Christianity 201

June 13, 2017

Unwittingly Carrying Out Their Mandate

I thought I would begin today by sharing something of which today’s guest writer reminded me which we posted here in 2013. It’s the passage in John 11. It’s the section where the leaders are plotting the death of Jesus.

49 But one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” 51 Caiaphas did not say this on his own. Instead, as high priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus would die for the nation…

and echoed in John 18:14

14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.

Although he was about to be — along with his entire household — totally implicated in the crucifixion, he was still, in John’s opinion, speaking prophetically; speaking as a prophet.

You’ll see why I got echoes of that when you read this.

We’re paying a return visit to Patrick Hawthorne came who writes at Serving Grace Ministries. Click the title below to read it at source (with comments) and then click “home” to view other articles.

The Priest of the Offering

The following was sent to me by my dad. I found this very interesting in explaining Romans 8:28.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

 Author unknown

Teacher, “I said, “I have a question. If the death of the Messiah was ordained by God, an event of the highest holiness, why did it happen through such unholy means?”

“How do you know that the means weren’t holy?” he asked.

It happened through evil men, through bribery, treachery, brutality, and murder…evil.”

“In ancient Israel, who were the ones ordained by God to offer up sacrifices?” he asked.

“The priesthood,” I said, “the sons of Aaron.”

“And who were the key people involved in delivering Messiah to His death?”

“The Sanhedrin.”

“Led by the high priest and including the chief priest of the Temple, the sons of Aaron, the same ones ordained by God to offer up the sacrifices. Why were they so obsessed with Messiah? They were the priest and He was the Lamb, the sacrifice. So they were the ones to initiate His death. That was their ministry and calling. Only they could deliver the Lamb of God to His death. That’s why they conspired and arrested Him and handed Him over to the Romans to be crucified. It was their ministry to offer up the sacrifice.”

“So they killed Him because they were the priest and He was the sacrifice.”

“Not because they knew it, but nevertheless, because they were the ones ordained to do so. And beyond the Sanhedrin, it was the high priest who, alone, was ordained to offer up the most holy sacrifice, the atonement by which the nation’s sins were forgiven. And who was it that presided over the Sanhedrin and was more than anyone else responsible for delivering Messiah to His death? The high priest. His intention was murder. Yet he was the one appointed in the Law to offer up the sacrifice. Messiah was the sacrifice. So it was the high priest who had to offer Him up.”

“But they were evil,” I said, “and their motives and actions were corrupt.”

“And yet through their actions came salvation,” he said. “The world is filled with evil, with the imperfect, and the wrong. But God causes all of these things, the wrong, the imperfect, and the evil to work together for the good, the holy, and the perfect…in this world and in your life. The tears, the cries, the heartbreaks, the evil, and all the wrong will, in the end, become the priests of the offering, to fulfill the sacred purposes and blessings God has ordained for your life.”

• • •

The Mission: What or who in this world is against you or working for evil? Commit it to God. And give thanks beforehand that He will turn it for good.

 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

 

November 8, 2016

Praying for America

Today we’re paying a return visit to Carol Hatcher whose site has the name Sheep to the Right. Honestly, I don’t know how many people will read this today, as the U.S. (and the entire world) are preoccupied with something else, which was also the starting point for Carol’s writing. We’re joining this devotional already in process, so if you want to read it in full, click the title below.

Note to Regular Readers
To facilitate faster loading times for both PC and mobile readers, all the links in “Index of Worship Songs Here at C201” have been removed from the sidebar and are now accessible through a page, “Worship Songs Posted at C201” linked halfway down the sidebar; and the archives here, instead of showing each of the individual months, are now accessed through a drop-down menu. Also, moving forward, if I can remember to do it each time, we’re going to start linking authors’ Twitter account names in the introductions.

What if America Really is Going to Hell in a Hand Basket?

…This morning I was praying for America – begging God to heal our broken nation. I asked Him to help both Hillary and Trump to recognize Truth and be changed by it. And as I prayed, a story from the Bible came to mind. You can call it what you will – but I know the Lord placed it there.

It was the story of Jesus predicting His death to His disciples. He laid out the entire event before it happened. Jesus told them He would go Jerusalem, and once there, He would suffer at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law. Then Christ explained He would be killed but would come back to life on the third day.

Imagine your close friend, your mentor, just told you something like that. How would you respond? I’m sure I would’ve responded the same way Peter did.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Matthew 16:22 NIV

Jesus didn’t say, “It’s okay buddy. God has a plan in all of this.” No. He reply was much stronger!

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Matthew 16:23 NIV

That’s pretty harsh. But, you see, Christ’s death and resurrection was God’s greatest gift to humanity. Through that death and new life, we – you and me – can have eternal life. So, when Peter suggested to Jesus that it wasn’t going to happen, Jesus wasn’t having any part of that. He was saying, “You are just concerned about yourself. This is a God thing. Don’t get in my way.”

So as I was praying for America today, God brought this story to mind and how it relates to our situation. You see, if the worst happens – if Hillary gets in office and inadvertently shares state secrets and continues the gut-wrenching horror of late term abortions – or if Trump gets into office and mouths off to Vladimir Putin and causes Russia to drop an atomic bomb – the end result is people will be looking for hope. And the only Hope to be found is in Christ. You see, our only purpose here is to bring Christ glory. So if it takes the world getting more wicked and vile to make people turn to God, then that is what He will allow.

If that seems cruel to you, remember He allowed His only Son to die for the same reason – to bring you life. God desperately wants this world to know Him and experience His saving grace. So while I’ve been praying for things to get better when the election is over – for the newly elected president to make positive change – things are going to get worse. There may be some positive change. I’m not trying to be doom and gloom. But God is pointing out that things have to get bad, really bad, for people to turn from their wicked ways and come to know Him.

So, fellow Christian, the time is now. First, we have to stop getting so distracted over things that divide us – political parties, movements, the need to weigh in on things where we need to keep our mouths shut. Satan is using those things to destroy us.

We also need to be plugged in to God’s Word, and then let the power of the Holy Spirit that fills us change those around us. In other words, stop being so shy about sharing your faith. Let Christ empower you.

