Christianity 201

October 11, 2021

Thankful for Everything

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:24 pm
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This is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. After 30 minutes looking for an appropriate devotional to share with you, I came across Joy in the Everyday, written by Janet who lives on Canada’s east coast.

Click the header which follows to read this at source, then take a few minutes to check out more of her writing..

give thanks

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. 1 Chron. 16:34 NLT

Wishing all of my Canadian friends a Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m sitting here enjoying the aroma of roasting turkey and anticipating a lovely dinner with family and friends who are family. Pumpkin trifle is awaiting final touches and I am relaxing until last minute work must be addressed. Admittedly, the last couple of years have not been easy ones, but I truly have so much to be thankful for.

I re-shared the give thanks graphic on Facebook this morning and thought of this post from way back when…

Have you ever been challenged by this quote:

“What if you awoke today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?”

I am guilty of taking little things and big things alike for granted.  While I am thankful for my wonderful family, a roof over my head, food on the table and clothes on my back, I do not always remember to show my gratitude to my Heavenly Father.  He is the giver of all good gifts.  And these items would definitely be on my ‘good gifts list.’

What about the little things?  I have never read Anne Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts:  A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, though it’s on my mental list of books I’d like to read … I can imagine from the title and gleaning from the thoughts of others that she challenges us to see beauty in the ugliness, and in the commonplace.

I’ve seen this quote: “Gratitude for the seemingly insignificant—a seed—this plants the giant miracle.”  Am I truly filled with thankfulness in each magnificent sunset?  For a day filled with love and opportunities to fulfill His purposes for me and in me? For that first sip of morning coffee?  For that hug and “I love you”  from my boy?  For my husband who reaches over to hold my hand?  For mounds of laundry…because this means my home is not empty, and we have the necessities of life, and the benefit of brilliant imaginations so that I don’t need to do laundry by hand?  For the opportunity to serve a sick neighbour, to show the love of Jesus? I’m trying to learn this lesson well, as the name of my blog suggests.  I pray that I would not only find joy in the everyday, but I would be thankful in it. A life lived in thankfulness is a life that is content and full of joy.

It’s easy to be thankful for good things.  FaceTime with grandlittles.  Visits with friends and family.  The precious gift of salvation.  What about the hard things?

I Thessalonians 5:18 tells us “in everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  We’ve talked (here, here and here) about difficult circumstances being occasions for God to draw us closer and to make us more like His dear Son.  I can certainly be thankful that He hears me when I cry out to Him in those troubling times, He sustains me in my trials and walks beside me as I face those hard things.  I do not face them alone.

God is good. May my heart be filled and overflowing with thankfulness to Him.

September 27, 2021

Deeper Meaning in Being “Created from Dust”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we have a new author to introduce to you, with the added bonus of a link to an audio podcast reading of today’s study. Beth Madison describers herself as “Christ-follower, wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, friend, learner, soil scientist, author, teacher, professor, and one who holds hard to Jesus and the promises of His Word given to us.” The reference to “soil scientist” is relevant to today’s article, as is the name of her blog, Soul Scientist.

Clicking the header which follows will take you directly to today’s article on her site.

Dusty

Genesis 2:7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature

podcast link: https://anchor.fm/beth-madison/episodes/Dusty-e17aqcr

I learned today that the term, living creature, has much more to it in the original Hebrew than we see today in English. Such thoughts as that the Hebrews didn’t separate the physical, spiritual, mental, or emotional parts of a person into separate categories. All were one working as one in making up that man of dust formed from the ground.

As a Christian and as a soil scientist, that opens up whole new worlds of thought that I’m just beginning to explore…please stay tuned for more to come on this in the future…please like or comment on this post if you’re interested in knowing more. With these thoughts rolling around in my head and heart, I’m now seeing even more beauty, richness, and wonder in the soil under my feet. Sharing even a taste of that beauty with you is the main purpose of this blog…thank you so much for joining me in this journey. Trips are always better taken with friends! So if you know anyone else who might want to travel with us, please invite them along…

And while we’re talking and walking, let’s go down the road a bit with these thoughts…

Since much of our culture in the Western world is disconnected from agronomy, many don’t have a direct link to soil like Adam did. Less than three percent of the U.S. population is actively involved in agriculture while an alarmingly large of amount of our school-aged children (and daresay, adults) have no idea of where their food comes from before it is on their plates. Keeping this in mind, even if we might not consciously realize it, we could be yearning to connect with that from which we came.

Therefore, I propose that we yearn for intimacy with that from which we were created, like Adam could’ve known after Eden. Could that yearning be a call to greater intimacy with creation as a means of worshipping our Creator? Could that yearning be a call to making daily deliberate choices to make space for knowing more of our Creator and His creation? Could that yearning be a call to more intentional creation care in our daily lives as an offering to our Creator?

If so, when we begin to reconnect with the natural world in pursuit of following God in the daily choices of spiritual disciplines emphasizing intimacy with Him and His creation, we can find joy. This joy can then spur us onwards to greater affection for our God, His creation, and the beauty of both. And as we unearth this beauty, we move closer in communion with Christ and embracing our role as caretakers of all of God’s creation, including the world underneath our feet.

Psalm 103:14 For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.

Dear Father,

Thank You that You remember that I am dust. Thank You that You want me to remember this too, especially on days like today when my dust is bone-dry and in need of Your refreshing. Please keep reminding me that You do restore and rebuild from dust that which I thought was lost.

In the strong Name of Jesus,

Amen.

©2021 Beth Madison, Ph.D. – used by permission

 

August 25, 2021

After God’s Image, After God’s Likeness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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In today’s search for new authors to present to readers here, I found an article which drove me to read Genesis 1:26 in every translation that BibleGateway.com had to offer. With only a very few exceptions, all the translations preserved the phrase “in our image, in our likeness” or something very close. I knew I could count on Eugene Peterson for something different, “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature…” but it was about the only one to deviate from the pattern.

The blog we’re introducing today is called In Plain Sight. There isn’t an ‘about’ page, but I believe I’m safe in saying it originates outside the countries from which many of our devotions here are derived. It has been posting material since September, 2013.

The author today is Abayomi Ayo, but there are other contributors, and I encourage you, as I do every day, to click the header which follows and then navigate out to read other articles.

Anthropos

I was thinking earlier today, and the thought of man started to capture my mind. It was kick started by the question; ‘What is Man?’ It’s a question that man has grappled with for centuries. Several well-intentioned men have attempted to answer this question. Some have settled for Scientific answers, others for Philosophical ones, and a few others for Religious answers. The unbothered ones also make up the ranks. Even as I write this, I’m starting to suspect that this a matter I am better off not engaging, but it is well.

No, I do not intend to prosecute the matter of ‘What is Man?’, but in other to deal with some disclosures that the scriptures make about man, I would have to, in broad strokes, deal with with what man is, as that would serve as the constant I’d be feeding off of.

In the Bible, we find in the book of Genesis – the book of the beginnings – a disclosure from the Triune Council with respect to man. And it is this:

[26]And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
[27]So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Genesis 1:26-27

I’m resisting the urge to delve into this verse, but at the very least a few things stand out:

Firstly; that man started out as an initiative of God. He didn’t just happen. He was not a product of an evolving process. On the contrary, he is product of Divine Intention.

