Christianity 201

June 11, 2019

Those Who Don’t Share Show by Their Actions They Don’t Know Him

It was either an email or a referral from another writer we feature here, but sometime late last week we got connected to the website Generosity Monk. Author and teacher Gary Hoag has curated an amazing collection of excerpts from scholarly books and commentaries — including some obscure sources — and runs the excerpt followed by some observations on what makes this personal to him.

There are similarities to C201, as he’s been doing this faithfully on a daily basis since June, 2009. The site is a goldmine of devotional and study resources.  Because of that, we’ve featured it both yesterday and today. Click the header below to read this at source.

A.W. Tozer: Abundant Goodness

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends Your works to another; they tell of Your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of Your majesty—and I will meditate on Your wonderful works. They tell of the power of Your awesome works—and I will proclaim Your great deeds. They celebrate Your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of Your righteousness. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made. Psalm 145:3-9

“The goodness of God is that which disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men. He is tenderhearted and of quick sympathy, and His unfailing attitude toward all moral beings is open, frank, and friendly. By His nature He is inclined to bestow blessedness and He takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people.

That God is good is taught or implied on every page of the Bible and must be received as an article of faith as impregnable as the throne of God. It is a foundation stone for all sound thought about God and is necessary to moral sanity. To allow that God could be other than good is to deny the validity of all thought and end ill the negation of every moral judgment.

If God is not good, then there can be no distinction between kindness and cruelty, and heaven can be hell and hell, heaven. The goodness of God is the drive behind all the blessings He daily bestows upon us. God created us because He felt good in His heart and He redeemed us for the same reason.

Julian of Norwich, who lived six hundred years ago, saw clearly that the ground of all blessedness is the goodness of God. Chapter six of her incredibly beautiful and perceptive little classic, Revelations of Divine Love, begins, “This showing was made to learn our souls to cleave wisely to the goodness of God.”

Then she lists some of the mighty deeds God has wrought in our behalf, and after each one she adds “of His goodness.” She saw that all our religious activities and every means of grace, however right and useful they may be, are nothing until we understand that the unmerited, spontaneous goodness of God is back of all.”

A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) in “The Goodness of God” in Knowledge of the Holy, 57.

God’s abundant goodness serves as the basis or foundation for all of our living, giving, serving, and loving. See for yourself. Read Psalm 145. Consider verse 16, in which David proclaims: You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The reason we live with openhanded generosity is because that’s God’s posture toward every living thing. Those who know and understand Him for who He is will enjoy and share His goodness and kindness.

The sobering truth is that those who don’t share, show by their actions that they don’t know Him.

This thinking is echoed much later by Julian of Norwich, an anchoress, who (of course) reminds me of my wife, Jenni, who serves God as the Soulcare Anchoress. Those who adopt the title “anchoress” (or anchorite) imply that they have discovered by knowledge and experience that all of life must be anchored in one thing alone, the goodness of God, which is why relationship with Him (and obedience to Him) must be pursued above all else.

Rather than lose you with what sounds like lofty thinking, let me make my point.

Because of the abundant goodness of God, we can be kind and generous. But will we be kind and generous? As His blessings flow to us, the only way to rightly receive and share them is to know and have a deep relationship with Him. Out of that anchored relationship, we become like Him when we walk in obedience, and then with righteousness, justice, and open hands, we dispense His abundant goodness and kindness.

If that went over your head, then read Psalm 145, count your blessings, and think how you can bless others today and this week as a result.

April 7, 2019

Set Free By Worship

Today we’re back with Ronnie Dauber who is a Christian author who lives in Canada with her family. She has written several young adult novels and Inspirational books. Click the header below to read this one at source.

Worship Breaks the Shackles

As exciting as worship can be on Sunday mornings at church, it should never be limited to just Sunday. It should be part of our daily lifestyle that bursts forth because the heart can’t stop singing praises to God. We need to worship continuously because it’s the fuel that keeps us going. As it says in Psalm 22:3, God dwells in the center of our praises, and when we worship God, His presence breaks all the shackles that bind us.

When we only worship God once a week, that is the only time we spend with God to give Him thanks for all He’s done for us, and one hour just isn’t enough time. If we could see all that He’s done to keep us alive and healthy, most of us would fall on our faces and worship Him around the clock. We have so much to be thankful to God for, and it all begins with our salvation. God sent His own Son to come to earth and die on that gruesome cross for our sins. We need to close our eyes and imagine what it was like for Jesus to be beaten and nailed to that cross for you and for me. Then maybe we can get a glimpse of the love that He has for us.

  • But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.—Psalm 13:5

When we worship, the bonds of evil literally break and the evil one flees from us. This is because worship brings God’s presence, and as it says in James 4:7, when we resist the devil—which means we don’t focus on him or the problem he’s brought to us but instead, we focus on God—then that evil one flees from us as fast as he can. So we come to God in worship because with the enemy gone from us, we are free to receive God’s peace and whatever instruction or words God has for us.

We don’t praise God for the problem, nor do we thank Him for giving it to us, but rather, we praise God that He is greater than our problem. As we seek His presence, we ask God if He has allowed this for a particular reason, and if so, to reveal that reason to us. We praise Him for loving us and for saving us, and we praise Him for hearing and answering our prayers. We praise Him for the joy and freedom of being able to praise Him. Then we praise Him again.

  • To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.—Psalm 30:12

We should make time each day to focus on God and praise Him for His goodness and His mercy towards us, for all the blessings in our life, and for our family and friends. It’s good to have a designated time to worship God but this is more for our own sake so that we don’t “forget” to do it. But God is loving and merciful, and He understands the life we live and how it’s not always possible to do the things we set out to do at the time we plan to do them. So we can get around that issue by coming to worship any time during the day or night. It doesn’t really matter, as long as we spend time in worship.

Even so, we can worship God all day long in everything we do. When we eat our meal, we give thanks and praise to God. When we arrive at work safely, we thank God for His hand of protection. When we see someone in need, we help them and pray for them and give God praise for hearing and answering our prayers. When we see a beautiful rose in a garden, we can rejoice in our heart and praise God for His wonderful creation. As believers, we should have our thoughts and mind always directed towards God so that throughout the day we are rejoicing in our heart and praising God.  We don’t need to shout it out for God to hear us. He sees our heart and He knows that we are worshiping Him in Spirit and in truth, and that it’s personal and not done for show. There is no end to praising God throughout the day because He is literally in everything we see!

  • But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”—John 4:23-24

However, there are times when we can’t just stop everything and worship God, but it’s during these times that we especially should worship Him and bring in His presence. We can overcome this, though, by having worship music always playing in the background of our home and car.  The music fills the air with God’s praises so even the stresses we sense are stifled because of the peace that flows from it. It’s good to have worship music playing in the background throughout the day (and night) so that the peace of God is always present, and so that we can be steadily reminded of His love for us.

Most of us can’t listen to music at work but we can listen to it before and after so that we are steadily refilled with God’s peace and joy. The stresses of the world fall off when our spirit is renewed with praise music. Let’s resist the devil! Let’s fill our heart with the peace of God as often as we can so that when we go to bed at night, we know that even though we had jobs to do during the day, we were able to praise God in everything we did. Life is so much better when we celebrate the joy of the Lord whenever we can and let His peace flow through us so that bonds of shackles fall away.

