Christianity 201

May 16, 2021

The Enduring and Beloved Shepherd Psalm

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Psalm 23 in The Message Bible (since most of you know it in more traditional texts)

1-3 God, my shepherd!
    I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
    you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
    you let me catch my breath
    and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
    right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
    my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
    every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
    for the rest of my life.

From Melvin Banks at Urban Faith:

A professional speaker recited Psalm 23 and people went wild with applause. A saintly old man quoted it, no one applauded, but tears filled their eyes. What made the difference? The first speaker knew the Psalm, the second knew the shepherd.

I watched a few online church services this weekend and in one, Psalm 23 was read, or perhaps better to say quoted from memory. There are 150 Psalms, and a voice in my head asked, ‘Why this particular Psalm?’ Indeed, why is so loved through the centuries?

John Brantley writes at the blog My Sunday Sermons:

…The are two scenes in this song. One verse is a lush green field beside a refreshing stream and the other is at a noisy and busy dinner party. What do these two portents have in common and what makes them relevant for you and me?

Our culture is adopting the idea that “green” is good. This first part of the psalm is very green. Can you smell the fresh green grass? The sparkling clear water babbling by an ancient tree with broad branches and deep roots. There are other signs and smells that may be organic, but are not that green. Sheep are not known for their pleasing aroma. Every herd of animals leave a trail of processes green grass that the shepherd learns to step around. But let’s not lose the romantic and clean image just yet.

The comforting message of the first scene is the restoring and renewing experience of God. God can be trusted like sheep trust the good shepherd to provide food and drink, rest and growth. One message this psalm affirms is God’s continues to be trustworthy to provide for our growth, health and protection.

Life is not always in the green pastures. God provides even in the reality of life-threatening times. The Valley of the Shadow of Death.. might refer to an actual geographical bend in the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, and it might be metaphorical of life-and-death moments that come and go in our lives.

Where is God when danger, temptation and death surround us? We want to go back to the green pastures but sometimes that is not where we are. We are in trouble. God does not keep us out of the the shadowy valleys, instead God goes with us on the journey.

We thing God ought to hear our prayers and transport us out of tragedy or trouble, but that is not what happens 99.9999 percent of the time. The songs sings of the shepherd ‘rod and staff’. The staff is the long crook of nativity fame that is for rescuing wandering sheep. The rod is to beat off the enemies of the sheep, defending not chastising the sheep.

We are familiar with the proverb, “do not spare the rod” in child rearing. If we look at the function of the rod it is not to beat the sheep, it is to protect them. If we take that function of the ‘rod’ and read that as the proverb, our children need protecting from the evil in the world. As children of God, we need God protecting us, as much now, as ever.

Think of fishing with a baseball bat? You could tie a string to one end and dangle it over the water, but that is not it’s function. You could use a fishing pole to tan-someone-hide, but that is not it’s function. The rod protects the sheep. And in this evil generation, how we need God’s protection! …

At the New Living Translation blog, Mark Taylor writes:

Psalm 23 is the best-known psalm and the favorite biblical passage of many. Why? Because it does more than tell us that God protects, guides, and blesses. It shows us a poetic image of a powerless sheep being tended by an unfailingly careful shepherd. In a world of dangerous ditches and ravenous wolves, we need more than abstract explanations. We need pictures to hang on to. This is one of the best.

God took David from tending his father’s sheep and made him a shepherd of Israel because David was able to care for this flock with a tender heart and great skill. That tells us volumes about not only the kind of shepherd God chooses but the kind of shepherd he is. God is a zealous protector of his sheep, training us to hear his voice, leading us into pleasant pastures, and even walking with us through the darkest valleys. And he is extravagant in his goodness. He doesn’t just feed us; he prepares a feast in the presence of our enemies. He doesn’t just bless us; he fills our cup to overflowing. He doesn’t just offer his goodness and love; he pursues us with them. We aren’t simply his assignment; we are his passion—forever.

Several answers appear at the forum, Quora

■ Who doesn’t want somebody who has their back? We all want a big brother to keep an eye on us. In some situations, people find it to be to their advantage to buddy up to the neighborhood bully. Everybody needs somebody to lean on, right?

So, the LORD is my shepherd. That means he takes care of my food and safety. He is interested in my emotional health. He helps me make moral choices. And when times get tough, I mean really tough, life threatening tough, he sticks by me.

Psalm 23 , I believe, is a concise outline of what a person can expect if they allow God to be their Shepherd through this life. It is so amazingly concise and to the point…. a marvelous Word from God!

■ Would it not be logical to conclude that it is famous because it touches upon issues that are of deep and universal concern to human beings, that it supplies a positive perspective and solution to these issues, and that it does so in such beautiful language as we may easily believe it is divinely inspired?

It seems to me that the issue of being guided by God is the central concern of the entire Bible. Psalm 23 refers to God leading us in the paths of righteousness. And Jesus tells us (Matthew 6:33) that we should seek personal righteousness above all else. So Psalm 23 is telling us how we should respond to Jesus’ advice.