Secondly; that the template for the creation of man was going to be according to two dimensions: the Image of God, and the Likeness of God.

Thirdly; that the reason for this particular template was tied to the reason for his creation. Because only that which is created (according to this template) can exercise and fulfill the assignment that man was now going to be saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting.

It was based on the conclusions of verse 26, that verse 27 then opened with: so, God created man…

Thus man was created in the image of God. Then a curve ball was thrown in, for it was then added..male and female, created He them.

Just when we were coming to terms with the creation of one entity – man, we are now seeing a plurality. So did he create one or two? Or two-in-one or something? I do not intend to pursue that strand of thought in this series of discussion.

So in keeping with the driver question, we can start by saying stating that Man is a direct creation of God, who was created after the image and likeness of God.

March 9, 2021

The Masculine Soul

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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I realize that today’s title automatically alienates half of the population! But hear me out: Well over 75% of the Christian literature published these days targets a female readerships, and while I don’t know if that’s the exact number, working close to Christian publishing as I do, I suspect it’s fairly accurate.

Recently at Devotions Daily, there was an excerpt from the newly revised and expanded edition of Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. This is one of the few Christian authors who targets a male readership. To read it in full — we’re only officially allowed 800 words, so we made some cuts — click the header which follows.

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Adventure, with all its requisite danger and wildness, is a deeply spiritual longing written into the soul of man. The masculine heart needs a place where nothing is prefabricated, modular, nonfat, zip lock, franchised, on-line, microwavable. Where there are no deadlines, cell phones, or committee meetings. Where there is room for the soul. Where, finally, the geography around us corresponds to the geography of our heart.

Look at the heroes of the biblical text: Moses does not encounter the living God at the mall. He finds him (or is found by him) somewhere out in the deserts of Sinai, a long way from the comforts of Egypt. The same is true of Jacob, who has his wrestling match with God not on the living room sofa but in a wadi somewhere east of the Jabbok, in Mesopotamia. Where did the great prophet Elijah go to recover his strength? To the wild. As did John the Baptist, and his cousin, Jesus, who is led by the Spirit into the wilderness.

Whatever else those explorers were after, they were also searching for themselves. Deep in a man’s heart are some fundamental questions that simply cannot be answered at the kitchen table.

Who am I? What am I made of? What am I destined for?

It is fear that keeps a man at home where things are neat and orderly and under his control. But the answers to his deepest questions are not to be found on television or in the refrigerator. Out there on the burning desert sands, lost in a trackless waste, Moses received his life’s mission and purpose. He is called out, called up into something much bigger than he ever imagined, much more serious than CEO or “prince of Egypt.” Under foreign stars, in the dead of night, Jacob received a new name, his real name. No longer is he a shrewd business negotiator, but now he is one who wrestles with God. The wilderness trial of Christ is, at its core, a test of His identity. “If you are who you think you are…” If a man is ever to find out who he is and what he’s here for, he has got to take that journey for himself.

He has got to get his heart back…

…Society at large can’t make up its mind about men. Having spent the last thirty years redefining masculinity into something more sensitive, safe, manageable and, well, feminine, it now berates men for not being men. Boys will be boys, they sigh. As though if a man were to truly grow up he would forsake wilderness and wanderlust and settle down, be at home forever in Aunt Polly’s parlor. “Where are all the real men?” is regular fare for talk shows and new books. You asked them to be women, I want to say. The result is a gender confusion never experienced at such a wide level in the history of the world.

How can a man know he is one when his highest aim is minding his manners?

And then, alas, there is the church. Christianity, as it currently exists, has done damage to masculinity. When all is said and done, I think most men in the church believe that God put them on the earth to be a good boy. The problem with men, we are told, is that they don’t know how to keep their promises, be spiritual leaders, talk to their wives, or raise their children. But, if they will try real hard they can reach the lofty summit of becoming… a nice guy. That’s what we hold up as models of Christian maturity: Really Nice Guys. We don’t smoke, drink, or swear; that’s what makes us men.

..Walk into most churches in America, have a look around, and ask yourself this question: What is a Christian man? Don’t listen to what is said, look at what you find there. There is no doubt about it. You’d have to admit a Christian man is… bored. At a recent church retreat I was talking with a guy in his fifties, listening really, about his own journey as a man. “I’ve pretty much tried for the last twenty years to be a good man as the church defines it.” Intrigued, I asked him to say what he thought that was. He paused for a long moment. “Dutiful,” he said. “And separated from his heart.” A perfect description, I thought. Sadly right on the mark.

As Robert Bly laments in Iron John, “Some women want a passive man if they want a man at all; the church wants a tamed man — they are called priests; the university wants a domesticated man—they are called tenure-track people; the corporation wants a… sanitized, hairless, shallow man.” It all comes together as a sort of westward expansion against the masculine soul. And thus the heart of a man is driven into the high country, into remote places, like a wounded animal looking for cover. Women know this, and lament that they have no access to their man’s heart. Men know it, too, but are often unable to explain why their heart is missing. They know their heart is on the run, but they often do not know where to pick up the trail. The church wags its head and wonders why it can’t get more men to sign up for its programs. The answer is simply this: we have not invited a man to know and live from his deep heart.

An Invitation

But God made the masculine heart, set it within every man, and thereby offers him an invitation:

Come, and live out what I meant you to be.

Permit me to bypass the entire nature vs. nurture “is gender really built-in?” debate with one simple observation: men and women are made in the image of God as men or as women.

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created Him; male and female He created them.Genesis 1:27

Male and female. Now, we know God doesn’t have a body, so the uniqueness can’t be physical. Gender simply must be at the level of the soul, in the deep and everlasting places within us. God doesn’t make generic people; He makes something very distinct — a man or a woman. In other words, there is a masculine heart and a feminine heart, which in their own ways reflect or portray to the world God’s heart.

God meant something when He meant man, and if we are to ever find ourselves we must find that. What has He set in the masculine heart? Instead of asking what you think you ought to do to become a better man (or woman, for my female readers), I want to ask, What makes you come alive? What stirs your heart? The journey we face now is into a land foreign to most of us. We must head into country that has no clear trail. This charter for exploration takes us into our own hearts, into our deepest desires.

There are three desires I find written so deeply into my heart I know now I can no longer disregard them without losing my soul. They are core to who and what I am and yearn to be. I gaze into boyhood, I search the pages of Scripture, of literature, I listen carefully to many, many men, and I am convinced these desires are universal, a clue into masculinity itself. They may be misplaced, forgotten, or misdirected, but in the heart of every man is a desperate desire for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.


► More information about the book is available at this link.

Taken from Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul by John Eldredge Copyright © 2021 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

October 29, 2020

The Exceptionally Long Lifespan of Early Biblical People

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Gen.5.3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died.

When Seth had lived 105 years, he became the father of Enosh. After he became the father of Enosh, Seth lived 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Seth lived a total of 912 years, and then he died.

When Enosh had lived 90 years, he became the father of Kenan. 10 After he became the father of Kenan, Enosh lived 815 years and had other sons and daughters. 11 Altogether, Enosh lived a total of 905 years, and then he died.