  • But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; Let those also who love Your name Be joyful in You.—Psalm 5:11

 


This message was taken from the soon to be released book, The ABC’s for Believers. This book is a devotional that will encourage believers to know God and His amazing love for them. It’s easy to read and understand and will help young and new believers alike to understand what it means to love and follow Jesus and know Him in a very personal way.

March 17, 2019

God and the Human Race

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we feature a first-time writer here. Nick Fisher has been writing at Fuel for Faith since January, 2011. Click the header below to read this at source.

What God Wants

Watching the news; observing people and the affairs of humanity; looking in the mirror and thinking of what I’ve done with my own life, I had to ask my God why He would care at all about the human race…

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4).

Those of us who are Bible believers know that we’re not worthy of God’s love: He gives it because He wants to. He did, after all, send His son to die for us while we were in our fallen state. But why? What could he, an infinite, omnipotent, incredible, beautiful God possibly want that we have or that we are?

I have to say that the answer, humanly speaking, is beyond me. If I were God I would probably just give up on the world and start all over. But as I thought the matter over this morning, for the umpteenth time, what came to mind quite apart from some relevant scriptural statements, were the few souls I’ve known in my life who were genuinely wonderful people-people who were consistently different to everyone else in a good way.

I realized that these people all had certain things in common. They were humble, warm, selfless, kind, loving and thoughtful, and lived a life of service. While no human “deserves” God’s love, humans were designed and made in His image. And perhaps in those divine qualities which a few somehow manage to exhibit there’s a glimpse of that image of God, and a strong indicator of what God through his son Jesus Christ seeks to foster in us, and to fill his heaven with for all eternity.

Worship doesn’t just consist of singing or raising hands, it’s more to do with how we live our lives:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:1-2).

Yes, we’re saved by faith in the son of God, because of God’s mercy and grace. But it’s when we consciously live out our faith in truth and genuine love and praise, that we please our Creator, and become the kind of people He wants in his kingdom. How many of us are studying the will of our Father in our lives? Jesus said:

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks(John 4:23 NIV).




Today is also St. Patrick’s Day.

If you would like to read the Prayer of St. Patrick which we featured here in 2013,

click this link

To learn about ten other Irish saints you should know,

click this link.

March 2, 2019

The God of All Comfort

Last year at this time we introduced a new devotional source. First 15 is designed for the first 15 minutes of your day, and can be delivered direct to your phone or tablet. The devotional’s main partners are: All Shores Wesleyan Church, First Baptist Church Universal City and Mississippi College.

Each day’s devotional is divided into six parts including a worship music video. The one that follows is also part of a series of articles on God’s Promises. The first time we featured just the text content, but this time around we’re going to give you a fuller experience of how each day is formatted; however please click the link and read there in order to visit other content on the website.

God Promises His Comfort

Scripture

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” 2 Corinthians 1:3

Worship

You Hold It All Together | All Sons & Daughters   (see below)

Devotional

2 Corinthians 1:3 tells us of a wonderful aspect of God’s character, that he is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” In a world wrought with depression and hurt, we have a Father who is the source of all comfort. We serve the God of compassion and love. Let’s allow the truth of God’s comfort to fill us today. Let’s rest in the goodness of God’s presence and let him minister to any areas in which we feel hurt or depressed.

David tells us in Psalm 34:18, The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34 comes in the context of David fleeing from Saul’s persecution. David, in this season of his life, knew all too well what it’s like to need comfort. His circumstances were anything but peaceful. But in this moment, God faithfully delivered him again from the hands of Saul. David writes, This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing (Psalm 34:6-10). David took refuge in his faithful God and found comfort. He placed his trust in the Father of all comfort and found deliverance.

It really is true that those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. The same God of David is your God. You are his child. Seek him today that you might taste and see that the Lord is good! All of us are broken. All of us are hurting. All of us need the love of our heavenly Father. Where in your life today do you feel hurt? Big or small, God cares about whatever pain you might be going through. Your Father longs to heal whatever is holding you back from fullness of life in him.

Deuteronomy 33:12 says, The beloved of the Lord dwells in safety. The High God surrounds him all day long, and dwells between his shoulders. You are God’s beloved. You were bought at an incredible price. He’s opening up his arms to you today, asking you to simply come and find refuge from all the hurt and pain of the world in him. He desires to hold your heart today and speak his healing love over any part of you wounded by the things of the world. Spend time in his presence today allowing the Spirit of God to mend you. Allow God to cry with you, hold you, speak to you, and draw you into his process of inner healing. God’s promised you his comfort, and he’s always faithful to deliver on his promises. All that he asks of you is to make space in your heart for him and receive. Spend time today talking with the Father of all mercies and God of all comfort,” and experience the power of being wrapped up in the powerful and loving arms of God.

Prayer

1. Ask God to make his nearness known to you today. Receive his presence and experience his profound, limitless peace.

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18

2. Open to God any part of your heart that is wounded or needs comfort. It could be the wound of a parent, spouse, friend, colleague, etc. Whatever you feel hurt by today, talk to your loving heavenly Father about it.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

3. Receive God’s comfort. So often healing comes simply by the compassionate love of God. As our Father, God suffers as we suffer. He hurts when we hurt. Let his nearness and love comfort you.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3

Go

Healing takes time, but it is time well worth spending. We are not meant to go without the love and comfort of our heavenly Father. Seek out his presence. Spend time at length simply being loved by him. Make space for God to work and find out how willing and able he is to bind up and heal any area of your heart that feels broken.

Extended Reading: Psalm 34

November 8, 2018

Was the Flood of Genesis a Hate Crime?

by Clarke Dixon

Was the flood in the days of Noah a hate crime?

Imagine you are alive sometime between Noah and Moses but you are not part of the Hebrew people of Moses. There are stories of a great flood being passed down from generation to generation. How do you suppose people accounted for the reason behind this flood? You might think of a god or several gods hating people.

Indeed there were stories of a flood being passed down in those days which were quite similar to the Biblical account. One such story is called the “Epic of Gilgamesh”. According to it, the people of the earth were so noisy that they were disturbing the peace of the gods. Extermination would fix that! These are the kinds of things people came up with as they tried to make sense of life’s experiences in a prescience and very superstitious time and place. However, the Bible was coming into existence. The Biblical account of the flood, though being very similar to other flood accounts in some ways, is very different in others. It sets the record straight.

In setting the record straight, the reason for the flood is given:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. Genesis 6:5-6

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. Genesis 6:11-13 (emphasis added)

The evil of humankind was the reason for the flood, and a very specific kind of evil; violence. Indeed, upon leaving the ark, violence is addressed as being of first importance:

For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.
Whoever sheds the blood of a human,
by a human shall that person’s blood be shed;
for in his own image
God made humankind. Genesis 9:5-6

The very first ethic given to Noah and his family for dwelling on the earth is an ethic of flourishing in a world of non-violence. The flood was to be a new beginning for humanity, a new beginning without the violence of the past.

The Biblical flood account of the flood continues to set the record straight in our day. Did God flood the earth because He hates people? Was this a hate crime?