Finally, we have this answer from Texas pastor Matt Morton in a newspaper article at The Eagle. I’ve left this one to the end because if there’s one you might want to continue reading it’s this.

Even if you haven’t read the Bible very much, you are probably familiar with that line from Psalm 23. Also known as “The Shepherd Psalm,” Psalm 23 is probably the most commonly read and quoted chapter in the entire Bible. We recite it at funerals, and we read it when we feel afraid or sad. It even shows up in movies like Titanic and pop songs like Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio. A couple of years ago, Bible Gateway published a list of the 10 most searched-for Bible verses on its website. Five of the top 10 verses were from Psalm 23. I am certain that many people around the world have turned to Psalm 23 during this past month, as we’ve faced a terrifying global crisis and deep uncertainty about the future.

For centuries, Bible scholars have pondered the question of why this particular psalm is so deeply loved. Why do we return to it time and time again in the midst of crisis? After all, there are many Bible passages in which God is referred to as a shepherd. The Bible is full of reminders about how God provides for his people in the midst of uncertainty and fear. So what makes Psalm 23 so special?

I think Psalm 23 is powerful for a simple but surprising reason: the first-person singular pronouns. In case you’ve forgotten your middle-school grammar class, the first-person singular pronouns in English are “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine.” In other words, King David didn’t write, “The Lord is a shepherd,” or “The Lord is the shepherd,” or even, “The Lord is our shepherd.” Instead, the first verse of Psalm 23 begins with the powerful affirmation, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

Psalm 23 personalizes the metaphor of God as our shepherd to a degree that no other biblical passage really does. Most of us know that shepherds provide for and protect their sheep. They lead their sheep to food and water. They fight off wild animals and bandits that threaten their sheep. The Scripture is full of imagery describing God as a good shepherd for the nation of Israel and for the world as a whole.

But it’s one thing to know that God is a good shepherd in general, and another thing entirely to know that he is my good shepherd…  [continue reading here]

April 22, 2021

No Other Gods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second follows immediately after:

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

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

And the third and last, immediately after that:

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

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

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

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

24.15 (italics added) But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon returns next week.

All scriptures today taken from the NIV.

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

 

 

March 10, 2021

God’s So-Called Cruelty Was Actually Belabored Patience

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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A year ago we discovered a devotional page at Christianity.com and decided to revisit today. This article is credited to April Motl. You’re encouraged to click the title which follows and read this there and then take a moment to discover all the resources on this website which includes everything from a verse-of-the-day to Bible trivia!

Why Do People Think God Is Cruel?

If when we read the Bible, we feel concerned about God’s character because of how He dealt with people, we are wise to learn more about the people. Truth sets us free (John 8:32). We can be sure that God is not cruel. He is love.

Since the beginning, the enemy of our souls has done his best to set a wedge between people and their loving Maker.

To Eve, he intimated that God was holding out on her… if the forbidden fruit served to make her like God and He had said she couldn’t have any, then He must have foundational motives that were less than trustworthy, perhaps even cruel, to hold back from her that way.

From that moment on, it seems Satan has taken his place amongst the two of us (humans and God) to accuse us to God (remember Job? Satan’s name literally means Accuser, also see Revelation 12:10) and God to us.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.

Violence in the Old Testament

When I was in seminary, I took an Old Testament history class. I was routinely stunned at the pagan practices that unfolded on the pages in history that the Bible refers to, and sometimes briefly explains, but the actuality of the events was far more graphic than Scripture detailed.

God never just smoked a people for having graven images in their entryway. People were committing X-rated, public acts with adults, but also children, and burning children alive in the public square to honor these graven images they kept in their entryways.

To be honest, I was shocked at the depth of the darkness of these rituals but also that God waited as long as He had to stop them.

If you could have been transported back in time to watch the events that led to the times in Scripture that God administered justice, you would have been screaming that He had been unjust to let it go on for so long.

But He did. He sent His prophets to speak for Him. Adjuring them to return to ways of blessing. But they didn’t. And after generations of patience, He would act.

After re-looking at all those assumptions that the God of the Old Testament was cruel and punishing, I realized how easily I can get tricked by the Enemy into accusing God in my heart.

If with some study and learning, I could see that God’s “so-called cruelty” in the Old Testament was actually belabored patience and that stopping the acts of violence and destruction was actually an act of love and protection, then it begged the question: What else had I been hasty to draw wrong conclusions about God in my own life?

There were times I had been protected, but also times I hadn’t. Times blessing flowed, and seasons of wretched aloneness and spiritual frustration. Dreams died. Prayers for desires that lined up with God’s Word came back empty. Had God been cruel then? Was He less than loving in those moments?

Was I secretly holding those experiences against God, the same way we can take the Sunday school understanding of the story of Noah’s Ark and in our hearts wonder what kind of God does stuff like that? Maybe we voice it out loud or maybe it just festers in some quiet corner of our soul in a more church “appropriate” way.