For those of you who don’t know God, or you know of Him but you don’t talk to Him and you really aren’t sure where you are going when you die, the time is now. The same God who created this entire universe is all knowing and all-powerful. He has the power to save you if you just admit you are a sinner who desperately needs Him. Ask Him to save you. He will fill you with hope you never thought possible.

So friends, America may get worse before it gets better. But do not fear. You may weep and wail. You will see things you never thought would happen. But don’t lose hope – Jesus will return. So if our worst fears come to reality, have hope and know that God is and forever will be on the throne.

Psalm 47

1 Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.

2 For the Lord Most High is awesome,
the great King over all the earth.
3 He subdued nations under us,
peoples under our feet.
4 He chose our inheritance for us,
the pride of Jacob, whom he loved.

5 God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7 For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise.

8 God reigns over the nations;
God is seated on his holy throne.
9 The nobles of the nations assemble
as the people of the God of Abraham,
for the kings of the earth belong to God;
he is greatly exalted.

August 20, 2016

When Christians Bear the Sweetest Fruit

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

Deuteronomy 11: 11-12 (emphasis added)

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

Philippians 1:6 (both verses are NASB)

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

More Than Survival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 19, 2016

The Besetting Sin of Worry

Don't Worry - Philippians 4 6Today a return visit to Kim Shay at Out Of The Ordinary. Click the title below to read at source.

He who sits in the heavens

Worry is one of my besetting sins. It can cover a wide range of subjects… I begin to worry because I don’t like unknowns, and I don’t like feeling out of control. To compensate, I often try to keep tabs on all the possible variables that could affect the outcome, deluding flattering myself into thinking that I can at least be mentally prepared for what could occur. But this is cold comfort. There are too many factors beyond my scope, and as I consider what is outside of my control, the needle on the worry meter goes up.

I have a less-than-robust background in the absolute sovereignty of God, so I could use that as an excuse. But even wholeheartedly embracing that doctrine, my thoughts of God are often “too human”1, as if He who sits in the heavens “laughs nervously and wrings His hands in confusion.”

If I dig deeper, there’s a showdown taking a place – a face-off between the Bible’s claims of God’s supremacy versus my fallible thoughts and feelings. Who do I listen to? My worries? Or do I take my soul by the scruff of the neck, so to speak, turn off the news or whatever is feeding my anxiety, and turn back to the Scriptures?  Feelings go up and down. Circumstances change for good or bad. But neither feelings or circumstances are the arbiter of truth. God’s Word is, and here’s what it says about His authority over all things:

He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” Psalm 2: 4-6

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. 1 Chron. 29:11-13

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, Ephesians 1:11

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness! Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Psalm 115:1-3

The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting…Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O Lord, forevermore. Psalm 93:1-2,5

From A.W. Pink:

The absolute and universal supremacy of God is plainly and positively affirmed in many scriptures… Before Him, presidents and popes, kings and emperors, are less than grasshoppers.3

God’s supremacy over the works of His hands is vividly depicted in Scripture. Inanimate matter, irrational creatures, all perform their Master’s bidding.4

God’s supremacy is also demonstrated in His perfect rule over the wills of men… His own eternal “counsels” are accomplished to their minutest details. 5

I don’t know about you, but this gives me great comfort. This answers my fear of the unknown because there are no unknowns to an omniscient God. He does not react to future events because He has already ordained what will take place by His decrees. We have a foundation that will never shift under any circumstance because we rest on the unchanging character of God Himself.Let every man or, in this case, woman be a liar. The Lord reigns.

Here then is a resting place for the heart. Our lives are neither the product of blind fate nor the result of capricious chance, but every detail of them was ordained from all eternity and is now ordered by the living and reigning God. 6

1. The Attributes of God, Chapter 5 The Supremacy of God, A.W. Pink, Baker, 1975, pg. 28.
2. Thanks to Zack for his open theist “version” of Psalm 2:4.
3. The Attributes of God, Chapter 5 The Supremacy of God, A.W. Pink, Baker, 1975, pg. 29.
4. Ibid. pg. 30.
5. Ibid. pg. 30-31.
6. Ibid. pg. 31.

May 14, 2015

“It’s a God Thing”

This article by Shane Pruitt is somewhat topical, as it looks at a popular Christian cliché that some of us use. I wasn’t sure whether to post it here or at Thinking Out Loud, but I thought the content was a good match here at C201. As always, click the title below to read this at the blog I Already Am.

Should We Be Saying, “It’s A God Thing”?

It's a God ThingIt was a total “God thing!”

If you’ve spent much time around church people, you’ve probably heard (and maybe said) this statement hundreds of times.

“It’s a God thing” is used in Christian culture when things unexpectedly work out the way we wanted them to. We raised the total amount of money for our mission trip, the chips fell our way, we were totally surprised by an event that popped up from out of the blue.

But, inevitably this statement always follows something good that has happened to us—a story of healing, a rare coincidence that worked out well for us, finding a parking space, getting a job or when our child stops warming the bench in time to hit the game-winning shot.

Who’s in Control?

Should this statement be a part of our vernacular? Well, first, let’s see if the phrase is even biblically accurate:

“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!” (1 Chronicles 16:31).

“Our God is in the heavens; He does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

“Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6).

“The heart of man plans His way, but the Lord establishes His steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

“Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isaiah 46:10).

These five compelling verses tell us one clear thing: God is sovereign. And, there are literally dozens upon dozens of other verses that say the exact same thing.

God has supreme authority, control and power over all that has happened, is happening and will happen in the future in all times across all history. God has the right, the authority and the power to govern all that happens in accordance to His divine will. He has the right and the power to achieve His purposes. He is in control of circumstances that dictate whatever He wills to come to pass. He has complete control of everything and there is nothing that happens that is not done by or allowed through His will.

So, is the statement “It’s a God thing” accurate? Yes, of course, it is.

The great things that happen in our life—it’s a God thing! When things go our way—it’s God thing! We get that promotion we’ve been wanting—it’s a God thing!

All Things for Good

However, there is a flip side to that coin. When things don’t go our way—it’s still a God thing. When we don’t get the promotion that we’ve been wanting—it’s a God thing. Times of suffering, times of tribulation, times of loss—God thing, God thing. It’s all within God’s sovereign plans.