What God hated was the violence people committed against one another. Had he hated people we would just be talking about the flood, and not Noah’s ark. Of course we would not be talking at all for humanity would have ceased then and there! God would have acted in complete justice to end all life at that flood.

. . . the wages of sin is death. Romans 6:23

But instead there was a new beginning, and a promise of mercy. This is not a story of God hating people, but of God heading down the road of loving and loyal relationship.

Most translations have “bow” where we expect “rainbow”. This is on purpose for the Hebrew word behind “bow” literally is the kind of bow used to fire arrows. The bow is a weapon. Some Bible teachers have pointed out that when God puts the bow in the sky, it is symbolic of how He is hanging up his weapon. God is refusing to use a weapon to bring about justice. He is giving mercy rather than letting His perfect justice roll.

A rainbow is a very fitting symbol for God’s love and mercy. To have a rainbow you need just the right amount of light and moisture. To have the existence of life itself requires just the right amounts of light and moisture. God commits to keep providing both. Jesus speaks of light and moisture when He teaches about love:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. Matthew 5:43-45

God has been keeping His promise. He has been holding back the immediate execution of His justice. He has been merciful to every generation.

As Bible teachers have pointed out, if mercy is not being treated as we deserve, then grace is being treated as we do not deserve. The Biblical account of the flood is a prelude to grace. God hung up His bow, His weapon, and called for humanity to do the same. But then God came to us in Jesus and we hung Him up on our weapon of choice for violent execution. God Himself was the One to suffer human violence in Jesus. If ever a worldwide flood was appropriate it was as Jesus hung on a cross. But instead of letting justice roll, God let forgiveness flow:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

If the flood account in Genesis is setting the record straight as to what God is like, how much more is Jesus Christ setting the record straight as to what God is like.

“God is love” 1 John 4:16

Far too many people think they are rejecting God when they are rejecting an image of God created in their own minds or in the minds of others. Let God speak for Himself. Let Scripture set the record straight. Let Jesus set the record straight. Let us not create an image of God according to our own way of thinking, but look to God to set the record straight on His Justice, His mercy, and His grace. The Biblical account of the flood sets the record straight on these things, Jesus Christ does even more so.

Was the flood a hate crime? It was the justice of God rolled out upon a hate filled world. The fact that humanity is still around speaks of God’s mercy. The offer of eternal life in Jesus speaks of God’s amazing grace.


For more, be sure to visit Clarke’s blog at ClarkeDixon.wordpress.com

September 2, 2018

A Meditation on Labor (Day Weekend)

The Message Romans 12.1 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. (italics added)

This is the Labor Day Weekend in Canada and the United States. Ruth wanted to find some worship content having to do with the theology of work, only to discover that, from a worship leader’s perspective, there isn’t much out there. The second verse below, which some of you know better as, “Do everything as unto the Lord;” is a reminder that our worship life toward God is holistic. We don’t worship only on Sundays or only in song, but we can make elements of what Eugene Peterson (in the quotation above) calls our “everyday, ordinary life” an offering to God.

by Ruth Wilkinson

Labor Day is part of a weekend that historically stands to celebrate and honor workers and those who have worked to humanize working conditions. Part of that celebration, aptly enough, is a day off work. (And all God’s people said, “Woohoo!”)

And while everybody likes a day off, there’s more to work than just obligation born of necessity.

The God who created us modeled us after himself.

This is a God who imagines and designs and builds.

A God who plants and grows and provides.

Who teaches and directs and supervises.

Who looks after animals and cares for people.

And he put within us the same inclinations and capacities as exist in himself.

Whether we’re earning a wage, or just helping a neighbor in need, our work is a gift from the Father who loves us and made us to be like Him.


In the beginning, The LORD put the man in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Then God brought to the man every wild animal and every bird of the sky, so the man could give them all their own names.

In the same way, whatever work you do, do it willingly, with all your heart – working for the Lord, and not only for a human boss.

The soul of the lazy one craves everything and gets nothing…

But the wise one rises early, providing food for her household and jobs for her workers.
She studies, and invests, and makes an honest profit;
She wraps herself in strength, because her arms are strong.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She learns her trade and uses her tools.
She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out to the needy.
And when winter comes, she’s not afraid for her household.

The soul of the lazy craves everything and gets nothing…
but the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

So let the thief steal no longer, but let him do honest work with his own hands, so he has something to share with anyone in need.


O grant us, God, a little space
from our daily work set free.
To meet within this holy place
we’ve built apart for Thee.

But this is not the only place Your presence may be known;
In all our daily work, Your grace and blessing you have sewn.

Around us rolls an endless tide –
labor and trade and care.
Today we choose to turn aside
for one brief hour of prayer.

But this is not the only place Your presence may be known;
In all our daily work, Your grace and blessing you have sewn.

Work can be prayer, if it is wrought
as you want it to be done;
And prayer, by you inspired and taught,
can with our work be one.

For this is not the only place Your presence may be known;
In all our daily work, Your grace
and blessing you have sewn.

– Scriptures based on Genesis 2, Colossians 3, Proverbs 13, Proverbs 31, Ephesians 4
– Hymn by John Ellerton, 1870, Edited by Ruth Wilkinson


Consecrating our work to God:

I wanted to include Take My Life and Let it Be as a conclusion to Ruth’s liturgy, but searched for a tune different from the traditional one, or the Chris Tomlin one. This one is sung in the UK, and uses the tune Nottingham by Mozart.

June 2, 2018

God As a Thriving Artist

We’re returning today to another excerpt from the 2010 Zondervan book, A Certain Risk: Living Your Faith at the Edge, by Paul Richardson. Paul is the son of missionary Don Richardson. To learn more, check out a story we did at Thinking Out Loud on Mustard Seed International.


God reveals that he is surprisingly nuanced. Story by story, the One who said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,” beckons us into his depth. Reading through the Bible is a bit like finding out that a Herculean offensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers writes poetry and bakes rhubarb pie. Just like any individual person, God has personality traits. He relates to others through his heart. He loves, he feels sadness, anger, jealousy and, despite our well-planned, perfectly logical predictions of what he should  be, he even feels regret. God experiences the full possibilities of passion and creates us to know his passionate heart. God cries out in celebration. He listens and he talks.

We are intrigued by statements such as “God said to the woman,” “The LORD said to Cain,” “God said to Noah,” “God said to Abraham,” and “God said to Jacob.” God sits down with Abraham in his tent, and he chats with Moses as you and I would speak to our closest friends. He whispers to a child named Samuel in his room. He spends time with a boy named David in the shade of a tree and breathes music through his harp.

As Elohim reveals his many other names, he delicately invades our understanding. For those who care to know him, Elohim becomes El Echad, the One. He is El Hanne’eman, the Faithful One. He is El Emet, the Truth; El Shaddai, the All Sufficient; El Gibbor, the Champion and Warrior. He is El Roi, the God who sees me; El Chaiyai, the God of my life; El Sali, the God of my strength; El Rachum, the God of compassion. By the time we reach Isaiah, Elohim is no longer far away. He is Immanuel, God with us. From beginning to end, God becomes less distant and more alive. In the matrix of human faith, God reveals himself to the mundane, moving from mystery to increased clarity. God not only approaches in proximity. He approaches in time, advancing from the distant past into this very moment. The God who spoke to Noah, Abraham and Moses becomes my God now.