NIV.Gen.6.3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

 

This week Clarke Dixon’s church had a time of testimony with different people sharing their spiritual journey. Some of these people I knew somewhat superficially, but I was so encouraged to hear more of their story.

This week’s post from Clarke appeared on his blog Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon eight years ago this month. Click the title below to read at source.

Genesis 5 and The Short Life of a Cricket

by Clarke Dixon

Having recently closed the pool I have lost one of my morning rituals; a rescue operation for crickets and beetles. Most bugs that find their way into the pool drown fairly quickly, just like the mice, chipmunk, and a skunk that went for a swim this year. Beetles and crickets seemed to be able to keep their heads above water, so in the mornings I would skim off the dead bugs (and the occasional animal), and rescue the living. The beetles were numerous and began to get annoying, and at one point I considered spray painting them to see if the same ones kept coming back for a swim each night.

The crickets however, were even more annoying. They would cling to the side of the pool so I would try to splash them off making it possible for me to pick them up in the skimmer and bring them to safety. Problem is, they were tenacious and held onto the side for dear life, then when I did finally get them into the water, then into the skimmer, no sooner would I get them out of the water that they would leap right back in. This would then often result in my scolding them for their foolishness, and no doubt my neighbours wondering if I was losing my mind. I was trying to lengthen the crickets’ lives, they seemed intent on shortening them.

This reminds me of Genesis 5 where we find some people with incredibly long lives, some reaching nearly 1,000 years. Some people get to this point in the Bible and wonder if the Bible isn’t on the level of fairy tales after all. People just don’t live that long and we have trouble imagining that they ever did. A perusal of Bible scholars will yield four possibilities as to why we find these incredibly long lives in Genesis:

1) Several generations are ‘hidden’ within each person listed, the ancients not being as set on historical details as we are today.
2) There was a different way of counting time back then.
3) The ages are a literary embellishments which allow the lesson in theology to trump a lesson in history.
4) They really did live that long.

No matter which option is closest to what you think, we can remember that the book of Genesis exists primarily to teach us theology, that is, it tells us what it tells us to help us know God better. So what do we learn from these long lives? That life is short, of course!

In the Bible, and especially in the early parts, we find a whittling down of life. Adam and Eve were to live forever, but that didn’t work out so well. Then we find these very early people not even making it to a thousand years. It is thought that Moses, who it is also thought to have had a hand in recording Genesis in some way,  wrote these lines:

You turn men back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.”  For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.  You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning– though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered. (Psalm 90:3-6 NIV)

We think of these people as living extraordinarily long lives. But from the perspective of the eternal life God wanted to give them,  they didn’t live long at all. It is interesting that in other records from Ancient Near East, there are “kings lists” which record the reign of ten kings, some of whom were said to have reigned for over 60,000 years. If the people who were alive when Genesis was committed to writing were aware of such things in nearby cultures, the Biblical account would have had the affect of reminding them of how short life really was.

Then beyond Genesis 5, we find the average lifespan being whittled down until we get to Joseph who lived for 110 years, as we are told in the final verse of Genesis. Beyond that we get to the time of Moses, again an important time in the bringing forth of the book of Genesis, and the declaration that  “The length of our days is seventy years– or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” Psalm 90:10

The point of the whittling down of lifespans, from Eve and Adam, through the early generations, down through the rest of Genesis and into the days of Moses, is clear. We are like crickets that refuse to be saved. God’s desire has always been to bless us with life, but we have turned away from His blessings and have chosen death instead. People still do this today. Just like we have a moving away from  the garden of Eden, first with Adam and Eve in chapter 3, then even further with Cain in chapter 4, in Genesis we have a moving away from the blessing of life and the hastening of death, as chapter 5 helps make clear. Besides the ages these early generations, the repetition of their deaths sounds an ominous reminder of the curse of sin. And for the Christian, it serves as a reminder of the depth of God’s grace and His desire to bless us with life:

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. . . “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Corinthians 15:22,55-57 NIV)

September 27, 2020

How God Uses the Problem(s) You’re Facing Today

Today again, we’re introducing a new (to us) writer, K.K. Hodge, who describes herself as “a family nurse practitioner, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, Sunday School teacher, church treasurer, and crazy critter farmer.” She’s also the author of three books, but only began blogging daily devotions at Inspirations from the Funny Farm after Coronavirus hit. Click the link below to read today’s at source. You might also enjoy the one she posted this morning.

Give me a word, Lord: PICTURE THIS

Isaiah 41:13 For I hold you by your right hand—I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, “Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.”

Isaiah 46:4 I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.

Isaiah 41:10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

We’ve been reading in the book of Isaiah the last few nights as we continue our reading through the Bible in a year plan. There are some very good words of wisdom in this book and many great reassurances. I praise God for His Word. I am so thankful that He provided His Holy Word to give us guidance, strength, and peace. We have God that is bigger than all our troubles and problems, and His Word reveals that to us over and over again.

We all have problems. We may not admit them, but if we are living and breathing, we probably have some sort of problem or concern. The problem with our problems is that we try work them out on our own. I’m a very visual person. I love to take pictures. I take pictures of anything and everything, and when I’m working things out in my mind, I do so with pictures or images. Sometimes we have to picture things in order to get a clear image of the situation at hand.

When we picture all our problems in our mind, we see all the different problems in the picture. We may see financial problems, relationship issues, concerns about our children, health troubles, job stressors, and the list goes on. We see all of these troubles in the picture, and then we see ourselves sitting in the middle of the picture surrounded by all of these problems. The problem with this is that we are seeing it all wrong! When we look at a picture of all those problems, we shouldn’t see ourselves sitting in the midst of the trouble, but rather we should see GOD in the picture with our problems. We have to take ourselves out everything, and we need to give everything to God.

Some might say, if God is handling all of my problems, why do I have so many? Well, my friend, sometimes we bring those problems on ourselves. We aren’t perfect. We goof up every now and then even when we are trying to live a good and righteous life. God can and will handle any and all problems that we are enduring, but we have to trust Him through the process. Psalm 119:71-72 tells us, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees. Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver.” What? Did he say that suffering is good for me? Yea, buddy! When we go through the struggles in life, we learn from the difficulties and we learn to lean on our Lord and Savior. We are going to have problems in this life. Life is a problem solving adventure. WE may not choose the problem, but we get to choose how the problem affects us. The problem will either develop us or defeat us. We get to make the choice.

No matter what type of difficulty you are going through, you can rest assured that God will use the problem for your benefit. Sometimes He uses the situation to direct you. Maybe He needs to get you to start moving in a certain direction, and He uses a problem to ignite you and get you going. Maybe, just maybe, God has placed something on your heart that He wants you to do, but you won’t budge. Maybe He uses a problem to get you moving in the direction in which He desires for you to go.

Sometimes He uses a problem to correct you. Maybe you are going down a path of destruction, and God uses a problem to teach you a lesson. Ouch! We don’t like the sounds of that one, but there is truth there. Just as a parent disciplines a child who is doing wrong, God is going to discipline His kids. He’s going to get our attention, and a lesson will be learned. Just as we love our children too much to allow them to do things that will harm them, God loves us too much to ignore us when we are doing wrong.