If God is truly sovereign, then He is in control of the “bad” days just as much as He is in control of the “good” days. Sometimes His plan is not what we may want or would plan for ourselves. Sometimes it’s hard to see where He is during the hard times. But we can trust that He’s there, that He cares, that this world is fallen, but He’s in control.

True faith is being able to say, “It’s a God thing” even in the midst of suffering, difficulty and heartache. When something doesn’t go my way, I can still know, trust and believe that God is working out all things for His glory and my good.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Maybe, the best way to look at the statement, “It’s a God thing” is to really understand that everything that is and occurs are all “God’s things” and not mine. And He can do what He wants with His things, including me.

(This Article was also picked up by RELEVANT Magazine online)

Go Deeper:  For a similar theme by the same author, check out Why We Stopped Saying, As Long As They’re Healthy”

April 14, 2015

Head for the Hills

Psalm 121 – The Voice

A song for those journeying to worship.

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

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

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

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

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

Higher Than the Hills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 5, 2014

Why, Exactly, Our God is Great

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010514

David Kenney has embarked on an ambitious project on his blog this year… I’ll let him describe it at this post, Who is in Control?

Ok, so I am going to do something new this year. I think a thing that pastors run into every Sunday is the dreaded blank page. “What am I going to preach on next week? Next month? Next Christmas?” I mean sure, we all have the same source material, and there is certainly no shortage of things to talk about – but we all like to feel motivated, right? Perhaps inspired?

Well, like most of you I am determined to read my bible more in 2014 and so as I read through the scriptures each day, my goal is to use my blog to journal a sermon each and every day. Yep the goal here (if all goes according to plan) is to write a sermon “inspiration” each day and end the year with 365 sermons ready for 2015.

Today’s Inspiration:

Psalm 104:27-31

All of them wait for You to give them their food at the right time. When You give it to them, they gather it; when You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When You hide Your face, they are terrified; when You take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When You send Your breath, they are created, and You renew the face of the earth. May the glory of the Lord endure forever.

You know the song “How Great Is Our God” by Chris Tomlin? Most of the lines in that song come from Psalm 104.  The entire song is about how “great” God is, right? But the “great thing” about Psalm 104 is, the author actually tells you “WHY” God is so great – answer, because He’s in control.

Let’s face it a lot of people have an opinion of God, who he is, how he operates and how he gives out good points and bad points. And I think there are a lot of people who think that God just created the world and then walked away. “God lives in the clouds” and we live down here to fend for ourselves.

But Psalm 104 goes to terrific lengths to show how much God is involved in the life of the Earth. In fact, the author goes so far as to say that when God hides his face, creation is “terrified.”

I have a brand new son and he’s barely a few months old. He’s going through that annoying stage where we can’t put him down for two seconds. He knows we’re in the room, he can see us – we’re even still talking to him, but it doesn’t matter. He wants to be held. He wants to feel secure. He wants us to be in control. Right now, that’s the only way that he feels comfortable and safe.

What a total flip to how you and I live our lives. We like our independence, in fact, we’d probably like it better if God would “look the other way” from time to time. Then we could have moments to ourselves, then we could get away with stealing a cookie now and then. For some reason we think that life would be better if God were “on a cloud” somewhere.

But look at what the author says, the world is…dependent on God… for it’s survival. You know we’d like to think that we’re in charge, that we heal diseases, or that we save the rain forests and endangered species. We’d like to think that we’re out there saving the day, but God is the one who feeds the animals, verse 13 says God sends the rain, verses 14 & 15 say that God spins the circle of life and verses 19 & 20 say that he also spins the planets.

verses 32 & 33 say

He looks at the earth, and it trembles; He touches the mountains, and they pour out smoke. I will sing to the Lord all my life

The irony is we treat God like a prying parent. God’s always reading our diary. But here the author talks about how involved God is and THAT is why he sings. He rejoices because God is so apart of his life. The author worships the God who plants the trees and gushes the rivers.

You see, my life isn’t miserable when God is watching, my life is miserable when I don’t want it to be watched. My problem isn’t an involved God, my problem is I don’t want God’s involvement. But the truth is, I should be welcoming God in more, sharing with him more, walking hand and hand with him more – because THAT’S when the songs come on strong.

In verse 35 the author closes with a wish, May sinners vanish from the earth and wicked people be no more.” You know what I think that means? That means if we could just all invite God in – if he could just become more involved and more a part of each of our lives- well… then… sin would disappear.

It’s true.

Do you know why sin is still around?

Because we want it around.

The truth is we’re all broken people who struggle with the question; “who is in control?” And when the answer is “we are” that’s when sin is born.

Lord help me to release control. Help me to depend on your love and grace for all of my needs – and may I invite you in each day of my life so that one day I can spin and dance in a world where sin has vanished.

December 22, 2013

Understanding Different Literary Forms in Scripture

Today’s thoughts are from the Bible In One Year (BiOY) page of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) in England, the original home of The Alpha Course as taught by Nicky Gumbel, who also authored these thoughts.  What follows is excerpts, click through to read in full.

How to Read and Understand the Bible

How do we interpret the Bible and understand what it says about what we should believe and how we should live? In interpreting the Bible there are three main questions we need to ask:

  • What does it actually say? The Old Testament is written in Hebrew (and Aramaic), and the New Testament in Greek, but we are fortunate to have access to excellent translations. Obviously it can help if we can read it in the original language, but generally we can be confident that most modern translations are trustworthy and accurate. As we read we need to be asking what it actually says. It can be helpful to use extra notes, or compare different translations, to help us understand it better.
  • What does it mean? In order to answer this question we have to ask: What sort of literature is it? Is it historical writing? Poetry? Prophecy? Apocalyptic? Law? Wisdom? Gospel? The passages for today are each different types of literature, and therefore we read them in different ways.Next, we need to ask what it meant to the person who first wrote it and to those who first read or heard it. Then ask, ‘Has anything happened subsequently to alter our understanding of the text?’ For example, what difference does the coming of Jesus make to our understanding of Old Testament passages?
  • How does this apply to our lives? If we ignore this question, then our Bible reading becomes a mere intellectual exercise. Once we have worked out what it says and means, we must think through how it applies to our daily living.

Each day’s readings at BiOY involve three passages, you’ll have to click through to read these in full. There are also prayers at the end of each section. Again, click through to read.