Throughout his story, Elohim reveals a stunning and invigorating motif. He is a thriving Artist, present in real time, pervasively engaged and continuously interacting with his creation. The psalmist wrote,

“When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104:30)

All through the Scriptures, God reveals himself as a craftsman, a carpenter, a composer, a designer, a gardener, a potter and an author. These creative terms don’t refer only to his activities during the original six days of creation, but to his ongoing work in history. Jesus said,

“My Father is always at his work to this very day.”  (John 5:17)

God is the Creator — “the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) The Potter’s hands are still covered with clay. The touch of the Potter’s hands is sometimes painful, but the finished vessel is a beautiful work of art.

Consider God’s creative response to a stretch of desolate wasteland. He shouts exultantly through Isaiah (Isaiah 41;18-20),

I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
and the parched ground into springs.
I will put in the desert
the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set pines in the wasteland,
the fir and the cypress together,
so that people may see and know,
may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
that the Holy One of Israel has created it.

May 20, 2018

As We Address Different Aspects of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV Ps 61:1 Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.

2 From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
3 For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.

4 I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
5 For you, God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

6 Increase the days of the king’s life,
his years for many generations.
7 May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.

8 Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
and fulfill my vows day after day.

Today we’re introducing another writer for the first time. The site is titled Two Years of Psalms. Click the title below to get you onto the page and then navigate from there to other articles.

Ps 61: 4 Praising Hats

Many people have come across the writing of Edward de Bono on the notion of “Six Thinking Hats.” The idea, which is presented within many other paradigms as well (e.g. Myers-Briggs), is that we put ourselves in particular points of reference to consider various aspects of a question, decision, or topic, in order to ensure that we’ve addressed relevant factors which might lay outside of our normal patterns of thinking.

In Psalm 61, we get a model of “4 Praising Hats”—as the psalmist takes us through several aspects of the character of God, in order to ensure that our faith and our praise is equally well-rounded and our approach to God is comprehensive.

In v.2, there is a cry to the HEAVENLY CREATOR, the one who hears us even from the ends of the earth, and who exists above us all.

• In v.3, we address the MIGHTY WARRIOR, the ultimate protector and defender who is the very definition of strength.

• In v.4, we appeal to the GRACIOUS RULER, the one who opens the borders of His Kingdom and offers sanctuary to the refugee who would choose to flee to Him.

• In v.5, we acknowledge the INTIMATE PARENT, who, like a mother hen, spreads open His wings to permit us hatchlings to gather near to Him, sheltered, nourished, and loved.

This is the Lord to whom prayers are offered (v.1), who listens (v.5) and acts (v.6-7).

If we are to join the psalmist in making “music to your name for ever” (v.8), we can do so only if our view of God is as fully-orbed as possible.

Of course, there are many other names and images of God (shepherd, husband, deliverer, lion, lamb, etc.) and it can only benefit our faith and our praise to explore each of these facets of His nature and character deeply, regularly as we seek to live lives that bring Him and honor and glory, and as we turn to Him in repentance, faith, and worship.

 

February 20, 2018

Ancient of Days

Daniel 7.9 ‘As I looked,

‘thrones were set in place,
    and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
    the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
    and its wheels were all ablaze.
10 A river of fire was flowing,
    coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
    ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated,
    and the books were opened.

11 ‘Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)

13 ‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man,[a] coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

When we were launching our Sunday Worship series of articles, we discovered the blog Ascents. We made a return visit this week and noticed this particular topic, which had been discussed in the church service we attended on Sunday. The writer is Tim Adams.

The Ancient of Days

The other day, I posed a question to my family and a few friends asking whether or not we should refer to Jesus Christ as the Ancient of Days, as many songs we sing in church do. I felt that I had already come to an opinion on the subject, but I wanted to encourage them to research the question for themselves and articulate a position.

One of the dangers of internet research is the fact that anybody armed with a laptop, tablet, or smartphone sitting in a secluded corner of Starbucks can publish their ramblings, credible or not, on the world wide web. What I found when I asked Mr. Google for the identity of the Ancient of Days was that opinions were many and varied. It seemed as if all those people with laptops at Starbucks had weighed in on the issue.

Obviously, as with all questions like this, the place we need to go for clarity and guidance is not Google, but Scripture. When we do, we find that the phrase, Ancient of Days, only appears in the 7th chapter of the book of Daniel. Here, Daniel is describing a vision consisting of 6 primary characters: 4 beasts representing 4 earthly kings, the Ancient of Days in all His glory and power, and the Son of Man who receives from the Ancient of Days an everlasting kingdom. From this passage we can see that the Son of Man and the Ancient of Days are separate persons. From Christ’s own words we know that He is the Son of Man and that he has received all authority from God, the Father. Therefore, the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7 cannot be Jesus Christ.

So there. Another theological mystery solved and more ammo to shoot down the biblically illiterate, contemporary Christian songwriter. Well, not so fast Marshall Dillon (ancient TV show reference). There may be other things to consider. First, Ancient of Days, is a title God has given to Himself referencing His own eternality. In other words God precedes time itself. But, Jesus is also eternal. John 1 tells us that He was there, one with God the Father, at the beginning of creation. Therefore, Jesus is, in fact, ancient of days. Perhaps not the Ancient of Days, but ancient of days, nonetheless.

I know what you’re thinking. “Tim, could you possibly split a smaller hair?” Probably, but here’s why it’s important. When we worship, when we pray, and when we join voices with other believers to teach and admonish each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, we must take great care to regard God in a manner that is worthy of Him. In Scripture, God has given us insight into certain truths and mysteries about Himself; and, while we don’t yet know Him perfectly, what we do know must be proclaimed in truth with authority; and, whatever we proclaim must be informed by and filtered through the lens of Scripture. Also, it’s usually risky to refer to Him in ways He has not referred to Himself.

As we worship, as we pray, and as we speak of God, let us always be mindful of who it is we are talking to, or about. He is God, the all powerful creator of all that exists, and the sustainer of life itself. To know Him is eternal life. It has been said that as God is infinite, we will be spending eternity learning about God. What an amazing thought. But until that day, as imperfect as we are, let’s always strive to see God as He has revealed Himself to us in His Word.


Prophetic books are complicated. Before we leave this subject today, I know some are wondering, ‘Is Daniel really the only place where ‘Ancient of Days’ is used?’ It may be that you’re making a connection to Revelation where we read.

‘Look, he is coming with the clouds,’
    and ‘every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him’;
    and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of him.’
So shall it be! Amen.

which is a reference to Daniel 7:13.

Who you think is being referred to in Revelation, probably has much to do with how you’ve heard that text explained, but Tim raises a good point distinguishing between who appears in the Daniel 7 passage.

…While you’re thinking about that, we couldn’t let this text go by without including the worship song, Ancient of Days by Ron Kenoly.