Maybe God is using the problem to inspect you. Did you ever think of that? I’ve read this little saying on social media. “You are holding a cup of hot coffee, and someone bumps you and causes the hot coffee to spill everywhere. Why did you spill the coffee? Because there was coffee in the cup. Had there been tea in the cup, you would have spilled tea. The point is whatever is in the cup will be spilled out. Therefore, when life comes along and shakes you, whatever is inside of you will spill out.” So…what spills out when you are struggling through a difficult situation? Do people around you see fear, anger, bitterness, or do they see love and grace as the marks of a true child of God? What does God see when He inspects you?

Maybe God is using your problem to protect you. Perhaps He has closed the door on a job, a new place to live, or a dream that you had, and it seems like the end of the world. We have to remember that God knows what is coming down the road, and sometimes He closes doors so that other doors can be opened. We can’t see as God sees. He is all knowing, and He knows just what we need when we need it. He may remove a person, a thing, or even a job from our lives in order to provide needed protection.

Our problems weigh us down. We try to carry the burden all alone. Oh, if we could only see the big picture. All those problems that we picture are not too big for God. We may or may not have invited the problem in, but regardless, God is going to use the situation for our good and His glory every time. Stop picturing yourself surrounded by all of the problems of the day. Begin picturing our perfect Lord and Savior…sitting right there in the middle of it all…working it all out. He’s working on each one of us. He’s directing us, correcting us, inspecting us, and protecting us, and ultimately, y’all, He is perfecting us. Just picture it!

 

September 25, 2020

From Grazing in a Field to Feasting at a Table

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The Lord is my shepherd…
…You prepare a table before me…
Psalm 23

Sometimes the search for new authors to introduce here takes me to some rather unusual places. Rabbi Pesach Wolicki serves as Associate Director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding & Cooperation in Jerusalem www.CJCUC.com. In the title for the post from which today’s quote is drawn, he asks the question, Since When do Sheep Sit at a Table?

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies

This is the standard translation of Psalm 23 verse 5. A glance at one of the numerous Bible translation websites that provides lists of all the many translations shows very little difference from this exact version. However, a close and careful reading of the Hebrew original of this verse reveals that not only is this standard translation imprecise; but the deeper meaning of the verse is lost in these translations.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

The Hebrew word NEGED does, in fact, usually mean “in the presence of” it also means “opposite” or “against”. In other words, NEGED often implies a confrontational stance. The fact that this nuance is what is intended in our verse is clear from the phrase before it:

You prepare a table before me

The word for before me – LEFANAI – also means “in front of” – but not ever in a confrontational way. If our verse meant that the Lord provides a table before me, which is also in front of my enemies, the same word should have been used for both. The choice to change from one word to another tells us that the implication and connotation of the two words is different.

Complicated? Let me sum this up and make things simple.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; can easily be understood as a kind of peace offering. A table is set before me and my enemies for us to sit together and peacefully resolve our differences. But the change from LEFANAI – before me – to NEGED – opposite / in front of tells us what is really going on. To understand further we must understand what preparing a table means in Scripture.

From there he continues looking at the table imagery — I encourage you to read the full article — and also the phrase which follows, about anointing with oil. Then he returns to the earlier topic.

…I’d like to draw our attention to a remarkable transition that took place in our Psalm. And we may not have noticed.

Remember the beginning of the psalm when the Lord was described as a shepherd? Well, if the Lord is a shepherd, then we are sheep. In fact, in verse 2 the psalmist refers to himself grazing in green pastures. This is not exactly something most humans would find too appetizing. The Hebrew word in verse 2 for “He lays me down in green pastures” YARBITZEINI is actually a word that refers throughout Scripture only to animals laying down. (e.g. Genesis 49:9,14; Exodus 23:5)

In other words, in the opening verses of Psalm 23 we are sheep and the Lord is a shepherd.

And then here in verse 5 we are sitting at a table. We are drinking from a cup. What happened to the animal imagery? Since when do sheep sit at tables and drink from cups?

But it is this transition that teaches us deeper lesson of Psalm 23.

At times we are as fully dependent and as clueless as sheep. This is not a very mature relationship with the Lord. We are sheep. We wander. We seek comfort. Our goals are not much beyond food and a comfortable place to lay down or drink. Sheep are not beasts of burden. They do not serve the shepherd or bear any of the burdens of his work. They are selfish beings who are being cared for. The Lord’s relationship to us is focused on keeping us safe and well fed.

But this is not the ideal relationship to God. There is a higher, more meaningful relationship to Him. We are no longer sheep. We are human beings created in His image. We are aware. We battle our enemies. We defeat them with the help of the strength and confidence that God provides for us. He does not do all the work. We are his anointed agents to defeat evil.

 

June 5, 2020

When Following Christ, Intellectual Depth is not Spiritual Depth

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 often crave spiritual depth. They should have recent to expect to receive just that.

  • A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard.
  • A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment.
  • An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.”
  • An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths.
  • A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. And often, I must confess, I default to writers and articles which stimulate the spiritual intellect.

But talk to someone who has walked for decades with God, and you’ll see something else at work. Yes, there is a love for his word, the scriptures. But there is also, simply put, a love for Him.

Again, Spiritual depth isn’t depth of understanding, or depth of communicating truths, rather, it’s about depth of relationship with God; or depth of intimacy with Jesus. You see a person and say, “That person really knows God.” Or conversely, “That person is truly known of God.” Or better, “That person really loves God.”

And what happens in the mind, manifests itself in the life, and can be observed in one’s character. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. Or a situation where you’ve never sought forgiveness, or forgiven the other. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. Then this becomes a natural lifestyle. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen people spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post about them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never properly tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of their personal shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

Conclusion:

We need to live our Christian lives not out of deep reasoning, or deep understanding of the things of God; rather, we need to live out of a deep conviction that comes from walking closely with God.

May 9, 2020

Did Jesus’ First Miracle Echo God’s First Miracle?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Gen 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

John 2:10 “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.”

Today’s thoughts are adapted from a 2008 newsletter I sent out; a newsletter which became the inspiration for Thinking Out Loud, which begat Christianity 201…

One of the most difficult aspects of the various debates in creationism has to do with the young/earth old earth issue. Some believe that God took his time to make the earth, that the “days” of Genesis 1 are really “ages” and that’s why we can have compatibility between the idea of a creator God and the scientists who say the earth is millions of years old.

Using this reasoning, “theistic evolution” is possible; the more recent blending of an evolutionary creation view with the concept of a God who was overseeing it all; the idea that God used evolution. But today we’ll stick to a simple young/old dichotomy.

If we arrive at the garden of Eden after that first creation week — let’s pretend we arrive on day ten — we see a tree and the tree is mature. It looks like it might be at least 20 years old. (Though counting the rings would be interesting!) Underneath the tree is a rock. The rock appears to be 20,000 years old. Adam himself becomes more problematic. He’s clearly a man, not an infant. Today, Jewish boys become a man at 13; in North America we use 18, though it once was 21; Jesus began his ministry at 30. Any one of those ages denotes the idea of “man” and not “boy.” From the earliest times, our earth seems to have either aged considerably or has some age built into it.

