…without hope and without God in the world.”
Ephesians 2:12 (NIV)

View in your web browser | View a PDF version

It was a wonderful, but short lived, relationship. The doctor loved and owned quarter horses. My father, as a farmer, knew draft horses quite well. They bantered each other during his last two weeks in hospital. I recall having a consult with the doctor after my dad slipped into a coma. He gently and with some emotion explained that the end was hours away.

Perhaps that was one of my most painful experiences in life as I loved my father dearly and respected and admired him greatly. But his passing was bittersweet. How so? Bitter because our every other day phone calls, and many visits would be no more. Sweet because my father had endured much pain as the cancer migrated through his tired old body. So that ended with his death. Also, I had the glorious hope of reunion when it would be my turn to leave this world for my heavenly Father’s home. Without that hope I would have been devastated!

As a pastor I have had a lot of experience trying to help people who have no hope. It is a heart wrenching time for me and after the funeral I just want to go home and retreat to my study, to be alone, to pray and sometimes weep.

Many brilliant minds have struggled with their hopeless view of the future. The late Bertrand Russell famously said, “that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

Against the backdrop of Russell’s dark view of the future we have the teaching of Scripture on a joyful future for all the people of God. Revelation 21:3-4 (NIV) reads,

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people,
and he will dwell with them. They will be his people,
and God himself will be with them and be their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away.”

Then in Revelation 22:17 (NIV) we read,

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’
And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’
Let the one who is thirsty come;
and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”

We are free to accept Russell’s view of the future or we may listen to the Spirit and receive the free gift of eternal life. I have long ago been led by the Spirit to the foot of the cross where my heart was opened to receive the message of the truth of the Gospel. Dear reader consider well the wonderful message of the lowly Jesus and seek Him while He can be found.

In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career.

I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agony and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.

Sure, never to my latest breath,
Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.

My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
And plunged me in despair,
I saw my sins His blood had spilt,
And helped to nail Him there.

A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou mayst live.”

Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.

With pleasing grief and mournful joy,
My spirit now is fill’d,
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by Him I kill’d.

–  John Newton


By the same author:

I love the set-up for this devotional:

He was an abrasive personality and I quickly learned to avoid him as much as possible. Early in our relationship I mentioned that I was looking forward to a Florida holiday. He quickly retorted that Satan takes no holidays. I wanted to comment that he seemed very familiar with the devil’s activities. Instead, I commented that Satan was not my role model, rather Jesus was. Today’s verse silenced the clever but mistaken critic…

…Check out Rest for the Weary.

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