Texts today: NIV

 

 

February 18, 2018

Sunday Worship

This is the third in a series which was posted last spring at Whole Life Worship. I’ve added links to the other two parts. In their original order, the three deal with the breadth of God’s character, the depth of His Love and the height of his greatness.  Dr. Douglas M. Lee is a worship pastor, conference speaker, and seminary professor. He is currently on staff as the Associate Pastor of Worship Arts at Community Baptist Church of Rancho Cucamonga (California) and serves as an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University Graduate School of Theology

God-in-a-Box

Worship is a response to the goodness and greatness of God. The problem is that most of the time we are unaware of how good and great God is. The way we overcome this is by improving our “view” of God. I touched on expanding our perception of God in the breadth of His character and the depth of His love. Today, I want to talk about the dimension of “height.” We need to grasp how “high” God is, how He is so far beyond what we can think or even imagine.

It’s easy to put God into a “box.” In fact, it’s so easy we do it without thinking. Whenever we get a little too familiar or cozy with God, we are doing it. Whenever we think we know how God operates or what He’s going to do, we’ve already done it. Whenever our worship of Him becomes routine or stale, it’s likely that we’ve contained “God” (meaning: our concept of God) in a box.

The second of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:4) was to not to create an idol or an image of anything in heaven (including God). There are multiple reasons for this commandment, but I think one of the main reasons was to keep us from worshiping something less than Him. Making an image of Him or His context is like putting “God in a box.” Something in a box or fashioned in a man-made image can be measured, calculated, manipulated and controlled. And it is in our sinful human nature to do that to God.

Good thing for us, God is so much bigger than anything any box we try put Him in! (And He’s really good at shattering these boxes.) But it’s important to know how we tend to put God in a box. I see two main boxes God gets shoved into:

  1. Theology – theology is a big word that basically means “what we think about God.” So don’t let the word scare you: everyone who thinks about God has a theology. Usually, our theology is based on what we interpret from the Bible. However, there are a lot of other factors (more than we care to admit) that influence our theology, such as: our cultural values, our political ideals, socio-economic biases, personality, etc. Sometimes our theology puts God in a box: like “God doesn’t do this or that,” or “God always does something in a certain way,” or that God is limited or “bound” by certain things.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love theology. And, to a certain extent, we need theology. It helps us organize our thoughts and understandings about God. BUT, it’s important to know that all theology is limited. It is a “box” that puts labels and qualities on God. It is not God and I’ve seen God blow away my theology many a time. However, way too many Christians hold onto their theology too tightly, and their rigidity blinds them to the fact that God is “beyond comprehension.” More importantly, rigid theology keeps people from seeing the amazing greatness of God, and therefore, from true worship.

  1. Expectations – we have many expectations of how God responds to us. For example, if we become unemployed, we pray for God to provide for our needs. Now God may use many different ways to meet our needs, but we all have expectations on how this will happen. We may expect God to give us a job that pays more, that has better hours, that is located a mile from our house, that will be rewarding and fun, and that will pop up in less than a week’s time. Our expectations are usually nice, linear paths, with no bumps or hassles. But God might have a different idea of what your journey to provision will be. Like our theology, if we hold onto our expectations too tightly we may miss the opportunities God gives that will – not only meet our needs – but transform our character and the world around us.

Seeing the “height” of God’s ways comes only when we have a light hold on our theology and expectations. As the LORD says in Isaiah 55:9:

As high as the heavens are higher the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

Thank God that He is so much bigger than the boxes we put him in! Sometimes we need to let Him blow our mind and give us a larger vision of who He really is.

It was the vision of the “height” of God’s surpassing greatness that caused the Apostle Paul to pen these words:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?

Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

How big is your God? The bigger your God, the greater your Whole Life Worship.


From the same author:

One of the blockages to worship of God is being unaware of who God really is and what He has really done. When we can actually view the mercies of God through the eyes of our heart and soul, the response to worship Him flows freely and powerfully – leading to amazing transformation of our surrendered lives (Romans 12:2).

Check out God’s 3-D Mercies.

December 16, 2017

Provision, Presence, Power

It’s a long story how we got there, but today’s post is from a writer I believe is new to us here, Anne Elliott which she posted back in February, 2010. Her blog reminds me of another Anne, Ann (with no e) Voskamp. Anne has been blogging since 1999, before blogs existed and she also writes homeschool curriculum for two different publishers. Despite the age of this article, she is still writing; click the title below and then click on “Blog” to see what she’s been writing more recently.

The God Who Never Leaves Me

Today we read,

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’

So we say with confidence,
‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’
(Hebrews 13:5-6).

Faith doesn’t look at material possessions; rather, faith looks at our Spiritual Provider.

God’s Provision

We are told to keep our lives free from the love of money. In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us that we can love money (the Hebrew word is “mammon”), or we can love God — but we can’t love both. We can either depend on earthly treasures to supply our needs, or we can depend on God to supply — but we can’t trust both.

We often forget that when we store up our treasures here on earth, our treasures can very quickly be lost. Moth and rust can destroy. Thieves can break in and steal.

Our pursuit of money, and the security that we think it will bring, becomes idol worship.

“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).

Faith sees what can’t be seen, which is God’s faithful provision for all our needs. He feeds us. He clothes us.

“I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread”
(Psalm 37:25).

So let’s get practical for a moment. When we worry, are we worshiping and serving created things rather than the Creator? We may say that we recognize God is our provider, but to prove that, we have to stop worrying.

“Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.

In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves
(Psalm 127:1-2).

God’s Presence

God provides for our needs, but He goes even further and provides us with His very presence. The author of Hebrews quotes from the Old Testament here with God’s statement that “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

This is truly an amazing promise! When God gave this promise to Joshua and the children of Israel as they were about to enter the Promised Land, they believed Him — long enough to conquer the city of Jericho. Oh, except for Achan, who forgot that God would never leave or forsake him… and so he stole some gold from the city… even though God had told them not to… but he forgot God was with Him… so he didn’t obey… then he was surprised when he was caught….

Hmmm. Do I ever forget that God will never leave or forsake me?

I’m quite happy He’s with me… when I’m having a problem, or I want a quick answer to prayer, or I want to get all emotionally wrapped up in my religious experiences.

It’s not as convenient to have an ever-present God when I don’t feel like obeying Him.

“Praise be to the LORD, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses. May the LORD our God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us. May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers. And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day’s need, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other. But your hearts must be fully committed to the LORD our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time (1 Kings 8:56-61).

So which shows more faith? Prayer and religious experiences… or obedience to my Heavenly Father’s commands?

God’s Power

The hardest part for me is remembering God’s power. I start looking around at the power of man, and then I start to get afraid. I start to think of all the things that people could do to me, might say about me, might think of me. I’m sorry to say that it’s rare indeed that I “say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?‘” (Hebrews 13:6).

(Well, I might say it — but probably not with too much confidence!)

These verses are a quotation from Psalm 118, where the Psalmist wisely tells us,

“It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man”
(Ps. 118:8).

Faith sees what can’t be seen. It sees YHWH’s power, His presence, and His provision, and it takes refuge in Him.

I mean really, what can man do to me? I suppose my husband could lose his job… but Who has promised to always feed and clothe me? I suppose I could get sick, but Who gives me breath so that I can praise Him? I suppose someone could persecute me because of my faith, but Who has promised to give me life at the last day? I mean really, what can man do to me?

If you’re ever tempted to skip reading the Bible verses on blogs, don’t skip these. They’re good enough to believe!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 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? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

‘For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:28-39).

