Christianity 201

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

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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

August 31, 2016

God As the Jealous Husband

My Jealous Godby Clarke Dixon

. . .for you shall worship no other god, because the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. Exodus 34:14

God is jealous. So much so, in fact, that according to the verse above He even has the name “Jealous.” Isn’t that a problem? Isn’t jealousy a bad thing, a sinful thing? While preparing for a sermon on Ezekiel chapter 16 it struck me how this passage helps us understand the jealous love of God. It compresses the history of the people of Jerusalem into a story, an allegory. Let me compress that even further and give you the “Coles notes” version of the story which we can divide into the following chapters:

Chapter One: Rescued (verses 3-6)

In ancient times there was a form of birth control called “exposure.” Basically an unwanted baby, all too often a girl, was left out in an open field to die. This story begins with such a baby being rescued having been found covered in blood and still attached to the placenta given the details. Remembering that this is an allegory, God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to understand that they were in a relationship with God, not because there was anything special about them, but because of God’s love. The same can be said of the Christian today. To sum up chapter one: Rescued instead of dead.

Chapter Two: Married (verses 7-9)

Once the child in the story grows, the rescuer marries the child. At first glance we might think this is gross, but when we remember the context of ancient times and how marriage was different then than now, we learn that this was a very loving move on the part of the rescuer. This child, once old enough, could have been forced into slavery instead, or worse. Marriage was a promise of continuing nurture and care. Remembering that this is allegory, God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to remember that being in a covenant relationship with God was a sign of God’s amazing love and grace. The Christian today enjoys the covenant love of God. To sum up chapter two: Married instead of enslaved, sold, or worse.

Chapter Three: Blessed (verses 10-14)

Here we learn about how blessed this woman really is. She is not married and then provided with the mere essentials. She is, in fact, the queen, and treated as such. God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to realize just how blessed they were to be in relationship with God. As Christians do we realize just how blessed we are? To sum up chapter three: A queen, instead of a mere dependant.

Chapter Four: Betrayed (verses 15-34)

Here there is a shift in the story:

But you trusted in your beauty, and played the whore because of your fame, and lavished your whorings on any passer-by. Ezekiel 16:15 (emphasis mine)

There is a lengthy and quite graphic description of the betrayal. Though rescued instead of dead, though married instead of enslaved or sold, though a queen instead of a mere dependant, though all of this was because of the love and grace of the rescuer, the groom, the king, she betrays him with her unfaithfulness. She is described as acting like a prostitute, only worse, for a prostitute has enough sense to get paid. Remembering that this is allegory, God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to get the point that they have been unfaithful to the Lord. As Christians are we faithful? To sum up chapter four: Promiscuous and stupid, instead of grateful and faithful.

Chapter Five: Consequences (verses 35-59)

Following the betrayal come the consequences of a living a promiscuous and unfaithful life.

You must bear the penalty of your lewdness and your abominations, says the Lord. Yes, thus says the Lord God: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath, breaking the covenant; Ezekiel 16:58-59

There is a lot to read and digest here, but let’s just say it does not go well. Remembering this is allegory, God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to understand that the exile and the coming fall of Jerusalem to Babylon is a consequence of their unfaithfulness. As Christians today we are not automatically saved from the consequences of our decisions. “You reap what you sow” is a Biblical affirmation, taught in both the Old and New Testaments.To sum up chapter five: Suffering the consequences instead of getting away with murder.

Chapter Six: Forgiven (verses 60-63)

Next in this story comes a pleasant surprise.

. . . yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant. . . I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, in order that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord God. Ezekiel 16:60,62,63

God remains faithful to His people! He will forgive! He still does. To sum up chapter six: Forgiven instead of cast away.

Do you get a sense of the jealous love of God from this story? The jealousy we tend to think of arises out of insecurity. It doesn’t just arise from a man thinking his wife is looking at another man, it arises from a man thinking there is a better man. God knows better and knows there is no better. The Lord is not insecure. God is jealous, meaning God is passionate. If God were not jealous for us He would be apathetic. God is jealous, meaning God is caring. If God were not jealous, He would be uncaring. God is jealous, meaning God is faithful. His love does not cease at the first sign of betrayal. He is faithful in His love, in His keeping of covenant promises. He knows what is best for the people He loves, and He is the best for the people He loves!