In these passages, we see three different types of literature (poetic, apocalyptic and historical). We also see at least three ways in which to relate to God in our daily life.

1. Be real with God (poetry)

Psalm 144:9–15

God wants us to be real with him. The psalms are not prayers from nice people using polite language. They are often raw, earthy and rough. They are an honest, true and personal response to God. They are written in the language of poetry. We interpret poetry differently to prose…

Comparison is something that we often use in daily speech. It also comprises almost all the language of theology. When two things are compared it does not mean they are alike in all respects. Usually there is some intended point of comparison on which we are asked to concentrate.

The language of Psalm 144:12 is an example of such language: ‘Make our sons in their prime like sturdy oak trees, Our daughters as shapely and bright as fields of wildflowers’ (MSG)

…the psalmist inspires us to worship (v.9). He speaks of his longing for God’s blessing on his family, his work and the security of his nation. He ends, ‘Blessed are the people of whom this is true; blessed are the people whose God is the Lord’ (v.15).

2. Make a difference by your prayers (apocalyptic)

Revelation 8:1–9:12

Apocalyptic literature is the literature of dreams and visions, of divine mysteries and the end of history. It is full of symbols that need to be decoded. In it we are given glimpses of things that are often at the very limits of human understanding, and the complicated and fantastic imagery can help us begin to grasp things that are beyond comprehension.

Apocalyptic literature is notoriously difficult to interpret. Within the Bible it is found in several places – especially the books of Daniel and Revelation. Typically, the reading from the apocalyptic writing for today is not easy to understand. It appears to be Christ calling the world to repentance and his warning of the coming judgment…

…We live in the time between the first and the second coming of Christ. We see evidence of much of what is written about in these chapters happening in our world. Our response should be prayer and repentance.

3. Fulfill God’s purpose for your life (history)

Ezra 1:1–2:67

God has a purpose for your life. You are called to do something special for him. The book of Ezra shows us that even when it is God’s plan, there will be plenty of opposition and resistance. But God is with you (1:3) and God’s plans will ultimately succeed.

In the book of Ezra we find ourselves in the more familiar territory of history. The historical books of the Bible are not simply records of what happened, they also provide interpretations of the events they describe. Historical writing was seen as a prophetic activity, both recording the facts and explaining or revealing how God was at work through the events that are described.

The opening verse of Ezra is an excellent example of this bringing together of fact and interpretation: ‘In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing’ (v.1).

Contemporary inscriptions show that Cyrus king of Persia allowed other captive nations to return home as well, so we are on firm historical ground here. At the same time the writer explains the significance of these events. He highlights how they fulfilled the earlier prophecy of Jeremiah that the exile would last approximately seventy years (Jeremiah 25:12 and 29:10).

This is not just a lesson in ancient history; it is a revelation of God. It shows us God’s faithfulness to his people, it reminds us that he is a saving God, and it demonstrates how he is in command and control of history.

Before the judgment: ‘Heaven fell quiet – complete silence for about half an hour’ (8:1, MSG). During this period of trembling suspense all of heaven is silenced, possibly symbolizing the opportunity for the prayers of God’s people to be presented to and heard by God.

…We each have a unique purpose for our lives. We have different projects, depending on our different jobs and passions and giftings, but our underlying motives should be the same – a concern for God’s glory and God’s people. God will fulfill his purpose for you.

July 26, 2013

He Will Direct Your Paths

He Will Direct Your Paths

My wife and I met at a Christian summer camp, and now both of our sons work there in the summer. Camp IAWAH takes its name from Proverbs 3:6 “In All Ways Acknowledge Him (and He will direct your paths).”  Here’s what some people have written about this verse…

Billy Graham

In all your ways submit to him, and he will direct your paths. — Proverbs 3:6 (NIV)

Are you facing a significant decision? Then look again at these words in Proverbs 3:6. Implicit in this verse is the truth that God knows what is best for us, and that He wants to guide us so we will make right, God-honoring decisions.

When you face a decision about your future, seek God’s will above all else. Make your decision a matter of prayer, and ask Him to guide. If we are truly open to His will, He will direct us.

Does this mean we should just wait around until God gives us some kind of miraculous sign or deep inner conviction? No, not necessarily. God wants us to be practical. Do research if you need to; understand yourself and your gifts; seek the advice of others. Make your decision in the light of God’s Word also; God never leads us to do anything that is contrary to the Bible.

Remember, too, that God often guides us only one step at a time—but that is all we need to know. So don’t be anxious. Trust God to guide you, and He will.

Colin D. Smith

…Proverbs 3:5 exhorted us to trust in the Lord wholeheartedly, and not to lean on our own understanding of things. That is, I think, the attitude we should have toward life. The next verse seems to me to be speaking more practically: acknowledge the Lord in all your ways.

The words for “ways” and “paths” are two different words in Hebrew, but very close to each other in meaning. The first, derek, often means simply a road, or a journey, but can be used metaphorically to refer to one’s behavior, or “life-journey.” The second, ‘orach, refers to a stretch of road too, but seems to lean more toward referring to one’s manner or behavior. From this, I think we get the gist of what the proverb is telling us: in all aspect of your life, acknowledge the Lord, and He will keep your life correctly oriented.

I should note that “acknowledge” is the way the Hebrew verb yada’–”to know”–is commonly translated here. This is a perfectly legitimate translation, and the one that makes best sense in the context. To “know” the Lord as you travel life’s byways is to acknowledge Him, and to take every twist and turn leaning upon Him for guidance and direction.

Indeed, I think this is the lesson of the verse. Life throws us curveballs. Not just once in a while, but often. Our best-laid plans are frequently thwarted, and it’s not unusual for us to feel frustrated when things don’t go our way. To quote that classic movie, The Princess Bride, “Life is pain… Anyone who says differently is selling something.” Sure, there’s a lot that good and joyful about our lives, but we know it’s all too frequently not an easy road.

But if we’re trusting in the Lord, leaning upon His wisdom and not our own, and acknowledging His presence in our lives, His goodness, and His wisdom, He will help us keep our eyes lifted up. The burdens of life, while still present, will be easier to bear. As we keep our eyes on the Lord, by His grace we will be less inclined to wander into sin and despair, and more able to maintain a right perspective, and a godly attitude…

Darrell Creswell

What the scripture is saying here is to Know Him, see Him, seek Him, always have Him in your mind, in your heart and let it be His consideration that you always turn to.