Those are shouting words! Hallelujah!

If we’ll just have faith to see what we can’t see.


Christianity 201 includes articles from people having a variety of expressions of their Christian faith. Anne and her husband Kraig keep the Sabbath (i.e. Friday night thru Saturday) and you can read more about this in some articles she has written about the Biblical feasts.

October 27, 2017

God is Still Breathing

Today we’re paying a return visit to Donna Wood at the blog Food For the Journey. Since we last connected with her, health concerns have dominated the past year. We chose a piece that she wrote last summer for today’s devotional. Click the title below to read this at source and then look at some of her more recent writing. And keep her in your prayers.

A Friday Meditation – Breathe

This is the air I breathe. This is the air I breathe.
Your holy presence living in me.
This is my daily bread. This is my daily bread.
Your very Word spoken to me.
And I, I’m desperate for you. And I, I’m lost without you.
This is the air I breathe. Your holy presence living in me.
~ Marie Barnett

This morning when I went to pray, this song kept wandering through my mind. It is a beautiful praise song and it says something about our relationship with God. Because, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters – Genesis 1:1-2. The word for spirit is the same word that is used for breath. God’s breath blew across the waters as he brought life to the majestic universe that he was creating from nothing. Apparently, when the story in Genesis begins, he had already created the water and something representing the earth to hold it. We are all born from water into form and then we begin to breath.

An aside of sorts – A year or so ago, I thought about the spirit blowing over the water as I said my before bedtime prayer.  What was it like before there was nothing?  Nothing but God?  God? I tried to imagine this and I really couldn’t.  Suddenly, I saw a deep night navy sky studded with millions upon millions of stars. I could imagine this, because I had seen such skies before. I tried for a minute to imagine what it was like before such a sky was created, but….  As I looked at the stars, a round section in the center of the sky moved. It shimmered like water with a pebble being thrown into it. It took my breath away.  Was it God’s breath hovering over me that caused this experience?  I realized that this was as close as I could get to imagining before creation.  Then I realized that God had just blown me a good night kiss and my breath returned.  He might have said something like, “Crazy little girl child thinking she could imagine such a thing. Really nice try, though.”

But back to the creation story – Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being Genesis 2:7. The creation continues.

And with that he (Jesus) breathed on them (his disciples) and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit – John 20:22.  Yes.  We need this, too.

“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last – Mark 15:37. Or “gave up his spirit –  John 19:30. This was voluntary, His spirit returned to his Father then returned to his body at his resurrection. After some additional teaching and after reassuring his stunned followers that he was alive and would be with them always, he left again. How can this be?

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit filled those disciples with new life and power. Filled once again with the breath of God, a new restored creation began – the Church, the Body of Christ including you and me, is reassigned the mission of spreading God’s Kingdom on earth by loving God and neighbor and doing those things that Jesus did. We have that same original mission and the same breath of the Holy Spirit enables us to do the piece of work that we are called most specially to do.

Henri Nouwen writes,

“Being the living Christ today means being filled with the same Spirit that filled Jesus. Jesus and his Father are breathing the same breath, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the intimate communion that makes Jesus and his Father one. Jesus says: ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me’ (John 14:10) and ‘The Father and I are one’ (John 10:30). It is this unity that Jesus wants to give us. That is the gift of his Holy Spirit. Living a spiritual life, therefore, means living in the same communion with the Father as Jesus did, and thus making God present in the world.”

My thoughts: What if the very air around us is the breath of God still creating. What if every time we breathe we breathe in God?  What if I try to comprehend what that would be like?  Once again, I most likely can’t.  But here is what I/we can do:  Every time we need a pause because things are crazy – pause, take a deep breath.  Imagine that we are breathing in the Holy Spirit.  Imagine it.  When we say our daily prayers – pray, breathe.  Know that Jesus is breathing into you.  Whenever we need a deep breath…. Yes.

You are the air I breathe, your holy presence living in me.  My daily bread–your very word. I’m desperate for you.  I’m lost without you. Breathe. (Paraphrased sort of).

 

 

 

March 1, 2017

God Draws a Picture of Himself

Ever asked a kid to draw a picture of himself or herself? We heard a story many years ago about a very young child who was denied admittance to a prominent school because they couldn’t draw such an image.

Describing yourself can be a difficult task. Some people have no problem writing a resumé and boasting of their accomplishments, while some find it a challenge to talk about themselves.

Pause for a moment and think about this…what do you think God would say if he were drawing a verbal picture of Himself?

…So how does God talk about God?

I recently got an update from someone where I live who is off working for a ministry organization; “He is who He says He is, and Exodus 34, where God describes His character in the Bible for the first time, reminds us of this.

I decided to check out this passage and I offer it to you here in bullet point form. But first, The Lord said to Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke…” I can hear Moses saying, “Oh…yeah…sorry about that.” It is a rather comedic moment, though not quite as comedic as Aaron’s answer as to where the golden calf came from; the thing that causes Moses to lose it and break the tablets in the first place. But I digress. Then:

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord,

  • the compassionate and
  • gracious God,
  • slow to anger,
  • abounding in love and
  • [abounding in] faithfulness,
  • maintaining love to thousands, and
  • forgiving wickedness,
  • [forgiving] rebellion and
  • [forgiving sin. Yet
  • he does not leave the guilty unpunished;
  • he punishes the children and
  • [he punishes] their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

I’ve never formatted a Bible verse quite like that and I trust the formatting doesn’t offend anyone, but we see here 12 characteristics or traits of God’s self-description.

Take a few minutes to slowly re-read that list and think about the God-picture that you have, or that of your friends, neighbors, relatives or co-workers.

Matthew Henry notes 3 primary things God says in this passage:

1. That the God with whom we have to do is a great God.
2. That he is a good God
3. That he is a just and holy God.

It is the second and third aspects of this that seem to confound readers today. Henry notes:

His greatness and goodness illustrate and set off each other. That the terror of his greatness may not make us afraid, we are told how good he is; and, that we may not presume upon his goodness, we are told how great he is. Many words are here heaped up, to acquaint us with, and convince us of, God’s goodness, and to show how much his goodness is both his glory and his delight, yet without any tautology.

Of God’s goodness he notes:

(1.) He is merciful.
(2.) He is gracious.
(3.) He is long-suffering.
(4.) He is abundant in goodness and truth.
(5.) He keeps mercy for thousands.
(6.) He forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin.

Of his justice, Henry writes:

(1.) He will by no means clear the guilty.
(2.) He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children.

The last point may be a stumbling block for many. Henry writes:

He may justly do it, for all souls are his, and there is a malignity in sin that taints the blood. He sometimes will do it, especially for the punishment of idolaters. Thus he shows his hatred to sin, and displeasure against it; yet he keepeth not his anger for ever, but visits to the third and fourth generation only, while he keepeth his mercy for thousands. [underlining mine]

What happens next?

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.

 

 

 

February 28, 2017

The Sufficiency of God’s Grace

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We call this Christianity 201. If there’s a Christianity 301 that some of you would want to move on to, you can’t do much better than K.W. Leslie‘s blog. The articles are in-depth, he also does his own translations of passages, but it’s also — as in today’s example — not so deep that it doesn’t connect with practical issues. In today’s case that’s what he sees as the theological deficiencies of some popular worship choruses.