Perception Vs. Reality

I’ve had more than one relationship with an “accuser.” The sociopathic narcissistic type. It’s head-spinning awful. Up gets reported as down, in as out, and you get so twisted up inside you can’t see straight. Unfortunately, whether we are aware of it or not, we all have a relationship with the primary narcissistic Accuser.

We had one before we were even born. His words swim around us so prolifically it’s like fish swimming in water and not knowing they are wet. And he is constantly baiting us to accuse, so we can be like him, trying to twist the image of our Creator out of us, until we reflect him instead of God. And the bait to accuse God inside our hearts is easy to take.

I gave a women’s Bible study message about deception and the illustration I used was strawberry ice cream. I could pass out strawberry ice cream cups (or strawberry candies), ask everyone to taste it, and tell me what gave the ice cream its flavor.

This was some years back before most people were so aware of food industry chemicals. And everyone was sure it was strawberries. But it wasn’t strawberries. There were no real strawberries in that cheap ice cream or candy.

It was red food dye with a chemical cocktail; chemicals, that were in fact used in the making of antifreeze for your car. The fake had been swirled around until it seemed so real you could taste it and be sure it was strawberries when it wasn’t even close.

Satan does this between us and our Lord. He twists experiences we have until we aren’t sure God is trustworthy at all. Perhaps the question inside us gives birth to an all-out hostility toward God and we dare to remove Him as Judge and put ourselves in that seat to accuse God.

If we want to know who God is, we are wise not to look to the whisperings of the accuser, but to the Words of Scripture. The God of the Old Testament declared His great love over His children. The God of the New Testament showed that love more than He said it. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

He is the God who saved Rahab and made her so completely a part of His family that she is in Christ’s lineage. And the same God who met Hagar in the desert and removed shame from the woman by the well. He came to GIVE life and to BE life to us. Satan comes only to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10).

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Let’s not be unwise about his age-old schemes. God has told us in His Word who He is. If our experiences challenge that, then we ought to pray for wisdom to see our circumstances with more clarity, rather than being quick to accuse God.

I Am Who I Am

If when we read the Bible, we feel concerned about God’s character because of how He dealt with people, we are wise to learn more about the people. Truth sets us free (John 8:32). We can be sure that God is not cruel.

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

He is love. But in those moments when we can’t see His love, let’s be honest about it. Let’s pray about it. Let’s seek His face about it and turn away from the bait of the enemy.


For further reading at Christianity.com:

Did God Condone Violence Found in the Old Testament?

Who Is the Father of Lies?

What Does it Mean That God Is Able?

What Does it Mean That God Is Not the Author of Confusion?

Will God Really Meet All My Needs?

What Does it Mean That God Works in Mysterious Ways?

Why Doesn’t God Heal Everyone?

January 24, 2021

An Unchanging God for Uncertain Times

Nancy Ruegg has been blogging faithfully at From the Inside Out since November, 2012 and was featured here twice previously before somehow falling off our radar. She writes weekly (on Thursdays) and each of her posts contain photography and highlighted scripture graphics; another reason why you should click through today on the title which follows.

Certain Security

Uncertain times.

That phrase appears everywhere these days. Between the pandemic, political upheaval, social unrest, and concerns for the future, we can find ourselves desperate to find security—freedom from danger, fear, and anxiety.

But there is only one reliable source of security: God.

The LORD is your security. He will keep your foot from being caught in a trap. Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. (Prov. 3:26 NLT, Jer. 17:7 NIV)

Out of his faithfulness to us, God always supplies what we need. And as it happens, the word FAITHFUL provides a tidy acrostic for eight blessings we enjoy–no matter what.

God is our:

Faithful promise-keeper. He is already ahead of us in the uncertainty of 2021, just as he went ahead of Joshua and the Israelites into Canaan. He has promised not to fail us or abandon us[1]—even when we cross dark valleys of troubling circumstances.

Attentive Father. Before we put our needs into words, God is on his way to meet it.[2]

Immutable (unchanging) Rock. He “does not change like shifting shadows.”[3] In a world where situations and relationships can change unexpectedly, God remains his rock-solid, reliable, perfect self.

Truth-Revealer.   The truth of God’s Word has been proven through numerous disciplines and in the lives of millions. Within its pages we find the wisdom and support we need.[4]

All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.
 -Psalm 119:160

“The remedy for discouragement is the Word of God.
When you feed your heart and mind with its truth,
You regain your perspective and find renewed strength.”
–Warren Wiersbe

Hope. Our God of hope fills us with all joy and peace as we trust him. Hope allows us to see his blessings even amid hardship, and know with certainty he will use even our painful circumstances to accomplish good.[5]

Foundation. God’s ways provide a strong foundation for life, especially when storms of sorrow come. He upholds us with his love and compassion, peace and comfort that transcend our ability to explain.[6]

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. (Is. 54:10)

Unerring and righteous Judge. “Your kingdom is founded on righteousness and justice,” wrote the psalmist, “love and faithfulness are shown in all you do.” And because he is righteous and just, everything will work toward the best outcome in the end.[7]

Light, even in dark times.[8] Too often we focus on the swirling blackness of circumstances around us. But “God’s lights in our dark nights are as numerous as the stars, if only we’ll look for them.”[9]

Throughout my years as a blogger, I’ve shared many experiences illustrating how God has been faithful to our family. One in particular comes to mind that encompassed all of the above blessings.