As you see things before you always have Him in view in front of you, in your side-view mirrors and in your rear-view mirrors; let it be Him that is in view in all that you see. The Lord is ever-present with you. Let him be the ground beneath you as you step, and do not take one step without Him. Follow His lead, His wisdom, and His divine advice in all that you do.

Ask of Him to have the wisdom to endure and the strength to overcome in all situations. As you seek the Lord let His Word counsel and direct your steps as you walk in His providence. He will be your guide lest you stray. Let it be your mindset to submit to His divine plan for your life and follow Him wherever He leads as you walk not after the flesh in your own understanding, but in the Spirit as He leads you in the path of His righteousness.

So be still and know that He is your God; your Help in the time of need; your Rescue; your Guide and your Shelter. He will always do what is right for you according to His will and plan that He might be glorified in your life. So give Him the glory and the praise for what He has done, is doing and will continue to do in your life.

What we need to understand, that everything in our lives are completely under God’s control. As Jesus died upon the cross sin and death were defeated, and in His seemingly weakest hour, the strength of God was made manifest as redemption was poured out for the first time upon all mankind. In that weakness and pain and suffering that Jesus endured, the power of the living God rested upon the world bringing salvation and restoration to all humanity. We are the recipients of that grace.

It is by His hand you were created and it is by His hand that He will make your paths straight as all that you need in life flows freely from the throne of grace. It is the Almighty God that sits upon that throne acknowledging you, loving you and providing for you. All good things come from Him.

In the same way, Jesus gives us comfort, direction and victory in our lives even when we feel we are overwhelmed by the circumstances around us. We can find wonderful things out of even the darkest moments of our lives. Our Lord is present with us when it is the very darkness. He has planned that even the darkest of situations that we face will result in redemptive good for us. He surrendered His very own Son to death so that we could have life. He does not abandon us, He saves us.

Isaiah 40:21 Your own ears will hear Him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether it be to the right or to the left.

God is always right here, walking beside us, urging us on when we wander left or right saying – “This is the right road. Walk down this road”.

Blog: My Lord, My Friend

“Think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.”

We are all on a journey through this life on earth and we all have a final destination in eternity either with God or without God.

Yes the God that created us wants us to spend eternity with Him. That is what we were created for but somehow free will allows us to choice of  a journey and an eternity without Him.

How sad it would be an eternity without him. without His Love which is real love from which all love grows and through free will that love can become distraughted. In Him {Our Lord and Our Friend} we have a purpose on our journey, and we have a destiny, and with Him, it is the most exciting and wonderful journey and destiny of all.

The above scripture says THINK about Him {Our Lord and Our Friend} and He will guide you on the right paths. He will always be there to help, but even if we take or have taken the wrong paths, He is always there waiting to help us, to get us back on the right track.

In the Sermon on the Mount {Beatitudes}, Jesus told us to enter the narrow gate, for the gate is wide, and the highway is broad that leads to destruction, and many are traveling that way.

Mathew 7 verse 13 “Enter through the narrow gate”  Verse 14 ” How narrow is the gate and difficult is the road that leads to life, and Few find it.”

Ask Our Lord and Our Friend and He will lead you, and be with you, and help you no matter what difficulty you go through.

He has said if we Ask Him, He will Never leave us or Forsake us. Think about Him in all your ways, and what a wonderful journey through life you will have {He did say it wouldn’t be easy, but He did say He would always be with us all the way.}

God Bless  you on your journey .

In All Ways Acknowledge Him

Image: Darell Creswell (click to link). Got a verse you’d like to see covered here? Send us a suggestion and consider being one of the 4-6 writers we use.

Camp Iawah is an interdenominational faith ministry in Ontario, Canada that is sustained by camp fees and the support of contributors.

February 12, 2013

Then the Word of the Lord Hit Me

Although this is a longer item today, I wanted to include the introduction which really resonated and helped me to understand where the author, Tim Whitehead is coming from. This is from the blog, Just My Thoughts and appeared under a title that better reflects what he is really writing about here, The Power of the Potter. This is a blog that I hope you will want to bookmark.

“Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel” Jeremiah 18:5, 6

A reoccurring phrase which is common among the Old Testament prophets is, “…the word of the Lord came to me…” I liken this phrase to hearing people say something like, “And suddenly it hit me” or “I was doing such-and-such and it dawned on me. It came to me that…” Each of these contains with them the element of the unexpected, that it was something which happened suddenly while busily doing something else. Imagine Jeremiah going about his daily routine, handling his chores, taking care of some things, when suddenly the Lord speaks to him. Amid him just being an ordinary guy, going about his typical day, doing all the typical things that regular folks do, the Lord abruptly interrupt Jeremiah’s day and his thoughts, and He talks to him.

The reason that I point this out is because I want to dispel the notion that in order to hear from God we must place ourselves on extended fasts, spend hours in prayer, read numerous chapters and whole books of the bible daily, all the while living a solitary life as hermit. I’m not saying that living a disciplined life is wrong, or that there is anything wrong with setting aside personal time with the Lord daily. These are right and good. But never believe that these are the only times, and only in these situations can the Lord can speak to you. It is possible to be a regular person, like Jeremiah and others in the scriptures, live a routine, life and still be able to hear from God clearly.

You see, its one thing to spend time with God each day, but quite another to walk with God throughout your day. Those who walk with the Lord do not subject Him and whatever it is that He desires to do and say to their daily devotional times. The do not restrict Him to a specific time and place. They go throughout their day daily keeping their hearts sensitive to Him. They are available to Him for His use at any moment. They listen for Him. The ones who walk with God are flexible. They are continually cognizant that their plans can be divinely changed, and they are fine with it.

 A lot of people desire to hear from the Lord, and even to be used by Him, but they don’t want to be inconvenienced. Yes, they want the Lord to speak them, and yes they want to be used by Him, just as long as it does not interrupt their lives; their plans and activities.  I realize by experience that some of the best, and the most wonderful times of ministry are those unscheduled opportunities to minister that happen through the course of your day as you are doing nothing spiritually related at all. They can happen in the supermarket, on your job, at a restaurant, etc. You didn’t plan them and had no foreknowledge or warning that it would happen. They were strategically, divinely set up.