This article is packed with insights, but hey, it’s a short month; we didn’t want to shortchange you.

We always encourage you to read these pieces at source, but today there’s a couple of elements we can’t reproduce here anyway, so now’s a good time to click the title below.

God’s grace is sufficient: What we mean, what Paul meant.

 We use “sufficient” to mean God’s salvation or provision. Paul meant neither of those things.

One really good example of an out-of-context bible phrase is the idea God’s grace is sufficient. Sometimes phrased, “Your grace is enough for me,” or “His grace is sufficient” or if you wanna put the words in God’s mouth, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” People don’t even quote the entire verse; just the “grace is sufficient” bit.

And when we quote it, we mean one of two things.

Most of the time it’s used to state God’s grace is sufficient for salvation. It’s a reminder we humans can’t save ourselves from sin and death, no matter how many good deeds we do; and that’s fine ’cause God does all the saving. He applies Jesus’s atonement to our sins, takes care of it, forgives us utterly; all we need is God’s grace. It’s sufficient. It does the job.

Great is your faithfulness oh God
You wrestle with the sinner’s heart
You lead us by still waters into mercy
And nothing can keep us apart
So remember your people
Remember your children
Remember your promise, oh God
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough for me
—Matt Maher, “Your Grace Is Enough,” 2008

Is this what Paul meant by “grace is sufficient”? Not even close. While the idea we’re entirely saved by God’s grace is entirely true, the basis for this idea isn’t at all the verse where we find the words “grace is sufficient.” It comes from other verses, like “By grace you have been saved,” Ep 2.4, 8 NIV —not good works. There’s more to say about that, but I’ll do that later.

The rest of the time, “grace is sufficient” is used to say God will provide all our needs. ’Cause he’s gracious, generous, watches over us, answers prayers, cures our illnesses, guides our steps: We figure when we have God, we don’t need anything else. A self-sufficient person doesn’t need help, and neither does a God-sufficient person, ’cause God has us covered. Different worship song:

Jehovah Jireh, my provider
His grace is sufficient for me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh, my provider
His grace is sufficient for me
My God shall supply all my needs
According to his riches in glory
He will give his angels charge over me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me
—Don Moen, “Jehovah Jireh,” 1986

Horrible pronunciation of YHWH-yiréh aside, which I remind you isn’t one of God’s names but a name of an altar, Ge 22.14 the problem is this also has nothing to do with what Paul meant by “grace is sufficient.”

But you know how songs are. Once a catchy one gets in your head, it’s hard to shake the song away… much less the inaccurate bible interpretations which come along with it. Just because K-LOVE plays it twice an hour, doesn’t mean it’s theologically sound: It’s a radio network, not a church. They’re not pastors; they’re programmers. They’re here to entertain Christians, not disciple us. They don’t know any better. All the more reason we gotta be careful about Christian music.

But I digress. Time to get to the context.

The thorn in the flesh.

Paul and Timothy wrote 2 Corinthians together, although likely in the capacity of someone dictating, and someone taking dictation (and adding suggestions where helpful). And for a few chapters, Paul spent a bit of time “boasting,” as many translations put it (I prefer to translate kavháomai/“speak loud” as “emphasize”) about his experiences as an apostle, and with God. As he should; testimonies are important.

So the folks of Corinth might emphasize all their personal gain, financial success, and other worldly prosperity they had as a result of becoming Christ. Paul chose instead to emphasize all the suffering and degradation he went through. Because prosperity may be nice, but God-experiences are lasting.

Anyway, one of the things Paul emphasized was his “thorn in the flesh,” as the KJV puts it. He described it thisaway.

2 Corinthians 12.6-10 KWL
6 When I want to emphasize things, I won’t be foolish:
I tell the truth, and I don’t spare details.
Otherwise one might consider me greater than what they see of me, or hear from me,
7 and they or I might exaggerate my revelations.
In order that I’d not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given me:
a satanic messenger, which’d jab me so I’d not exalt myself.
8 I called on the Master thrice about this, so he’d pull it out of me.
9 He told me, “My grace is holding you back. Power is fulfilled by weakness.”
For this reason I gladly emphasize my weakness—so Christ’s power can dwell in me.
10 I’m thrilled with weaknesses!
With smackdowns, deprivations, persecution, getting squeezed for Christ:
When I’m weak, then I’m strong.

The KJV’s word sufficient is, to be blunt, a mistranslation. It’s what the word arkei/“holds back” could mean—if you’re using in the sense of “strong enough to hold back,” or “sufficient to hold back,” as Sophocles and Thucydides sometimes used it. In its passive sense, it means to be satisfied or content, which is how it appears half the time in the New Testament. But ordinarily: Holds back. Supports.

“My grace is sufficient for thee” 2 Co 12.9 KJV tends to get interpreted, “I’ve given you all the grace you’re ever gonna get. You have plenty. Suck it up, princess. You can tough out that ‘thorn in the flesh’ just fine.”

Doesn’t sound at all kind and encouraging of Jesus—which is entirely out of character. Which should tip us off we’re projecting our own lack of sympathy upon our Lord.

But this interpretation doesn’t fit the context of the text. As Paul said, the “thorn in the flesh” was holing him back. Keeping him from exaggerating his accomplishments. Keeping him from concealing some of the embarrassing, or less-impressive, details of his ministry. Keeping him from acting the fool. Human nature is to show off. But Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” wouldn’t let him. It was keeping him from going astray.

People miss this fact because Paul described the “thorn,” whatever it was—a literal thorn, a form of arthritis, an injury which never healed right—as an ánghelos sataná/“satanic messanger,” or “Satan’s angel,” as The Message puts it. They think Satan was literally behind this thorn. As, quite likely, Paul did too, when he first encountered it: “Ow! What the…? What’s this stopping me from preaching? Gotta be the devil.”

But when Paul brought it to Jesus, to his surprise Jesus took credit for it. He was holding Paul back—graciously. And because we humans fixate on the devil too much, many an interpreter skips right over this fact.

Jesus didn’t want his apostle to sin. Or dance on the edge of sin. He knows exactly what can corrupt and ruin us—so he’ll stop us from going there. In Paul’s case, Jesus stopped him by letting this thorn poke him whenever he crossed the line. Three times Paul cried out to Jesus, because three times Paul crossed the line. (Like he said in verse 6, he’s not sparing details!) Jesus’s response was, “I’m not taking it away. It’s keeping you on the straight and narrow. You have to remember exalting yourself doesn’t grow my kingdom any. Humility does.”

Paul definitely learned that lesson. As a result he emphasized weakness—in contrast to the Corinthians boasting of their strength.

“Grace is sufficient”—when we mean salvation, or supplying needs.

Now back to grace for salvation. Told ya I’d do this later.

When Christians talk about how God’s grace is sufficient for salvation, it’s true. It’s entirely true. Grace is all we need to be saved. There’s nothing at all wrong with teaching this idea.