And really, what we see on day ten works with either a young earth or old earth perspective. One person sees the tree and the rock and says, “These items are 20 years and 20,000 years old respectively.” Another says, “This tree and that rock are only a week old.” But the tree is not a sapling, it’s taller than the man, so there would need to be some allowance for apparent age

…I started thinking about Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine. Wine needs fermentation and fermentation takes time. About a year ago, out of curiosity, we drove to one of those places that lets you make up a batch of wine to enjoy or give away to your friends. A batch of homemade brew would need at least six months as I remember it; and further aging only improves the quality, and they did say at the time that the host of the wedding had “saved the best wine until last.” Did Jesus press a “pause” button, and everyone froze in place for a year while the batch brewed, or did he simply do a creative miracle in an instant?

The former suggestion is something I just made up; I’ve never heard it suggested. If you believe in this miracle at all; it’s the latter you believe in; that the ceremonial washing water was water one moment and wine the next. If that’s the case, it’s interesting that Jesus’ first recorded creative act in the New Testament; and God’s first recorded creative act in the Old Testament should involve things that have apparent age; things that seem to have been created outside the constraints of time as we know it.

And if the earth is as young as some believe, then we are still witnessing the miracle of something created with apparent age, for each time the light of a star is seen at night, we know that scientifically, the light of stars that Adam, and Abraham, and Moses saw left those distant suns thousands of years before the earth was created. Which I know doesn’t make sense to many people.

The thing is, you can have a theistic view of creation and say that God did it, but it in terms of our chronological sense, it took decades and millennia to do so. That would make you an old earth creationist.

But you can’t say that Jesus took six months waiting for the wine to ferment.

Next time you’re wrestling with this issue, either personally or in discussion or with someone else, step outside Genesis for a minute and consider the water-into-wine miracle of the New Testament. Fermentation takes time. The wine definitely had an apparent age. Could this principle extend back into Genesis?

There’s definitely some similarities between what Jesus did at the start of his ministry and God did at the start of human history.


Much of the creation aspect of this depends on linear time being the same that first week as it is now. But there are other ways of seeing this. For example, check out this post from April, 2018: When Did Time Begin? (Which in turn is based on a 2012 post, Why Didn’t He Call the Light, “Light?”)

For more on the miracle at Canada, check out this post from September, 2019, Water to Wine: Miracle and Symbol.

April 23, 2020

Grumpy Prayers: Making Space for Sorrow

by Clarke Dixon

There is an old Sunday school song I grew up with. There are different versions, but this is the one I learned:

I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!
I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!
Since Jesus Christ came in,
And cleansed my heart from sin,
I’m inside, outside, upside, downside – happy all the time!

This wee song was a favourite, and was often requested. I hated it. At a young age I knew Jesus, and I understood that God loved me. But I also knew I was not happy all the time. My faith has been nurtured over the years and I know God’s love better now than ever. But I’m still not happy all the time!

COVID-19 has given rise to great sorrow around the world. So many have been infected. Everyone has been affected. Even without a pandemic, many have profound sorrow in their lives, even Christians. Are we failing as Christians if we are not happy all the time?

Is there a better song that the one we began with? One which rings true to our experience? Let us remind ourselves that the Psalms are actually songs, that the Book of Psalms is a hymnbook. Let us take an example of what God’s people have sung for centuries:

I cry out to God; yes, I shout.
Oh, that God would listen to me!
When I was in deep trouble,
I searched for the Lord.
All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,
but my soul was not comforted.
I think of God, and I moan,
overwhelmed with longing for his help.

Psalm 77:1-3 NLT

“I think of God, and I moan.” Not too many Christian lyricists are coming up with lyrics like that! The Psalmist goes on;

You don’t let me sleep.
I am too distressed even to pray!
I think of the good old days,
long since ended,
when my nights were filled with joyful songs.
I search my soul and ponder the difference now.
Has the Lord rejected me forever?
Will he never again be kind to me?
Is his unfailing love gone forever?
Have his promises permanently failed?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he slammed the door on his compassion?
And I said, “This is my fate;
the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

Psalm 77:5-10 NLT

There are days where this song from the Bible rings more true for me than the Sunday school song we started with. Perhaps it does for you also.

Here is the point. If the hymn book within the Bible makes space for the expression of sorrow and frustration, we can make space for it in our own lives, in our our walk and expression of faith. Honesty before God is best. Honesty is part of genuine relationship. It would be horrible if my wife and my children only said to me what they thought I wanted to hear, in the way they thought I wanted to hear it, when they thought I wanted to hear it. What kind of relationship would that be? It would be very mechanical. Yet for many people, that is precisely what their prayers look like. Honesty in relationships is best. Honesty before God is best. If we are full of sorrow, let us pray sorrowful prayers. Perhaps Psalms like Psalm 77 can help us find the words.

There is a change tone as the song goes on:

But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
They are constantly in my thoughts.
I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.
O God, your ways are holy.
Is there any god as mighty as you?
You are the God of great wonders!
You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.
By your strong arm, you redeemed your people, . . .
The earth trembled and shook.
Your road led through the sea,
your pathway through the mighty waters—
a pathway no one knew was there!
You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep,
with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.

Psalm 77:11-14,18-20 NLT

Here the Psalmist looks back and remembers what God had done for the people at the exodus, how God led his people to safety like a good shepherd. That would have been a scary time also, with an Egyptian army on one side, and the Red Sea on the other. The Psalmist is thinking here of a time when God made a way, where there seemed to be no way. God helped people who were full of fear, sorrow, and frustration.

We can now remember an even greater miracle. We can think of God’s love expressed in Jesus, his birth, life, death, and resurrection. We can think of God’s love expressed through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Christ God has performed an even greater rescue than done at the Red Sea. He has rescued us from the consequence, impact and power of sin.

We are not told if the Psalmist’s sorrow eased upon reflecting on God’s power and goodness. But his sorrow was reframed. In reflecting on God’s goodness expressed in Christ, we may not become happy, but our sorrows and frustrations will be reframed. Our sorrows are one part of a much bigger, and brighter picture, a much larger, and happier, story.

In reflecting on God’s goodness expressed in Christ, we may not become happy, but our sorrows and frustrations will be reframed. Our sorrows are one part of a much bigger, and brighter picture, a much larger, and happier, story.

A doctor recently called my Dad to tell us that my Mum, who lives in a nursing home, will not be taken to the hospital if she is infected with COVID-19. That makes me sad. However, with regard to my Mum I’m already sad as she is slowly being taken from us by Alzheimer’s disease. There is no sense hiding my feelings from God. I don’t need to. He understands. He is a good and heavenly Father. He came to us in Jesus who of course was no stranger to suffering. We are not allowed to visit my Mum, but this week one of the PSW’s from the nursing home sent us a video of my Mum playing the piano. It just happened to be my favourite hymn! We began with my least favourite song, let’s finish with my favourite:

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate
And has shed His own blood for my soul

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul!

“It is Well with My Soul” written by Horatio Spafford

I’m not always happy. Sometimes my prayers are grumpy. But it is well with my soul. Is it well with yours?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Canada who appears here most Thursdays. His recently redesigned blog is Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can watch the full worship expression, or the reflection alone. For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here

March 16, 2020

Plagues Happened at the Beginning of the Story and Will at the End

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:32 pm
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We tend to consign the word plague to certain Old Testament stories. Of course we also tend to think that with our modern health care, such things could never happen in current times. At least we think that until we find ourselves in the middle of one.