It’s the same way with the Lord speaking to you. He has a way of speaking to you, of dealing with your heart, at times when you are least expecting it. These are usually times when you aren’t even trying to hear from Him. On the other hand, in those times when you desperately need and want to hear from Him that He is silent. 

       – o – o – o –

The Lord says to the Israelites through Jeremiah, “…Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” In my mind I hear God saying it like this, “Israel, don’t you realize that I can do to you the same thing this potter did to the clay? Don’t you know that I can do that?” I imagine He said it with authority.  So what did the potter do to the clay which God says that He could do to Israel? We can find the answer to this by going back to verses 3 and 4. Jeremiah says, “Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.” (verses 3, 4)  

The potter decided that he was going to make a certain vessel. As he was going about working on the vessel he discovered a flaw. The potter begins again. This time he isn’t going to make the same thing that he originally had in mind. He changes his mind and decides that he going to make something new. The Lord says to Israel, “I can deal with you the same way. I can do the exact same thing to you.” And He did.  

Israel enjoyed a special relationship with the Lord. They knew that they were His first choice above all other nations. They were fully aware that they were God’s elect, His chosen people. As such, they enjoyed certain privileges and experienced blessings which other nations did not. The people of Israel made a mistake thinking that because of whom they were, and their standing with God, He could not and would never cast them off. How sorely they were mistaken.

Using the potter and the clay as an illustration, God sent a clear and simple message to the people of Israel: “Israel, I am God and you are not. As quickly as I chose you to work with, just as sure as I had an original will and plan for you. I can just as easily, and just quickly change my mind.”  When those who are God’s first choice are unfaithful then the Lord raises up others in their place.    

Once and again I have warned believers over the years to be very careful that they never make the mistake thinking that they are all God have. Never think that just because God has chosen you, you are now secure in your place and position, and you cannot be replaced. Not one of us is so secure that because of who we are and because of our position we are not easily replaceable. We’re all expendable. Throughout the scriptures we have examples of those who were God’s first choice, but they were unfaithful to Him and to His commands, they disobeyed and they were quickly replaced by others.

Usually the ones who the Lord chose to replace His first choice were most times  the ones that in the eyes of others were the least likely to be selected for the position and job.

These days I see a lot of folks in the ministry who are indeed called by God and they are truly gifted, but the anointing of God has been removed from their lives and ministries a long time ago. These aren’t people who were never called to begin with. They were called, but somehow or other they got distracted from the Lord and from the assignment that He gave to them, some got into sin and disobedience, etc. As a result, all they are left with are gifts and a call, with no anointing. They still have the title, but they lost the anointing. They still receive the acclaim and accolades of the people, but they lost the anointing. They’re prosperous and powerful, but have lost the true riches and power, the anointing. In the eyes of men they are successful, but in God’s eyes they’ve failed without the anointing.

It is thoroughly possible to maintain gifts and callings, to even continue to function, though the anointing is no longer there. What’s frightening is you can even be successful at it. Never assume that just because a minister or ministry is successful it is anointed.

The Lord further says to Israel, “…Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.” In other words, “In the same way that the potter can do whatever he desires with the clay that is in his hands, so to, I, the Lord, can do the same to you Israel. I can do to you, and with you, whatever I desire. I chose you but I can change my mind if you give me a reason to.” 

Even though the Lord has called us and He has chosen us; we’ve received, and still continue to receive, His blessings; we are privileged to be used by Him at times; we get to enjoy a special relationship with Him and to fellowship with Him, but, these must never cause us to get so comfortable with the Lord, and so secure in our position, that we forget that He is God. He is in control. He is the boss is. From time to time when it looks like we’re forgetting He will give us a sobering reminder.   

This passage has nothing to do with the Lord, as the Master Potter, taking the flawed and the broken pieces of our lives and remaking it into something beautiful. Certainly He can and He does do this. But this passage is not about that and has nothing to with it. It has everything to do with the power of the potter; that the potter has over the clay to do with it as he desires, and that circumstances can cause the potter’s original plan, will and purpose to change, thus requiring him to do something differently.

May 12, 2012

Encouragement from a Shipwreck

Today’s devotional is from the blog of a North Carolina Sunday School class of mostly young married couples, called The Purpose Class.  This blog post, about Paul and his companions being shipwrecked in Acts 27, appeared under the title, Land Hooooo.  (I hope I typed the right number of oo’s!)

Acts: 27: 32: So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let if fall away. 

Today’s devotional is about a shipwreck.  Have you felt like you have shipwrecked some aspect of your life before?  I think to some degree we all have…either by a poor choice, unfortunate circumstances, the sin of someone else, or some other reason; it’s not that difficult for us to have that “sinking feeling” in life.  But I want to encourage you today, especially if you’re going through your own personal shipwreck right now…God can make a miraculous situation out of a shipwreck.  With His help, you can survive the storm!  You can even use that storm and ensuing shipwreck as a turning point in your life to make the proclamation that God brought you through!  Picture us saying, “Yes, I went through the storm; and yes, I was shipwrecked; but in the end, by the grace of God, I’m a product of what God can do with a shipwrecked person!  Amen!  Let’s look at the story.

Today’s scripture comes to us in an extremely trying time in the lives of nearly 300 individuals; 276 to be exact, as the story points out.  The story is that of Paul, his companion prisoners, and the guards and soldiers assigned to maintain order.  Paul had been arrested and was being transported to Rome to have his appeal heard by Caesar.  They had been sailing for several days and had come to harbor in a place called Fair Havens.  And now, against Paul’s advice, the Roman centurion in charge had decided to sail on, instead of “wintering” in the port at Fair Havens…apparently it was very late in the sailing season and bad weather was common.  It’s in this setting that great turmoil strikes those on this fateful trip.  

As they left the port in Fair Havens, they were met by a gentle breeze.  It wasn’t long before this breeze became a “northeaster” that began to drive their ship uncontrollably.  The scripture says in verse 15 that they “were driven along.”  Isn’t that how a lot of our shipwrecks in life start?  At first a sin or circumstance seems like it’s a gentle breeze.  It’s inviting and seems like it’s not that big of a deal.  But soon the gentle breeze turns into a raging nor’easter and by then, it’s too late to get off the ship…we’ve already left the port. With that said, perhaps we could avoid some (not all) life shipwrecks by making God-directed decisions to begin with, especially those that are temptation-based, right?  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).