The problem is when newbies try to look up “grace is sufficient” in the bible… and get confused, ’cause the “grace is sufficient” verse is about Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and says nothing about salvation. Or when they ask you, “Where’s it say, ‘God’s grace is sufficient’?” and you correctly respond, “In 2 Corinthians 12”—but you don’t realize why they wanna look up that verse, and they wind up blaming you for misquoting the bible.

So remember: When people ask you to help ’em find a verse, always ask why. And if they’re going for the wrong verse, or they’re planning to use a verse wrong, redirect ’em to the right verse. You wanna prove we’re saved by God’s grace alone? You point ’em to Ephesians 2.

Ephesians 2.8-10 KWL
8 You’re all saved by his grace, through your faith.
This, God’s gift, isn’t from you, 9 isn’t from works; none can boast of it.
10 We’re his poetry, creations in Christ Jesus,
for doing the good works which God preprepared. We should walk in them!

Likewise when Christians talk about how God supplies all our needs: It’s true. It’s entirely true. Jesus taught us to not worry, focus on his kingdom, and God’ll take care of the balance. Again, nothing wrong with teaching this idea. The problem is when people ask, “Where’s it say, ‘God’s grace is sufficient’?” and we again point to 2 Corinthians 12. You want a proof-text, you go to the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 6.31-34 KWL
31 So stop worrying. Stop saying, ‘What can we eat? Drink? Wear?
32 Every nation seeks them. Your heavenly Father knows these are all your needs.
33 First seek God’s kingdom, God’s righteousness,
and all these things will be handed to you.
34 So stop worrying about tomorrow: Tomorrow has its own worries.
The evils of the day are plenty.”

YHWH-yiréh is our provider—but we don’t take that idea from 2 Corinthians.

To clear up the confusion, perhaps we oughta use different language than “God’s grace is sufficient.” You see, anyone who plugs “grace” and “sufficient” into a search engine is gonna wind up in 2 Corinthians. They might realize you didn’t mean that particular passage; then again they might not. That’s the usual problem with newbies: They don’t know any better.

So you, as the wiser Christian, might do better to say “God’s grace is plenty,” or “God’s grace is all we need,” or “God’s grace abundantly provides.” Something other than the bible-y sounding “God’s grace is sufficient.” Break the habit. Work on that self-control.

January 13, 2017

The Origin of Our Capacity for Fear

Today’s study is the product of Martin and the team at Flagrant Regard. Click the title below to read this at their site.

Do You Struggle With The Concept Of Having To Fear The Lord? We Have A Patch For That!

Our fall Bible study has been centered on the Book of Proverbs and, a few weeks ago, the term ‘fear of the Lord’ came up for discussion. We examined the mystery of ‘fearing God’ as it often elicits thoughts of, or concerns about, a God who supposedly requires that we be frightened of Him. Our pastor, and facilitator of the study, wanted us to delve into what it means to ‘fear the Lord’ as it seems to stand in direct opposition to our being told that God is love. Is there a paradox here for the way we are to live – either ‘in fear mixed with love’ or ‘in love mixed with fear’ and do such dispositions affect how we feel about God?

As part of a New Year’s commitment, I hope to read more of the Bible and spend less time Internet-ing. Just yesterday, I came upon an interesting passage in Jeremiah that got me thinking about the topic at hand. I hope my personal discovery regarding this proves to be valuable to anyone who has struggled with the whole ‘fear of the Lord’ issue or teachings surrounding it.

fear-flagrant-regardBefore I present the Bible passage, I’d like you to consider something rather interesting. Every good attribute of God that we as humans share – love, gentleness, kindness, self-restraint, etc. – is considered the ‘fruit’ of a spiritual life. But where does fear fit into all of this? Fear is not considered to be a fruit of the Spirit, so what is it to the believer and why do we need it? 1

Fear is interesting in that: a) God does not manifest or experience it; and b) it is a reactive response to an outside stimulus, something we share with the animal world, even.

If God doesn’t possess fear as a characteristic, then why does He regard it as a good thing for us (as per the writers of Scripture) and why would it make us more Godly?

Well let’s think about another good thing God doesn’t need. Repentance. God has no need to apologize for anything (although some prominent atheists would disagree). But without repentance (a change of mind especially concerning the will of God) we are clearly told that no human being can access God. And so, if repentance (like fear) isn’t an attribute of God, then what is it?

Fear and repentance both seem to be presented to us in the Bible as a reflexive action, harmonized with our response to God’s promptings or influence.

In the physical world, reflexes and responses can be honed and sharpened. Watch any budding martial artist working hard at their craft and you’ll see that come into play in a matter of time. Is it the same for those of us whose lives are focused on spiritual development? Can responding to everything life throws at us with a reflexive ‘Godly fear’ be of any benefit to His children? Will it have us thinking better of God’s character or disposition toward us in the long run?

And now onto the passage that shows us why fear of the Lord is not only important, but essential for living well.

(36) … this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: (37) I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. (38) They will be my people, and I will be their God. (39) I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. (40) I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. (41) I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.
Jeremiah 32: 36-41 (NIV translation)

According to the above Scripture, it is only after God gives us a ‘singleness of heart and action’ that Godly fear can even enter into our lives. Further, the fruit or benefit resulting from this particular fear is, “that all will go well for us and our children”. Fear is, if we interpret this text correctly, a reactive or reflexive response to God that not only gives his people peace of mind but extends this promise to those we treasure dearly!

God then compounds the importance of fear in verse 40 by showing us that after something incredible (i.e., salvation) has been gifted to us, as well as promising to continually do good things for us, He will ‘inspire us’ to fear Him.

Why?

So that we will never turn away from Him.

This healthy Godly fear is like His word: ‘God-inspired’. It is furthermore something you cannot actively develop or appreciate in your own strength. This fear is more like a gift (once again similar to repentance) that is infused into our souls to keep us on the straight-and-narrow where, to put it simply, it is a safer and better place to be. Is it so wrong for Godly fear to hold prominence in our thoughts and actions so that all will go well for us and so that we may continually recognize, as the Psalmist said, “It is good to be near God.”? 2

I think it’s important, at this point, to distinguish between Godly fear and worldly fear.

Worldly fear is primal and can result in one’s being frozen like a deer in the headlights or in the fight-or-flight response. It can prompt chivalry in some and cowardice in others and is rarely viewed as a desirable thing.

But Godly fear is fruit-of-the-Spirit producing. The more of it we have, the better (and more immediate) our response is to the moral quandaries presented to us by the world we live in and the better our ability to see our way through the many challenges we will face in our lifetime. In conjunction with holy fear, we are given oceans of hope that are fed by the springs of God’s many great promises – promises we’d be fools to forget or ignore lest we lose out on all the benefits God has already showered on us, His children.

Preacher George MacDonald once said, “A perfect faith would lift us absolutely above fear.” That’s very true, but our faith is not yet perfect. We are ‘in process’. We live in the ‘now and not yet’ because of our frail humanity. Fear of the Lord then, in its purest form, can do nothing but evoke our deep love and utmost respect for the God who rescues us from darkness every day we find ourselves still breathing.

Truly, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.3

© 2017 Flagrant Regard


1 See Book of Jude, Chap. 1, vrs. 23, Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians Chap. 5, vrs. 11
2 Book of Psalms Chap. 73, vrs. 28
3 Book of Proverbs Chap. 9, vrs. 10

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