Spiritually speaking, we may be more like the woman in the story than we care to admit. We do not deserve the rescue, the marriage, the blessing. We betray. We experience the consequences of our decisions. But God remains faithful. Got sin in your life? You can depend upon God to forgive it. He is jealous for you. Storm clouds are brewing? You can depend on God to walk you through the storm. He is jealous for you. Got a sense that you do not deserve heaven? Me too. Though in this age we will still often experience the consequence of our sin, in the age to come we experience the consequence of His goodness and grace in Jesus Christ. Rescued, married, and blessed; not because we are good people, but because God is a jealous God.

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Source for this article at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

Source for Today’s Graphic Image at Brian Hunt Blog

June 14, 2016

Our Father

Praying In Jesus NameMaybe it was the point form (or bullet point) nature of yesterday’s post, but lying in bed this morning I considered the possibility of doing something similar on a phrase-by-phrase basis with the Lord’s Prayer.

Specifically, I wondered, “What does this tell us about our Father?”

Our Father

  • The form of address is abba. It’s a familial term, a mark of family intimacy. But you’ve heard that before in countless sermons, so we’ll move on…
  • He provides us with the means to initiate the conversation.
  • He wants to continue to commune with us as he did in those Genesis moments before the fall.

In heaven

  • He dwells in eternity, outside of time. We don’t. His location versus our location shows that each time we pray, we are ripping apart the curtain separating his world from ours.
  • We basically access eternity when we begin to pray; our prayers take place at the intersection of the two realities.

Holy is your name

  • Despite the intimacy, he wants us to remember who he is. He is holy. His very name is to be treated with reverence.

Your kingdom come

  • We invite the coming of a kingdom that is very much in the future.
  • We are invoking the manifestation of something that is described in terms of the rule and reign of a monarch, and that is often expressed in terms of realm or territory.
  • We see a glimpse of the majesty of God.

Your will be done

  • God has volition, and undoubtedly has a plan for the bringing about of that which is in his will.
  • In stating this, we are placing our will and our plan in submission to his. If there is a conflict, we would defer to him. Better yet however is the idea that his will becomes ours. Then there is no conflict.

On earth as it is in heaven

  • Again we see the intersection of two worlds, the earthly realm mirroring the heavenly realm. We are to be an echo here of what takes place there.
  • In the heavenly realm, God simply speaks and it happens or it is.

Give us today our daily bread

  • This one is complicated, because here we are being told to petition and make supplication for our basic, mundane, run-of-the-mill provisions; some would have it that prayer should be more high-minded than this.
  • Implicit in this also is the idea that such provisions, though we may feel we earn them by the our own labor and effort, ultimately come, as do all good gifts, from God; he is the Lord our provider.

And lead us not into temptation

  • Theologically, this one gets even more complicated than the phrase it follows. Does God ever lead anyone into temptation? He certainly allows temptation to cross our paths.
  • Always important to note that the verse asks for help avoiding temptation, but not the sin that can result from it; in other words, while God may allow us to face temptation, he doesn’t lead us into sin. That’s not his nature.
  • Temptation reflects the freedom — I’m avoiding free will for obvious reasons — we are given. We continue to face choices. But we can also enjoy the contentment of not living in the place of temptation.

But deliver us from evil

  • Depending on your vocation or your location, temptation may abound even where a change of job or address isn’t possible. But the prayer asks God to rescue us from the consequences of bad choices vis-a-vis those temptations.
  • This tells us that God is able to deliver.

For Yours is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory

  • The prayer returns full circle to the majesty of God. Kingdom is repeated; the only key word to appear twice in the English text.
  • As a model prayer, God is asking us to affirm that it’s all his, it all belongs to him, it all emanates from his authority and omnipotence, and in all that happens he is glorified.

Amen.

 

July 30, 2015

The Key to the Treasure

Our devotional today is from our friends Stephen & Brooksyne at DailyEncouragement.net. I really respect this couple; they not only write great Bible study material, but they live out the scriptural truth in their daily lives.

This post has a longer introduction so click the title below to read it in its entirety.

The Key

“He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure” (Isaiah 33:6).