Leadership of our church denomination assigned my pastor-husband to another church across state.   We were not ready to move. God ministered to me during those dark days of transition as I journaled through the psalms, affirming his love and compassion, peace and comfort. And as a result, hope began to blossom.

For whatever was written in the past was all written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.
 (Rom. 15:4 BSB)

I grew in spiritual strength, compelled to rely on him through the grief of leaving beloved friends and the uncertainty of what lay ahead. He miraculously provided a teaching position for me not far from our new home. And in the end everything did work for good as that struggling church became a thriving community. (You can read a fuller account at After the Fact.)

In a book of liturgy, St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) kept a bookmark with the following affirmation:

“Let nothing disturb you; let nothing dismay you;
all things pass: God never changes.
Patience attains all it strives for.
He who has God finds he lacks nothing.
God only suffices.”

God only—in all the numerous demonstrations of his faithfulness–is our certain security.


Should you wish to read more examples of God’s faithfulness, you can click on the following links:

Notes:

[1] Deuteronomy 31:6
[2] Matthew 6:8
[3] James 1:17c CSB
[4] Psalm 119:24, 140, 160
[5] Romans 15:13; 8:28
[6] Isaiah 54:10; Philippians 4:6-7
[7] Psalm 89:14 GNT; Genesis 50:20
[8] Psalm 27:1
[9] Max Lucado, Grace for the Moment (J. Countryman, 2000) p. 195

December 19, 2020

Not the Usual Way to Begin a Chapter of Wisdom Literature

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I don’t think I’ve ever paid attention to this verse before. You’ve got only one chapter in the entire Bible and this is how you begin? There’s no way to put a good spin on Proverbs 30:2

Certainly I am a stupid man, as dumb as an ox. I don’t understand the way that most people do. (The Voice)

Surely I am too stupid to be human; I do not have human understanding. (NRSV)

I’m more animal than human; so-called human intelligence escapes me. (The Message)

Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man. (ESV)

This our third time with Michael James Schwab who has lived in Oaxaca, Mexico since March, 2005, serving at a home for needy children called Cristo Por Su Mundo (Christ for the World) operated by Foundation For His Ministry.  He blogs at ToEnjoyGod.com. Click the header below to read this one at his blog.

I Am Too Stupid …

Suppose, for a moment, that God tapped you on the shoulder and asked you to write a chapter for the Bible. Wow. What an incredible honor! What would you write? How would you even begin?

Perhaps with an exclamation of God’s incredible majesty and glory, or a proclamation of His great love, mercy and grace. Maybe you would begin with a meditation on creation, the stars and seas; the mountains, flowers and forests. All of those ideas seem a good way to start a chapter of the Bible.

But that is not what Agur did. Who is Agur, you may ask. Well, Agur is the son of Jakeh and his claim to fame is writing one chapter in the Bible – Proverbs 30. And that is all we know about him. And you won’t believe how he started his chapter.

He writes “I am weary and worn out. I am too stupid to be human and I lack common sense.” (NLT) What a way to begin! Your one shot at immortality, and you tell the world that you are tired and stupid. In Holy Scripture no less. I love it!

I love it because it is so surprising. It catches one off guard. Especially in the book of Proverbs, which is wisdom literature. The first chapter starts off with these words, “The purpose of proverbs is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.” And the second to last chapter has some guy talking about how weary and stupid he is. Isn’t that great?

I think it’s great because that is the way I feel a lot of the time. Especially as I get older. The more I learn, the stupider I feel. Especially when I consider God.

I think Agur describes himself that way because he is thinking about God. In verses 4-5 he starts writing about God. God goes up to heaven and comes back down. God wraps up the oceans in his cloak. God created the whole wide world. Every word of God is true. God is a shield to all who come to him for protection. In short, God never gets tired and knows everything.

When we compare ourselves to God we all come away weary and stupid. We are like dumb cows compared to God. The Hebrew word that is used in verse two for “stupid” (NLT) is ba’ar, which literally can be translated “brutish cattle”.

We spend a lot of time trying to be smart, look smart and feel smart. We are all trying to gain knowledge in this “information age,” from the nightly news, to our favorite bloggers and YouTube videos, to masters degrees and PhD’s from acclaimed universities. But in the end, when we compare ourselves to an infinite, omniscient, omnipotent God, we are all just a bunch of dumb, tired cows.

So perhaps, the next time we are feeling full of ourselves and consider ourselves superior to those around us, we should just turn our attention to God, humble ourselves, and say “moo.”


I was so foolish and ignorant— I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
 Psalm 73:22 NLT

November 29, 2020

What Does It Mean to Say God is Immutable?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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What does the word mean?