As the men on this ship began to realize the dire situation they had gotten into, they began to throw things off the ship to lighten the load.  It says in verse 19 that “they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands.”  It struck me when I read this that this is exactly how we usually act in our storms too.  We start to try to fix it ourselves, with “our own hands.”  And really, God wants us to turn to Him in those times.  I heard a pastor speaking about how we often feel God turns away from us when we make mistakes and says, “Well, they’ll just have to suffer, I tried to tell them;” or “You turned your back on me, so I’m going to do the same to you.”  But this is not how God seems to work.  There are many stories where Jesus goes TO the one who has sinned and has made bad choices.  He lets them know that He still loves them.  Read the story of the woman at the well in John 4: 1-26; the story of the disciple Peter’s denial of Jesus and how Jesus specifically sought him out after the resurrection.  The same could be said of Thomas after the resurrection; remember, the other disciples had faith, but Thomas “doubted.”  But Jesus came TO Thomas to show him His scars.  Jesus didn’t scorn these people, he sought them out.  So don’t let the devil trick you into thinking that God is mad at you and doesn’t want to hear from you.  No, God loves you dearly and wants a relationship with you, with all of us.

Back to the story.  Part of verse 20 says, “we finally gave up all hope of being saved.”  But it is here that I want us to take hold of a different way of looking at things.  It seems that we have a choice to make in the midst of our personal shipwrecks.  We can give up hope, start throwing things overboard, and go down with the ship; or we can be like Paul, and become an encourager.  Paul makes a proclamation (Given to him by an angel) to those onboard the ship, that “no one was going to be lost, so keep up your courage.”  That’s easy to say, but tough to do, right?  If you’re like me, it’s a whole lot easier to “take fear” vs. take courage.  I need to ask God to help me change my mindset and heart in these situations and let God take care of the situation, not me.

After 14 days they were still being driven across the sea.  In fact, they had lost all sight of the sun or stars.  It seemed as if they were at the mercy of the storm, but really God was in control.  He’s still in control today too.  It says in verse 32 that as the ship was approaching land, basically out of control, some of the sailors tried to pretend they were putting out anchors, but were actually trying to get into one of the lifeboats.  When Paul noticed this he told the centurion that “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.”  So the centurion had the ropes to the lifeboat cut and the lifeboat fell away.  I think maybe that’s what we need to do, we need to quit holding on to the usual pattern of behavior when it comes to a lot of situations, especially the shipwreck situations.  The usual pattern of trying to get into our own “lifeboat” doesn’t work.  Maybe God is urging us to cut away the “lifeboats” that we are so dependent on in this world and start depending more on him.  The lifeboats of financial security, materialism, etc.  Do we depend on these things more than God?  Something to think about…

During this whole time of struggle, Paul was encouraging the men onboard to take courage.  He encouraged them to eat and reminded them again of what God had promised through the angel that had visited him earlier.  “Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head,” Paul would say.  Maybe that’s a good strategy for us in the storms too.  Go back and read God’s promises.  Proclaim those promises to those around us.  Encourage those who need encouraging.  We’re all sensitive people and we all get scared when the ship is heading towards disaster.  But think about what that situation would have been like if Paul hadn’t been onboard.  I wonder how it would have been different without his encouragement and calm direction.  I also wonder if God has placed us in certain situations so that we might be the encourager and helper. 

Finally, it says in verse 35, that “He (Paul) took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all.  Then he broke it and began to eat.  They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.”  Isn’t that a great example of how God can use a shipwreck to bring folks to him?  Paul was a “doer” of the word, not just a proclaimer or listener.  The story doesn’t say this, but I bet a lot of people on that ship came to know the Lord that day.  After it was all over, I bet they reflected on Paul’s calmness in the midst of the storm.  It’s a calmness that sounds and looks pretty familiar to another person that had been through quite a few storms himself…Jesus.  Remember the story from the gospel of Matthew?  Matthew 8: 24 says,” Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.”  He was sleeping!  When this storm came suddenly, like the storms of life tend to do, Jesus was there with the disciples and He’s with us too.  He asked the disciples that day why they were so afraid?  And then He calmed the storm.  The tough part to understand is that sometimes Jesus calms the storm and sometimes he allows us to go through the shipwreck.  But take comfort in this, either way, Jesus is there and He loves and cares for you. 

I pray that we would grow in our faith to become encouragers to those around us going through their storms and shipwrecks of this life.  They’re going to happen, we all know that…but what we need to remember is that we don’t have to “go it alone.”  How did Paul’s shipwreck turn out?  Well, they all made it safely to shore, all 276 of them.  Did they lose their ship?  Yes.  Did they lose their cargo?  Yes.  Did their faith in God grow because of the experience?  Undoubtedly, YES.  Storms aren’t pleasant, but they’re a part of life.  Through the strength, wisdom, and grace God gives us, let’s weather the storm knowing full well the final outcome.  Land Hooooooo!  We will all make it together!

Father, thank you for bringing us closer to you through the storms and shipwrecks that we go through in this life.  Lord, You know that we’re scared of the storms; help us understand that that you know what’s best for us, and that all things work together for the good of those who love you.  We do love you Lord, help us to love you more and be an encourager to those around us.  Thank you for bringing us closer to you.  Amen.

 

Memory Verse:  Psalm 42:1:  As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.

September 13, 2011

God Ties Up Your Story’s Loose Ends

Stumbled on this well-written piece yesterday.  Jeff Milam blogs at Transient Glory where this appeared as But God Was With Joseph – Romans 8:28 in the Old Testament

As long as I’ve been reading the Bible I’ve actually only read straight through it one pathetic time. Certain Old Testament narratives capture my imagination, causing me to slow my pace to the point of stillness as early on as the opening chapters of Genesis. So while I‘ve often had the grand objective of reading through the scriptures over the course of a year, it very rarely happens. Recently I’ve started to speculate as to why specific parts of the Bible have this effect on me. Is it that I just adore a good tale, with interesting characters, a complicated plot, valor, a bit of violence, a tinge of romance, and sacrificial love? Or could it be that God is actually communicating directly to me though a dusty piece of ancient Hebrew literature? Is it possible that I’m detecting a personal message from God in these stories? Is that why they tug at my heart time after time?