…Today let us consider a lesson we all need to learn. Some learned it as a child, others have as they have aged. Sadly though, many have still not learned it. It’s in our daily text and is described as “the key to this treasure”. This treasure is the blessed assurance of a “sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge.”

The world offers plenty of keys that people use seeking to meet their deepest needs for love, joy and peace, but all in futility, for they go through life using the wrong key.

The verse is a real gem. It’s one of those great treasures found deep in the Old Testament. The “He” in the verse is speaking of the Lord, who is exalted and dwells on high (33:5). Today, some 2,700 years after Isaiah wrote this, our God is still exalted and dwelling on high!  He ever remains, “the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge.”

O, how we long to be settled on a firm foundation in these tumultuous times where we can draw from a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge. This is an expression of our deepest need.

The Fear Of The Lord The last clause is vital, but so lost by the majority in this world, and I earnestly feel many in the church as well. “The fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.” The notion of “fearing the Lord” seems archaic to many in our generation.
Jerry Bridges wrote, “There was a time when committed Christians were known as God-fearing people. This was a badge of honor. But somewhere along the way we lost it. Now the idea of fearing God, if thought of at all, seems like a relic from the past.”

It is my observation that the fear of the Lord is under-emphasized and in some settings never mentioned.  It seems there is always a struggle for balance in Christian theology. As I study sermons of the past it seems as if the “fear of the Lord” was sometimes preached to the extreme. Hellfire and brimstone sermons seemed to be the recurring theme and at times presented an unhealthy fear of a loving God which brought little peace or needed security to the believer.

However in recent decades the love and grace of God has been the chief theme to the point of completely de-emphasizing the proper understanding of the fear of the Lord. But both themes are essential and part of Biblical revelation.

A Study Bible gives this helpful insight to the meaning of the fear of the Lord. “A reverent awe of God’s power, majesty and holiness produces in us a holy fear of transgressing His revealed will; such reverence is essential to gaining a heart of wisdom.  The New Testament indicates that the sincere fear of the Lord in our hearts will be accompanied by the comfort of the Holy Spirit.”

Many years ago I developed a sermon on the need to have a healthy, holy fear of God and I earnestly believe this healthy, holy fear is vitally needed for our generation.  Today let us walk in His love with fear and reverence toward Him for the Bible says, “Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in His ways” (Psalm 128:1). The fear of the Lord is indeed a vital key to understanding life.

Daily prayer: Father, our generation seeks more and more knowledge all the while exercising less and less restraint toward that which grieves Your heart. In our information age knowledge is promoted as the key to success, fulfillment, happiness and financial security and yet we see so many educated people lacking in these areas. While higher education is important, godly wisdom and biblical understanding are the foundational tools by which we accept or reject current philosophies, basic principles, human traditions, and the practices of our day. Your Word helps us to interpret knowledge that is ever changing so that we are careful to build our foundation upon You, the unchanging Solid Rock. Any other foundation will sink when the rain falls, the streams rise, and the assaulting winds blow and beat against that which we have worked so hard to build. We choose to love You and have a healthy, holy fear of going against Your prescribed will for our lives. Amen.

February 13, 2015

God: From A to Z

Scripture verse in greenAt first, I thought this was a rather contrived premise for an article, but then, the more I thought about it, it’s all scripture so it’s all good. We put scripture verses in green here as a reminder that God’s word is life. Today, the entire article is in green.  (I know, I should have saved it for St. Patrick’s Day.) This is from the blog Abundant Life Now by Robert Lloyd Russell, click the title below to read at source and look around the rest of the site.  Oh… and slow down as you read each verse; think of the theme and what this reveals of God’s nature and His character.

God Alphabet

~ God’s Interactions with His People ~

Almighty God (to bless us) ~ “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless’” (Genesis 17:1).

Blessed God (to cheer us) ~ “According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust” (1 Timothy 1:11).

Compassionate God (to bear with us) ~ “For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the place of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land and in the wasteland, a howling wilderness; He encircled him, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye. As an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings, taking them up, carrying them on its wings, so the Lord alone led him, and there was no foreign god with him. He made him ride in the heights of the earth, that he might eat the produce of the fields; He made him draw honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock” (Deuteronomy 32:9-13).