From Dictionary.com:

adjective: not mutable; unchangeable; changeless.

synonymns: immovable, inflexible, sacrosanct, enduring, abiding, changeless, ageless, constant, fixed, invariable, permanent, perpetual, stable, steadfast, unalterable, unmodifiable

From a very detailed, very researched page at the website PreceptAustin.org:

Immutability means that God is not subject to change through time or circumstances. He is invariable. In His nature and character, God is absolutely without change. In God’s essence, attributes, consciousness and will, He is unchangeable. Ponder the significance of this truth, in light of other truths about God such as “God is love.” (1Jn 4:8, 16)…

A W Tozer ..adds that “If God is self-existent, He must be also self-sufficient; and if He has power, He, being infinite, must have all power. If He possesses knowledge, His infinitude assures us that He possesses all knowledge. Similarly, His immutability presuppose His faithfulness. If He is unchanging, it follows that He could not be unfaithful, since that would require Him to change. Any failure within the divine character would argue imperfection and, since God is perfect, it could not occur. Thus the attributes explain each other and prove that they are but glimpses the mind enjoys of the absolutely perfect Godhead.” …

Where does the Bible teach this?

The website AllAboutGod.com provides the scripture references:

The Old Testament clearly states that God is immutable:

“God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19).

“He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29).

“They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end” (Psalm 102:26-27).

“Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please’” (Isaiah 46:10-11).

“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed” (Malachi 3:6).

God is Immutable – New Testament Verses
“Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

“God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged” (Hebrews 6:18).

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

“He also says, ‘In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end’” (Hebrews 1:10-12).

“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time” (Titus 1:1-2).

Why is it Necessary that God have this Characteristic?

From the website GotQuestions.org:

…There are several logical reasons why God must be immutable, that is, why it is impossible for God to change. First, if anything changes, it must do so in some chronological order. There must be a point in time before the change and a point in time after the change. Therefore, for change to take place it must happen within the constraints of time; however, God is eternal and exists outside of the constraints of time (Psalm 33:11; 41:13; 90:2-4; John 17:5; 2 Timothy 1:9).

Second, the immutability of God is necessary for His perfection. If anything changes, it must change for the better or the worse, because a change that makes no difference is not a change. For change to take place, either something that is needed is added, which is a change for the better; or something that is needed is lost, which is a change for the worse. But, since God is perfect, He does not need anything. Therefore, He cannot change for the better. If God were to lose something, He would no longer be perfect; therefore, He cannot change for the worse.

Third, the immutability of God is related to His omniscience. When someone changes his/her mind, it is often because new information has come to light that was not previously known or because the circumstances have changed and require a different attitude or action. Because God is omniscient, He cannot learn something new that He did not already know. So, when the Bible speaks of God changing His mind, it must be understood that the circumstance or situation has changed, not God. When Exodus 32:14 and 1 Samuel 15:11-29 speak of God changing His mind, it is simply describing a change of dispensation and outward dealings toward man…

Does this mean the God of the New Testament is the same as the God of the Old Testament?

In many respects, this question needs to be re-framed to be a valid question, but the clue to the answer is in the last sentence of the previous answer (“a change of dispensation and outward dealings toward man.”)

Look at this way, you can’t read Hebrews 13:8

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

without having passed by Hebrews 8:13

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

(Like the 8:13/13:8 thing I did there?)

Similarly, you can’t answer this question in terms of God’s core character or essence, but rather, one resolves the presumed dilemma in terms of discussing the idea that God has, with the coming of Jesus, ushered us into an era of a new covenant with humankind.

Thankfully, we get to be participants in this new covenant.

 

 

July 26, 2020

The God You Can Know; The God Who Wants to be Known

NLT.Phil.3.10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death

There has been quite an outpouring of tributes following the death of J. I. Packer. I would say more than I expected. I posted a very brief tribute to him at Thinking Out Loud, and just eight days ago I ran a series of quotations by him here at C201. But today I felt led to see if anyone had posted a larger book excerpt — transcribing things is half the battle — and found this excerpt from his most popular book.

Knowing God was first published in 1973, with a 20th Anniversary edition published in ’93. You can learn more about the book at the website of its publisher, InterVaristy Press (IVP), where you will also find this tribute. Knowing God may also be read as a 365-day devotional published by IVP under the title Knowing God Through the Year.

The excerpt below was not originally paragraphed so what appears may slightly vary from the paragraphing in my print copy (which I can’t locate right now!) Material below is © InterVarsity Press.

Knowing God

…[U]nlike horses, people keep secrets.

They do not show everybody all that is in their hearts. A few days are enough to get to know a horse as well as you will ever know it, but you may spend months and years doing things in company with another person and still have to say at the end of that time, “I don’t really know him at all.”

We recognize degrees in our knowledge of our fellow men. We know them, we say, well, not very well; just to shake hands with, intimately, or perhaps inside out, according to how much, or how little, they have opened up to us. Thus, the quality and extent of our knowledge of other people depends more on them than on us. Our knowing them is more directly the result of their allowing us to know them than of our attempting to get to know them.