From Bible Study Tools:

The term “plague” is found roughly 100 times in the Bible, primarily in the Old Testament. The most commonly known biblical plagues occurred in Egypt during the time of Moses. Plagues are also mentioned in Revelation of the New Testament when describing the end of days on Earth. Scripture reveals that God sent plagues as a consequence of disobedience and idolatry. Exodus 32:35 gives an example of this, saying “So the Lord plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made.”

The passage clearly indicates that God sent the plague. I think this goes beyond saying God permitted the plague to happen. We say that most times today — and, I believe, correctly — that things happen because we live in a fallen world, but clearly God Himself, speaking through the prophets, takes a proactive role and reveals Himself as the author of the plagues, as is declared in Amos 4:10.

“I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD.

At the website Knowing Jesus, we’re given a number of verses on this subject, and this one, from Jeremiah 14:12 shows God’s deliberate action and provides us with a number of Biblical synonyms to plague:

“When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.”

This is of course where so many get the idea of the violent, angry, Old Testament God; the very picture which seems so much at odds to the loving, compassionate, New Testament version of God which the modern church is trying so hard to promote!

But God is the same: yesterday, today and forever, right? We have to be careful of going too far down the road where God has two different masks that he wears. Yes, we live in what some call The Age of Grace, and that grace has been poured out to us through Jesus. But God judges sin as part of his essential character.

So…in the few New Testament references we have to plague, are they part of the fallen world model, or are they going to be sent directly by God as a form of judgement? Mark 13:8 and its parallel passage in Luke 5:11 state respectively,

“For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

“…and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.”

How did you answer that? How do we answer if the present virus outbreak is judgement or natural consequence of the fallen world we live in?

I am sure that, as diverse as the Body of Christ is, there are people with answers on both sides for that question…

One other thought

Before we leave today, it occurred to me about 30 minutes before posting this that people in the broader demographic are looking to see how we, as Christians, are responding to this crisis. Our neighbors. Our co-workers. Our extended family. Our children. Our unsaved spouses. Our fellow-students.

Is our faith strong enough to hold in these times? I ask myself that question, too; because we don’t truly know until we’re in the time of testing how we will fare.


If you’re joining us today for the first time

We’ve been looking at this theme for the past several devotions:

March 1, 2020

Courage to Face Fear

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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A year ago, I introduced you to Rev. Tonia Slimm’s blog Growing with God nothing that, “Not to many writers use The Voice Bible as their base text.” Actually, in today’s selection, she uses a variety of the more modern translations, which is a sentiment I share. She’s working her way through Proverbs 30, and I encourage you click through and read other devotionals in the series. To start, click the header below to read this on her site.

Take Courage – Proverbs 30:29-31

Proverbs 30:29-31 (NIV)
“There are three things that are stately in their stride, four that move with stately bearing: a lion, mighty among beasts, who retreats before nothing; a strutting rooster, a he-goat, and a king secure against revolt.

(MSG)
There are three solemn dignitaries, four that are impressive in their bearing—a lion, king of the beasts, deferring to none; a rooster, proud and strutting; a billy goat; a head of state in stately procession.

(AMP)
“There are three things which are stately in step, even four which are stately in their stride: the lion, which is mighty among beasts and does not turn back before any; the strutting rooster, the male goat also, and the king when his army is with him.” 


“So don’t be afraid. I am here, with you; don’t be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, help you. I am here with My right hand to make right and to hold you up.” ~GOD (Isaiah 41:10 VOICE)

We now find Agur listing four things that he feels are quite stately and majestic. He points out the lion, king of the beasts, the rooster, king of the farmyard, the male goat, in that time used to lead and guide sheep, and the king, leader of country and great armies.

“As always, the Bible uses many natural illustrations so that we can gain spiritual truths. What causes an animal like the lion to walk in such a stately step? He is known as one of the strongest beasts, but it is not just his strength that causes him to stride confidently. It is his lack of fear. He is known as “King of the Beasts” and his strength and prowess give him this advantage; however, his confidence comes because he is not afraid of any other animal and does not turn away for any of them. The spiritual truth that we can glean from this observation is that we also can be strong and unafraid if we walk with God and claim His strength and His confidence.” ~Ronald Nordman

“There are three creatures with majesty in their stride, no, make it four that move with grace: the lion, which is the strongest of the animals, does not back down from any other creature; the strutting rooster, the male goat, and a king as he goes out with his army.” -(VOICE)

We may wonder what the connection is between these four entities; what makes them stately and set apart? Each of these entities is courageous, tenacious, forceful and commands respect. Agur saw wisdom in their examples.

“There are three stately monarchs in the earth—no, four: the lion, king of the animals. He won’t turn aside for anyone. The peacock. The male goat. A king as he leads his army.” -(TLB)

What is it that Agur is trying to teach us in this passage? What bit of wisdom is there for us to learn?

It is this, that just as the lion, the rooster, the goat and the king; we too can have courage and confidence through the Lord. It is God Almighty that will help us to be strong and of good courage. Is that not what God instructed Joshua to do?

“This is My command: be strong and courageous. Never be afraid or discouraged because I am your God, the Eternal One, and I will remain with you wherever you go.” -Joshua 1:9 (VOICE)

David knew what fear was and he knew who to turn to when he was feeling it too. In his time of panic and fear, David was fleeing from Saul, he wrote these words:

“Show mercy to me, O God, because people are crushing me—grinding me down like dirt underfoot—all day long. No matter what I do, I can’t get myself out from under them. My enemies are crushing me, yes all day long, O Highest of High, for many come proud and raise their hands against me.When struck by fear, I let go, depending securely upon You alone. In God—whose word I praise—in God I place my trust. I shall not let fear come in, for what can measly men do to me?

All day long they warp my words; all their thoughts against me are mangled by evil. They conspire, then lurk about. They eye my every move, waiting to steal my very life. Because they are wicked through and through, drag them out. In Your just anger, O God, cast them down! You have taken note of my journey through life, caught each of my tears in Your bottle. But God, are they not also blots on Your book? Then my enemies shall turn back and scatter on the day I call out to You. This I know for certain: God is on my side. In God whose word I praise and in the Eternal whose word I praise—In God I have placed my trust. I shall not let fear come in, for what can measly men do to me? I am bound by Your promise, O God. My life is my offering of thanksgiving to You, for You have saved my soul from the darkness of death, steadied my feet from stumbling so I might continue to walk before God, embraced in the light of the living.” -Psalm 5 (VOICE)

Remember, this strength and courage does not come through our own abilities, but through the Lord. Paul told the Ephesians:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, draw your strength and might from God.” -Ephesians 6:10 (VOICE)

Paul then goes on to instruct them about what their job was in this mutual relationship with God. Yes, God was going to be their strength and might, but they had something to do as well. Paul told them:

“Put on the full armor of God to protect yourselves from the devil and his evil schemes. We’re not waging war against enemies of flesh and blood alone. No, this fight is against tyrants, against authorities, against supernatural powers and demon princes that slither in the darkness of this world, and against wicked spiritual armies that lurk about in heavenly places.” -Ephesians 6:11-12 (VOICE)

My friend, learn from the lion, rooster, goat and king; do not let fear rob you of what God wants to do through you. Take courage! Do not be afraid! God will be your strength. He will use you for His glory, beyond your wildest dreams, if you will allow Him to.

“Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.” ~Moses (Deuteronomy 31:6 MSG)

My Prayer:
Almighty God, I need your strength to help me; especially in those times when I am afraid. Please, give me courage to face those challenges that come my way. Remind me that you are always with me and I have nothing to fear. Please bring to my mind your promises; so that I may grab hold of them. When I hear those whispers in my ear from the Enemy of my soul help me to speak forth a rebuke and speak your words of TRUTH. He is a liar and I do not want to fall into his traps. Fill me, Lord, with your wisdom and help me to walk in your ways. Thank you, Lord.

February 24, 2020

Letting People See Heaven Mirrored In Earth

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We are always scanning the internet looking for new sources of devotional material we can highlight and direct you towards. The blog A Simple Christian‘s author goes by ‘justified and sinner’ and is the pastor of a Lutheran Church in California and has been writing online since 2009. As always, click the header below to read this at source.

Is there anything on earth…like heaven?

What God has planned for people who love him is more than eyes have seen or ears have heard. It has never even entered our minds!”  1 Cor. 2:9 CEV

When Gideon looked, the angel was gone. Gideon realized that he had seen one of the LORD’s angels. “Oh!” he moaned. “Now I’m going to die.”  “Calm down!” the LORD told Gideon. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re not going to die.” Gideon built an altar for worshiping the LORD and called it “The LORD Calms Our Fears.”  Judges 6:21-24 CEV


Even the atheistic philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “There comes a time when you say even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?’ ” How can we understand anything of Heaven if there is nothing at all on earth to compare it to, nothing heavenly, nothing that never gets boring? Thus either Heaven is boring, or something on earth is not boring, or nothing on earth is like Heaven.

There are two parts to the answer: first, that everything on earth except agape is meant to be boring; and second, that agape is not.

– Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 88.


So let us take up this problem: genuine art is “esoteric in the best sense”, say Rahner and Vorgrimler; liturgy is simple; it must be possible for everyone, particularly the simple, to participate. Can liturgy accommodate real church music? Does it in fact demand it, or does it exclude it? In looking for an answer to these questions, we will not find much help in our theological inheritance. It seems that relations between theology and church music have always been somewhat cool.

– Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 100.


As I read Kreeft’s words in scripture today, I was amazed by their accuracy. We don’t understand heaven, we can’t conceive of it, even as the Apostle Paul says in the first quote.

I remember a professor quoting one of the early revivalists who said if he could give people a minute of hell, he would never have to convince them to repent.  My sarcastic comment was, “but what if we could give them a glance of heaven?”

Sarcastically said then, but I’ve thought of the wisdom of it – how can we give people a taste of heaven?  How can we help them know the joys of which we should sing?  That which is “beyond” theology, that which defies our explanation?

How can we show them the holiness, the glory, the pure love that we will experience in heaven? How can we help them experience love beyond love, as radical as the day is from the darkest, stormiest night?

The church’s liturgy aims to do so, revealing the love of God as we celebrate our forgiveness, the Lord dwelling among us, the actions He takes to bless and transform us into His holy people, and the feast of the broken bread and the wine, the Body and Blood of Jesus. The feast that celebrates the love, the feast that opens, for a few moments, a view for our souls of heaven.

I love the story of Gideon, especially the verses above. Here he is, somehow missing the miracles the Angel did, then realizing afterward the significance of being in the presence of a holy messenger.  He starts to freak out, the anxiety builds as he realizes his own sin and inadequacy. His glimpse of something holy, someone from heaven, causes enormous fear.

Then the Lord God tells him to chill.

Wait – where was he?

God does speak to us still, just as He did to Gideon.  One of the ways that should happen is in our church’s gathering.  Even as we receive the message we will struggle with, that kills of our sinful self, and raises us to life with the crucified Christ.  Even as we struggle with that, the Lord comes to us in His feast and tells us, don’t fear, I am with you…

That is why we have a dilemma about the art of leading liturgy and the art of leading songs and hymns that accompany it. The use of the term “art” makes us think it is a showcase for the best of our talents. It isn’t!

What the art is, is not found in the musician’s talent, or the pastor, in the charisma. It is found in the communion, the communication of revealing to people they dwell in the presence of God, and helping them to hear His voice. Therein is the art, there is our target, the goal we strive for, there is our art.

There is our joy as well, for the connection is undeniable, and beautiful beyond words, as people come to know they are loved… as they feast with the Lord, knowing the joy that only comes from knowing you are loved.

August 1, 2019

Take the Initiative, or Leave it To God?

Travel schedule forced me to have to interrupt this four part series on the Book of Ruth of which this is part three. To catch up, or read everything in continuity, visit Clarke’s blog at this link.

by Clarke Dixon

Do we trust God, or do we work things out for ourselves? Do we wait on God, or take the initiative? Do we leave everything in God’s hands, or do we take things into our own hands? Do we wait for a sign, or go ahead with a decision? The Book of Ruth gets at the heart of these questions. Right in the middle of the book Naomi takes a bold step:

 Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Ruth 3:1 (NRSV emphasis added)

Naomi then puts a plan into action which sees her daughter-in-law Ruth request marriage to Boaz, their “guardian-redeemer.”

We are not told if Naomi spent time in prayer in formulating this plan. The Book of Ruth does not tell us about Naomi’s prayers, her devotional times, or if she ever sought counsel from godly people, or God himself for that matter! It simply tells us that she took the initiative to solve a problem. She saw an opportunity to make a difference. She saw a practical solution to a practical problem.

While God is very involved in our lives, we have the opportunity to work out practical solutions to practical problems. God gives us the opportunity to grow in knowledge, skill, and wisdom. Finding solutions to problems is a thrill we get to share in. Some have the opportunity to share in finding a cure, a vaccine, a better way to help people, a more efficient car, or a faster motorcycle. Human ingenuity is something to celebrate. Being created in the image of God, we reflect the creativity of God.

Your ingenuity is something to be celebrated, and developed. God does not desire for us to be like infants forever, but to learn to walk on our own two feet. No parent wants their child to never take a first step. We celebrate the growth and development of children. However, no parent wants to come home to find their child has completely disassembled the car. There is a time to celebrate initiative, and there is a time to defer to God who knows best!

While Naomi could take the initiative, the closing verse of the Book of Ruth reminds us that God is sovereign. Only God could establish David’s reign. Only God could make and keep the promises that would lead to Jesus and salvation. Naomi’s initiative had potential impact on the DNA of Jesus, but only God could do what he did through Jesus. There are spiritual problems for which there are only God solutions.

Only God can bring salvation. There is no initiative you can take to reconcile yourself to God. No amount of effort, work, or deep thinking, can reconcile you to God. It is a gift from God. Our salvation is his initiative, his effort, his work on the cross. When it comes to salvation, we celebrate God’s initiative, not ours.