Defending God (to protect us) ~ “The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him. The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is His name” (Exodus 15:2-3).

Eternal God (to secure us) ~ “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms; He will thrust out the enemy from before you, and will say, ‘Destroy!’” (Deuteronomy 33:27).

Faithful God (to assure us) ~ “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11).

Gracious God (to bless us) ~ “So he prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm’” (Jonah 4:2).

Holy God (to sanctify us) ~ “I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst; and I will not come with terror” (Hosea 11:9).

Indwelling God (to establish/guide us) – “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn” (Psalm 46:5). “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

Just God (to clear us) ~ “Tell and bring forth your case; yes, let them take counsel together. Who has declared this from ancient time? Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Savior; there is none besides Me” (Isaiah 45:21).

Kind God (to supply us) ~ “Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (Psalm 103:4).

Loving God (to cherish us) ~ “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you’” (Jeremiah 31:3).

Mighty God (to deliver us) ~ “And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power” (Deuteronomy 4:37). “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Near God (to sustain/comfort us) ~ “He is near who justifies Me; who will contend with Me? Let us stand together. Who is My adversary?” (Isaiah 50:8). “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6).

Omniscient God (to watch over us) ~ “Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul” (Psalm 121:4-7).

Powerful God (to strengthen us) ~ “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Timothy 4:17).

Quickening God (to change us) ~ “Even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:5).

Righteous God (to justify us) ~ “Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end, but establish the just; for the righteous God tests the hearts and minds” (Psalm 7:9). “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Romans 5:9).

Saving God (to free us) ~ “And it will be said in that day: ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation’” (Isaiah 25:9).

Truth-keeping God (to encourage us) ~ “Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; Who keeps truth forever” (Psalm 146:6).

Unchanging God (to secure us) ~ “For I am the Lord, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob” (Malachi 3:6).

Victorious God (to overcome for us) ~ “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

Wise God (to enlighten us) ~ “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

Xcellent God (to be our example) ~ “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth, who have set Your glory above the heavens!” (Psalm 8:1).

Yearning God (to look after us) ~ “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me” (Isaiah 49:15-16).

Zealous God (to keep us) ~ “As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3).

~ Robert Lloyd Russell

July 28, 2014

For Thine is the Kingdom…

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Okay, let’s be clear here. We do have a six month rule. We don’t revisit a blog more than twice a year. And it’s only been three weeks. But last night I found myself back at Glen Scrivener’s blog with the unusual name, The King’s English. People often wonder about the differences between how The Lord’s Prayer is recited in Catholic versus Protestant churches. So here’s the 411 on that. But let’s do Glen a favor and click through to read at source. (You’ll find a whole series on the prayer.)

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen

1 Chronicles 29:10-22; Matthew 6:5-15

Modern translations put this verse in footnotes.  It does not appear in Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, nor in the earliest manuscripts of Matthew that we have.  It does appear in the Textus Receptus and so, for 300 years it appeared in all the English translations from Tyndale onwards.  In that time it has taken root, most particularly in Protestant Churches where it is said as part of the Lord’s Prayer.

It is a doxology (word of praise) that bears a resemblance to the prayer of David from 1 Chronicles:

“Thine, O LORD is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty:  for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all.”  (1 Chronicles 29:11)

It is a glad-hearted affirmation of the LORD’s all-sufficiency.  And perhaps it’s significant that the Lord’s Prayer ends this way.  The prayer that begins “Father” ends on a note of power and glory.

The person who rests in the Son and is brought to the Father will, in the end, confess His power and glory.  To such a Father as this we ascribe all majesty, and gladly so.  But this is the way around which Jesus would have it.  He does not ask us to approach the glorious Potentate and then to seek fatherly care in Him.  That would be quite a different spirituality.  No, Jesus our Brother introduces us to His Father and invites us to call Him “our Father.”  As a little child we pray for His Kingdom to come and, as we wait, we ask for daily provision, pardon and protectionThen, knowing His Fatherhood and our own littleness, we confess “Thine is the kingdom!”

This total self-abnegation is not the precondition for prayer.  If it were, it would be something we drum up in ourselves, therefore not self-abnegation at all.  Instead what Jesus calls us to is a joyful outflow from delight in a Father who will indeed provide, pardon and protect.  How happily we place the kingdom in His hands, knowing who He is!