When we meet, our part is to give them our attention and interest, to show them goodwill and to open up in a friendly way from our side. From that point, however, it is they, not we, who decide whether we are going to know them or not.

Imagine, now, that we are going to be introduced to someone whom we feel to be “above” us; whether in rank, or intellectual distinction, or professional skill, or personal sanctity, or in some other respect. The more conscious we are of our own inferiority, the more we shall feel that our part is simply to attend to this person respectfully and let him take the initiative in the conversation. (Think of meeting the queen of England or the president of the United States.) We would like to get to know this exalted person, but we fully realize that this is a matter for him to decide, not us. If he confines himself to courteous formalities with us, we may be disappointed, but we do not feel able to complain; after al, we had no claim on his friendship.

But if instead he starts at once to take us into his confidence, and tells us frankly what is in his mind on matters of common concern, and if he goes on to invite us to join him in particular undertakings he has planned, and asks us to make ourselves permanently available for this kind of collaboration whenever he needs us, then we shall feel enormously privileged, and it will make a world of difference to our general outlook. If life seemed unimportant and dreary hitherto, it will not seem so anymore, now that the great man has enrolled us among his personal assistants.

Here is something to write home about-and something to live up to!

Now this, so far as it goes, is an illustration of what it means to know God. Well might God say through Jeremiah, “Let him that glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me”—for knowing God is a relationship calculated to thrill a person’s heart. What happens is that the almighty Creator, the Lord of hosts, the great God before whom the nations are as a drop in a bucket, comes to you and begins to talk to you through the words and truths of Holy Scripture.

Perhaps you have been acquainted with the Bible and Christian truth for many years, and it has meant little to you; but one day you wake up to the fact that God is actually speaking to you—you!—through the biblical message. As you listen to what God is saying, you find yourself brought very low; for God talks to you about your sin, and guilt, and weakness, and blindness, and folly, and compels you to judge yourself hopeless and helpless, and to cry out for forgiveness.

But this is not all.

You come to realize as you listen that God is actually opening his heart to you, making friends with you and enlisting you as a colleague; in Barth’s phrase, a covenant partner. It is a staggering thing, but it is true — the relationship in which sinful human beings know God is one in which God, so to speak, takes them onto his staff, to be henceforth his fellow workers (see 1 Cor 3:9) and personal friends.

The action of God in taking Joseph from prison to become Pharaoh’s Prime Minister is a picture of what he does to every Christian: from being Satan’s prisoner, you find yourself transferred to a position of trust in the service of God. At once life is transformed. Whether being a servant is a matter for shame or for pride depends on whose servant one is.

Many have said what pride they felt in rendering personal service to Sir Winston Churchill during World War II. How much more should it be a matter of pride and glorying to know and serve the Lord of heaven and earth! What, then, does the activity of knowing God involve?

Holding together the various elements involved in this relationship, as we have sketched it out, we must say that knowing God involves, first, listening to God’s Word and receiving it as the Holy Spirit interprets it, in application to oneself; second, noting God’s nature and character, as his Word and works reveal it; third, accepting his invitations and doing what he commands; fourth, recognizing and rejoicing in the love that he has shown in thus approaching you and drawing you into this divine fellowship.


NIV.I Cor.9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

June 19, 2020

A Father to the Fatherless

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” Psalm 68:5 (NIV)

Related scriptures from BibleHub.com

But You have regarded trouble and grief; You consider it to take in hand. The victim entrusts himself to You; You are the helper of the fatherless.
 – Psalm 10:14

The LORD protects the sojourners; He sustains the fatherless and the widow, but the ways of the wicked He frustrates.
 – Psalm 146:9

He executes justice for the fatherless and widow, and He loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing.
 – Deuteronomy 10:18

Often I will add a video to the end of a devotional, but today, with Father’s Day fast approaching, I discovered that a powerful song which I have known for years and even taught in churches, has never been posted here. So today we worked backwards from Graham Kendrick’s song, Father Me (O Father of the Fatherless.)

Barbara Curtis wrote that, “Like many American kids, I never really had anyone to buy a card for.”  She continues,

…The truth is that fatherlessness hurts. I grew up feeling different and “less than”-all those uncomfortable feelings we try to spare fatherless kids today. Still, I would never endorse the current “cure” of teaching children that dads are optional. It was knowing that a mother/father/children family was best that eventually led me to have the commitment to work together with my husband to build one of our own…

…Just as we need an earthly father, we need our Heavenly one-in a strong and personal way. I will never forget the first time I heard that I really did have a Father. I was 38 years old and just beginning to pull the raggedy pieces of my life together. After years of mistakes and regrets, of looking for love and affirmation in all the wrong places, of trying to fill the hole in my heart, I was someone’s little girl. I could feel His love. I could trust in His forgiveness and mercy. I was His forever.