I believe the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis was written down not only for the children of Israel, but for people like me as well; people who have mastered the art of unbelief. This is one of those heart tugging stories I was talking about. And if there’s one central message in the story of Joseph, it’s that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. See Romans 8:28. It’s a story that leaves absolutely no vacancy for unbelief to reside. Though Joseph goes through some very challenging situations that seem enormously bleak and completely undeserved, by the end we see that God had an astounding plan not only for the godly Joseph, but also for his devilish brothers who had treated him like trash.

If Joseph’s tale was simply made up, I would have to say that its author did a masterful job. Everything is tied together in the end. All the scary, unjust, deceitful, heartbreakingly sad pieces of Joseph’s tale are suddenly all wrapped up in a perfect ending. And it’s an astonishing conclusion. (Almost as shocking as the end of M. Night Shyamalan‘s Sixth Sense.) It makes one’s jaw drop. It’s definitely not something one would anticipate. We find out that God had allowed all those scary, unjust, deceitful, heartbreakingly sad events in Joseph’s life to transpire only so that people’s lives would be saved from the worldwide famine. The most astounding part of the story is that God saved the lives of Joseph’s contemptible brothers by a sequence of events that their own evil dealings had initiated! It almost seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? But that’s just how God works. In fact, you could say that Joseph’s fourteen chapter saga is a foreshadowing of the Gospel.

Whether I think it’s too good to be true or not, the story haunts me for days after I read it. It mercilessly and unapologetically beckons belief in God. It calls me to move to a higher plane of faith where, like Joseph, I can look at my life and know that God is doing something with all the scary, unjust, deceitful, heartbreakingly sad and even nonsensical parts of it. Like Joseph, I can forgive those who I feel have wronged me, knowing that God is ultimately the one in control. After all, what if God was allowing mistreatment in my life to bring about something amazingly good, not only for me, but also for the very people who mistreated me as well as the whole world? Is this what God is saying to me at this point in my life? Is this something God wants me to learn now before I encounter “real” trials? Is that why this story has always tugged at my heart? “But the Lord was with Joseph,” is a recurring phrase in Joseph’s roller coaster of a story.  Will I choose to claim this promise for my life too?

~Jeff Milam

August 30, 2011

The Storm Has Passed

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:44 pm
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I borrow many times from Daily Encouragement, but there’s no denying the timeliness of what they wrote on Monday in light of current events.  But that’s not the only reason this is here. This morning I asked my self what I would want to read today, and what I would want to give my readers, and instantly this theme came to mind: God’s peace. When I clicked on Stephen and Brooksyne’s reading, that was the theme!

“Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39 NKJV). “And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 NIV).

As most of you know, due to the intense media coverage of Hurricane Irene, we had a severe storm come through our area this weekend.  We were to the west of the hurricane’s main path up the east coast but still had a lot of rain and high winds. Some of our friends had power outages but the damage in our area is minimal and few lives were lost due to the many warnings we received…

…But early Monday morning as we prepare this message the sky is bright blue, the winds are completely stilled, the school buses are loaded with students and drivers are heading to work. The storm has passed! For our devotional message today let us consider a famous storm in the Bible.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all recount the story of Jesus climbing into a boat with His disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee. It’s 700 feet below sea level and its deepest point descends 150 feet. The sea is 13 miles long and 7 miles wide, surrounded by hills. Jesus had called four of His disciples into ministry from this very sea.

The winds blowing across the land intensify in close proximity to the sea, often causing violent and abrupt storms. Several of the disciples were seasoned fishermen who had spent their lives on this lake. They’d undoubtedly survived many storms, but in today’s Scripture account a severe squall released its windy furor which caused the still waters to erupt thrusting powerful waves of sea water above the boat.

Can you just imagine the scene; the men running about the boat to find watertight containers to bale out the water as it swirled about their feet and was rising. They surely panicked and feared for their lives. All except One; the Son of Man who, of all things, was sleeping soundly on a cushion in the stern!

Nerves completely shattered by now, the disciples awakened Jesus and asked passionately, “Teacher, don’t You care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38b). Jesus responded to the disciples with a reprimand for their lack of faith, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Matthew 8:26). He then got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, “Peace!  Be still!” and the winds and waves obeyed their Creator.

The disciples, still shaken, after their death defying ordeal, now witnessed the instant calming of the horrific storm once Jesus commanded the elements to be still. Consider the roller coaster ride their emotions took as the sudden storm broke loose, the waters rose, and then the miracle that followed.  Their emotions went from concern to worry, then fear, then terror, then disbelief, tremendous relief, and finally amazement. Stunned by what they had seen, they surely shook their heads in astonishment as they began to ask each other, “Who is this?  Even the wind and the waves obey Him” (Mark 4:41).

When our hearts become troubled they’re much like the storm tossed sea. It causes unrest within our soul and our passions become unruly. Fear and anxiety are inevitable as the deadly water of doubt, unbelief, rebellion and other harmful attitudes rise up within us thereby drowning our faith in God.

Challenges, trials, and tragedies will always exist. But God has promised that His peace is available to all who seek Him – He offers a peace that transcends human understanding or human intervention. This peace will guard our hearts from anxiety, fear, terror, and strife. “He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day” (Psalm 91:4,5).

Jesus looks on but eagerly awaits our beckoning call. He comes into our lives upon our invitation as we ask Him to save us.  He says, “Peace!  Be still!” to the conflict, doubts, fightings, and fears that grip our hearts.  We no longer strive to save ourselves, but we ask Jesus to save us.  Fear is overcome by faith when we ask Jesus to be our Savior, to guide us over the troubled sea of life.

Daily prayer: Father, we thank You for the powerful God that You are.  Even the winds and waves recognize You as Creator and obey Your voice.  Your Word is a lighthouse that directs us safely toward heaven when the furious waves swirl about us and the water rises up to our necks.  Keep us firmly anchored in Your ways so that we stay above the waters and endure to the very end. In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.