But when it came to finding security for Ruth, Naomi takes some credit. In fact, if Naomi had not taken the initiative, perhaps things may have not turned out as well. We don’t know, but perhaps Naomi might still be bitter by the end of chapter 4, just as we found her at the end of chapter 1. Instead, the Book of Ruth ends with joy and hope. This possibility is instructive. It is possible that looking for purely spiritual solutions to practical problems can lead to spiritual problems.

Many years ago I worked with some people in a Bible study specifically for those with mental illness. A well meaning church in town was willing to pick such folk up for programming they offered at their church. That was all very good, however, some were told that if they could find the sin that led to mental illness and repented of it, they would be healed from their mental illness. If anything, many of these people were much closer to Jesus than the “sound-minded” Christians in the churches! Perhaps some mental illness can be chalked up to spiritual problems, but much mental illness comes from practical problems, for which doctors continue to work on practical solutions. While we pray for miracle cures we also pray for those who work toward practical helps.

There is something else we can notice about Naomi’s initiative. She was keeping in step with God. Naomi saw an opportunity provided by the guardian-redeemer laws that God set up for His people of that time and place. We don’t live by those laws today as Christians, but we do live by the Spirit. We are to keep in step with God’s Spirit. Our initiatives and practical solutions should, and can, be in step with God. To give an example, our neighbour might find a practical solution to the problem of our barking dog. A well aimed bullet would do it. But that is not a good solution. There are better solutions that would keep in step with God!

So do we trust in God, or take initiative? Naomi devises a plan and advises Ruth to take a practical step, a step which lead to a positive outcome. However, in reading the whole book of Ruth, we understand that God is working everything out for good from beginning to end. It is not either/or, but both/and. We take initiative where it makes sense to do so, keeping in step with God, while always trusting in God. God, in his wisdom and power is able to accomplish his purposes despite, and often even through, our initiative. Perhaps this helps us take the initiative to pray. We don’t how our prayers could impact a sovereign God, but we have a wonderful opportunity to participate with God’s activity through our decisions in prayer. Mysterious, yet wonderful!

 

 

June 3, 2019

Sinning Against Another, Sinning Against Yourself, Sinning Against God

NLT Ps. 51:3 For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.

In the title of today’s article, the first two categories don’t exist. It’s a topic we’ve covered here several times, but all sin is sin against God. It’s his holy standards that we miss, not those of our neighbor or ourselves.

It’s easy to believe your own press, or as some would say today, believe the picture you paint on Facebook. You can buy into the image that people have of you. You can decide that nine-out-of-ten is good enough. You can rationalize that the ministry is still happening, people are still getting saved, money is still being raised, the teaching is still being distributed. You don’t admit weakness, that would be letting people down.

I can only imagine what it’s like when you’re the king, especially when your nation or state is somewhat theocratic in nature. Like King David.

Psalm 51 is his particular prayer of confession. In the KJV the words are iconic,

…my sin is ever before me.

David admits he can’t run and he can’t hide from the thing he has done, or the person he has become. It’s what he sees when looks in the mirror. He owns up to it. I believe that whatever sin we give into, no matter how private, no matter how secret; it will manifest itself at some point in some more open way. Bathsheba presented a tremendous opportunity — her husband was away at the time — but it wasn’t the first time David had looked at a woman. Or perhaps not even the first time David had hatched a scheme.

You don’t become an adulterer overnight. It happens when you have failed to pre-book your choices. It happens when you’ve never recognized your susceptibility. It happens when pride gives you spiritual over-confidence.

Then, again using the KJV, he says,

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned

Jerry Bridges says, “We never see sin aright unless we see it as against God.”

  • When you maligned your co-worker, you sinned not against them, but against God
  • When you cheated on that test, you sinned not against the school or the teacher, but against God
  • When you falsified that document, you sinned not against the organization or the government, but against God
  • When you flirted with the girl in the grocery store, you sinned not against them or against your wife, but against God

You get the pattern.

Some of the resolutions people made at the start of the year are long broken. If they carried with them moral or spiritual significance, it isn’t just a personal letdown, you don’t just fail yourself, but rather it’s sin against God.

A key verse on this topic is,

I Sam. 2:25a If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?”

The preceding verses provide the context; here’s how The Message expresses this:

22-25 By this time Eli was very old. He kept getting reports on how his sons were ripping off the people and sleeping with the women who helped out at the sanctuary. Eli took them to task: “What’s going on here? Why are you doing these things? I hear story after story of your corrupt and evil carrying on. Oh, my sons, this is not right! These are terrible reports I’m getting, stories spreading right and left among God’s people! If you sin against another person, there’s help—God’s help. But if you sin against God, who is around to help?”

Perhaps you find the meaning of this rather self-evident. Several of the study Bibles and commentaries I consulted seem to gloss over it without adding detail. The Reformation Study Bible says,

Eli’s point is that while there may be some mediation of disputes between people, when someone offends God there is no one who can intervene.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary noted:

When a man has a complaint against another, the matter can be decided by God through his representative, the judge (Ps. 82:3), or by the sacred lot in the hand of the priest. But in a case in which God is the plaintiff, there can be no reference to a disinterested party the crime incurs the direct vengeance of heaven.  (p.277)

Although the context is quite different, the language of that verse to me is always similar to Acts 5:39, “But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” What I get is there is a sense of God’s vested interest in certain affairs (though the verse means far more than that); it conveys the image of sitting across the table in direct confrontation with God.  You don’t want that.

Heb. 10:25 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Prov. 15:10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die.

In Daniel 9, we see Daniel praying on behalf of the nation:

5 …But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. 6 We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land.

I can’t help but think as I read this that what he prays collectively has to begin individually, it has to begin with me. This is often contrary to our nature. We think ourselves righteous. It’s harder to pray:

But I have sinned and done wrong. I have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. I have refused to listen to your servants…

And yet, each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

A pastor once said “you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward.” He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon.

I am not living toward Jerusalem 24/7. I am distracted by worldly ideas. If you’re a guy, are you tempted by the girl at the mall in the miniskirt? For me it’s ideas and concepts. One single phrase or sentence in an online article can be as devastating to me as the girl at the mall is to you. My worldview warps; my mindset skews.

Psalm 139 ends with the type of mind inventory I need constantly:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.


Psalm 51 – Worship Liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson

Show me your grace, Yahweh, according to Your faithful love;
erase my rebellion, according to Your overflowing compassion.

Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.

I know what I’ve done wrong.
I remember where I’ve missed the path.

I’ve done wrong against You – the only one who has the right to judge and to pass sentence.

But I’ve been going wrong my whole life, when what You want for me is integrity for my inner self.
And from within, You teach me deep wisdom.
You purify me.
You make me clean.

Fill my ears with gladness; fill my broken bones with joy.

Yahweh, create in me a willing heart,
an unwavering spirit,
the joy of Your salvation,
the presence of Your Spirit.

Open my mouth to teach the other rebels,
to sing Your righteousness
and to call the other sinners home to You.

Lord, break my heart and humble my spirit.
Because You don’t want just my stuff, or I’d give it.

What pleases You is the offering of a broken and humbled heart,
and what flows from there.

When my spirit is right with You, then You’ll delight in what I bring.
And You can have it all.


Today’s article includes excerpts from When You Hit Bottom, Jerry Bridges Quotations, Owning It, Sins Against Another; Against God,

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