Is it not a miracle that someone who missed an earthly father’s love can be healed to receive the love of the Heavenly Father? But isn’t He Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals? Doesn’t the Bible say He came to bind the brokenhearted, set the captives free, and release prisoners from darkness? Didn’t He say we could come to Him as children? And isn’t it the greatest privilege of all to call him “Abba, Father”-just as children call their fathers “Daddy”? …

At the website, Got Questions? we read:

…Of all the ways the Lord God Almighty could have chosen to relate to humanity, He chose the language of family. He could have described Himself as a benevolent dictator, kind boss, or patient landlord. But instead, He chose the word father.

He presents Himself as a Father because we all know what a father is and does. Even if we did not have earthly fathers who treated us well, we have an intrinsic understanding of what a good father should be. God planted that understanding in our hearts. We all have a need to be loved, cherished, protected, and valued. Ideally, an earthly father will meet those needs. But even if he doesn’t, God will…

Charles Stanley shared this last year at InTouch Ministries:

…From the very beginning, God has shown Himself to be a loving parent, but it is only through Christ that we’ve inherited the privilege to call the Him “our Father” (Gal. 4:4-7*). The New Testament gives witness to Christ’s revelation of the wonderful relationship we can have with our heavenly Father: The name appears 245 times—over 100 times in John’s gospel alone. Paul opens each of his letters acknowledging God as our Father. The fact that man could know God as the perfect parent was a radical new idea in Jesus’ time, and it continues to be a life-impacting truth today

Leigh Powers writes,

…As children of the Father, we are called to reflect our Father’s heart. We are still called to care for the vulnerable and dispossessed–making room for those who society has rejected around the banquet table. Orphans, refugees, widows, the homeless, prisoners, the terminally ill–the list goes on. But when we extend hospitality, lift our voices for justice, and reach out in compassion, we demonstrate God’s faithful love. There is room in God’s family for all who will come. Will you invite others to find the welcome of our father’s love?

A Prayer (Max Lucado):

Dear God; today remind me today that you protect me. Be my father and defender. Defend those who’re weak and afraid and feel forgotten. Show up in their lives today. Thank you for giving me a spiritual family that can never be taken away. I pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Graham Kendrick:

Father Me – A Father’s Day Worship Song


* NLT.Gal.4.4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.

May 4, 2020

The Book of Job and Worship Song Theology

If today is controversial to some of you, remember this is Christianity 201, not 101, and look at it on that basis.

Earlier today I was preparing a response to a friend concerning the Matt Redman song, “Blessed be the Name” which contains the line, “You give and take away.”

In checking what others have written on this, I came across the blog of former pastor Dr. Paul Ellis who lives in his native Australia currently, and has also resided in Asia and California. His site is called Escape to Reality (or E2R.) There were a number of more recent articles, but on discovering that we’ve only covered this once here (rather superficially in 2011) I decided to share with you the piece which got my attention earlier this morning.

As always, send some traffic to our contributors by clicking on the header which follows.

Does God Give and Take Away?

The entire Bible is good for you, but you won’t get much out of it unless you know Jesus Christ. To understand the written word, you need to know the Living Word. Try to read the Bible without an appreciation of Jesus – who he is and what he has done – you may end up taking someone else’s medicine. Some verses will appear to contradict others and you will get confused.

In the first part of this study on God’s gifts, we looked at a sincere lady in the Bible who mistakenly believed that God gives us bad gifts like death and poverty. Today I want to look at a man who had a different problem. He believed that God gives us good gifts only to take them away again. You can probably guess that I’m talking about Job. Job had this one really bad week when his livestock were stolen, his servants were slain, and his kids were killed when a house fell on them. For some reason, Job thought God was behind his loss for he said:

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised. (Job 1:21)

If there was ever a scripture that has led to some screwy notions about God’s character, it’s this one. Anyone who has suffered loss has probably heard this verse. It’s quoted at funerals. We sing songs about it. For some strange reason people seem to find comfort in believing that God is responsible for their loss.

Now don’t get me wrong – I love Job’s attitude. He’s saying that whatever happens in life, he’s going to praise the name of the Lord. But Job said some dumb things about God. Later on Job would come to regret his choice of words. “I spoke of things I did not understand” (Job 42:3).

The question stands: Does God give and take away?

Any picture we have of God needs to be informed by Jesus Christ. Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being” (Heb 1:3). To get a good understanding of God’s character, we need to look to Jesus, not Job. Can you imagine Jesus stealing or killing? Of course not. So how is it that some people think that God was responsible for Job’s loss?

“But Paul, it’s in the Bible, it’s right there in black and white.” Let me put it to you like this. If you want the very best insight into God’s character, are you better off looking at:

(a)    Jesus, who said “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), or
(b)    Job, who had only heard of God but did not actually know him  (see Job 42:5)?

Jesus is the better choice! Jesus came to reveal God the Great Giver. Have you been given something good? Then see God as your source:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (Jas 1:17)

Who’s robbing you?