So, this is the Lord’s Prayer. And Jesus says, “After this manner therefore pray ye.” (Matthew 6:9)

Is this the manner in which you pray?

CS Lewis compared the Lord’s prayer to a Christmas tree.  The lines of the prayer are like the boughs and our own personal prayers are like the decorations that we hang.  That’s good advice.  When we pray, perhaps we can use the Lord’s Prayer like that.  At each line we pause, adding our own prayer, decorating the Christmas tree.  And as we put words to our desires and needs we can enjoy, in a deeper way, our union with Jesus and the Fatherhood of God.  Then we’ll gladly declare “Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever.  Amen.”


I wanted to add a performance of Thine Be The Glory here; the one with the clearest fidelity featured a slide of Easter eggs the whole time!

This song appears in some hymnbooks as Thine Is The Glory

Thine is the glory, risen, conqu’ring Son;
Endless is the victory, Thou o’er death hast won;
Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
Kept the folded grave clothes where Thy body lay.

Thine is the glory, risen conqu’ring Son,
Endless is the vict’ry, Thou o’er death hast won.

Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
Lovingly He greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
Let the church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing;
For her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting.

Thine is the glory, risen conqu’ring Son,
Endless is the vict’ry, Thou o’er death hast won.

No more we doubt Thee, glorious Prince of life;
Life is naught without Thee; aid us in our strife;
Make us more than conqu’rors, through Thy deathless love:
Bring us safe through Jordan to Thy home above.

Thine is the glory, risen conqu’ring Son,
Endless is the vict’ry, Thou o’er death hast won.

June 23, 2014

He Ascended Into Heaven

Mark 16:19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.  

Acts 1:9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

Today’s writer was recommended to us by a reader. Nick Peters blogs at Deeper Waters and writes about issues in theology and apologetics. Click the title below to read at source:

Apostles’ Creed: He Ascended Into Heaven

What difference does it make that Jesus ascended? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We can often read about the ascension in the Bible and wonder what difference it makes. I mean, yeah, Jesus is no longer with us, but does it mean anything else for us? Why would Jesus ascend and leave us to do the work?

Ascension of JesusFor one thing, it is important that we do the work and we would not be as able to do it with Jesus always there with us. Discipling is for a reason but there comes a time when the student is to work apart from the disciple. Note even Jesus said it was because He was going away that the Holy Spirit would come, which would be empowering His message and His disciples everywhere. Jesus being physical could only be in one place at one time.

It’s also important to ask why he ascended. Does this point to an ancient view of the universe? While the ancients certainly might have thought that way, Jesus is not making a statement about cosmology or the location of Heaven really.

Instead, let us consider that the sky is the greatest expanse that we know of when we grow up on this Earth. It’s limitless. No matter where you look, you see it. In comparison, when you go to a beach, as I have done many times, including on my honeymoon, you can look on the shore and see the ocean going far out into the distance. Now we all know eventually past that ocean somewhere is land. If you could travel in a straight line from where you are, eventually, you would hit another mass of land, but you cannot see that mass. Your vision goes so far. All you see is ocean.

When we look into the sky, all we see is sky. Now we all know that eventually if we could keep going straight up into the sky, we’d hit something. It could take awhile, but we’d reach another planet or a star or something of that sort, but our vision can only go so far.

That limitlessness is a good idea of how to view God. God is infinite and to see Jesus go up is a way of saying He’s going to something far greater than we are. Had Jesus instead burrowed underground and disappeared that way, we would have a quite different view of God. (Picture the stories going around years ago about claiming to find Hell under Siberia when people were digging.)

Had Jesus also simply vanished, it would mean that we would be wondering where He went to. Could it be that He is still somewhere around here? Having Jesus ascend is a way of saying that Jesus is going to God, who is far greater than we are, and that He is also no longer going to be with us.

Since He is no longer with us, what are we to do then? That’s right. We are to do the work that he meant for us to do. Of course, I do recommend that we disciple people sufficiently before they do the work, but that discipling is also to be done by other people who have already been discipled.

Jesus is now ascended. So what’s He doing? We’ll save that for the next installment in this series.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Go Deeper: To find other articles in this series by this author, use this link.

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