But what if you have suffered loss, like Job? He lost his health, his wealth, and his family. The temptation may be to blame God for your loss, as if God had a change of heart. But God is not fickle. He does not change like shifting shadows. He is an extraordinary giver who never takes back his gifts.

God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty – never canceled, never rescinded. (Romans 11:29, MSG)

So if God is doing the giving, who is doing the taking? Again, Jesus provides the answer:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

We ought not to be confused about these two different roles. One is a giver, the other is a taker. If you have been given something good, give thanks to God. But if you’ve been robbed, don’t blame God. He’s not behind your loss. And Satan is not his sheepdog.

Humans are spectacularly slow learners. From the beginning of human history the devil has been trying to steal or ruin everything God gave us and yet there are still some who think that God is the thief. God gave us authority over a planet and the devil took it. God gave us freedom and the devil somehow got us to choose the way of slavery. God gave us eternal life, health and glory, and we lost it all. But thank God for Jesus who took back what the devil stole.

Karma versus grace

If you think that God gives and takes away, you’ve missed the point of Jesus. Jesus came to reveal a generous Father and to destroy the work of the thief (1 John 3:8). Jesus came that we might have life to the full, not to the half.

If you think God gives and takes away, you have more faith in karma than grace. Karma says what goes around comes around. If you’re healthy now, you’ll be sick tomorrow. If you’re prospering now, poverty’s waiting around the next corner. When disappointments and hardships come, you won’t be surprised. You’ll just throw in the towel and say, “I knew it was too good to last.”

The world works according to the principle of give and take, but God just gives. The only thing he’ll take off you – if you let him – is your sin, your shame, your sickness, your worries, and your fears. He takes away those things that harm us and gives us good things that bless us.

Are you Job or David?

Both Job and David were robbed. Both were greatly distressed and surrounded by foolish men who gave bad advice. But unlike Job, David did a Jesusy-thing and took back what was stolen. Why did David fight back when Job quit? Because David “encouraged himself in the Lord his God” (1 Sam 30:6). In his pain David considered God’s goodness and realized that God was not behind his loss. He understood that it was not God’s will for him to suffer and, so strengthened, he fought back and prevailed.

I wish I could go back in time and get to Job before his friends did. I would say, “God didn’t kill your kids! He didn’t steal your livestock and make you sick. You’ve been robbed! The devil is having a go at you. Don’t sit there in the ashes and cry about it, get up and fight! Are you a victor or a victim?”

The church will never see victory if we think God is behind our suffering. If we think God is robbing us we won’t even resist. We’ll let the devil waltz in and plunder our families all the while singing “He gives and takes away.”

Funny, but I can’t imagine Jesus or David doing that.

 

March 28, 2020

Acts of Kindness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Throughout our world we’re seeing so many demonstrations of acts of kindness. Today we have two excerpts for you. The first is from the blog Hounded by Heaven. Our model of course is always God’s kindness towards us.

“Forever His Kindess”

Ps 100.5 – For the LORD is good, forever His kindness, and for all generations His faithfulness.

The word that The Hebrew Bible translates “kindness” is hesed, the word that expresses God’s covenant love to his people. I like how the Hebrew emphasizes this characteristic putting the qualification first: forever! His kindness/hesed.

If God’s hesed is forever this means that there is no end to it, that it will not flag or fail or falter, that there will never come a day when we will wake up and God’s hesed will be gone or missing. “Forever” means that his hesed does not depend upon us or our actions or our faithfulness, but on God and his character and promises. It means that even when day and night cease and history comes to an end, God’s love/hesed will still be present, strong and sure. It means that we can wake up every morning in peace and hope because no matter what the storms that batter us from outside, God is present, God is active, God is faithful.

Spurgeon writes here: “Towards his own people mercy [hesed] is still more conspicuously displayed; it has been theirs from all eternity, and shall be theirs world without end.


The second article is from Practical Theology Today. I don’t remember seeing this website before but the articles resonated with me on a number of levels. The writer is Curt Hinkle.

Hesed and Emet

The Hebrew word hesed (sometimes transliterated as chesed) is translated into English as either steadfast love, lovingkindness, mercy, love, or unfailing love, depending on the translation of the Bible. Looking at Psalm 85:10, we see the treatment of hesed by various translations:

  • Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. (NIV)
  • Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. (ESV)
  • Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (NASB)
  • Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed. (NKJV)

Hesed is such a rich and robust term that no single English word (or two words, in the case of “steadfast love”) captures its essence. Hesed is not just mercy, but covenant loyalty and relational fidelity. It is freely given, often unexpectedly, without requiring anything in return. Even though hesed stems from covenant (contract) loyalty, there is a sense that the loyalty surpasses the letter of the law. In Hosea, God said that he desires mercy (hesed), not sacrifice (law), which Jesus reiterated (Matthew 9:13). Jesus further reinforced this thought when addressing the Roman law forcing locals to carry soldiers’ packs for a mile; Jesus suggested going an extra mile (Matthew 5:41).

Hesed, you can see, describes the rich and robust depth of God’s character.

Though hesed is usually directional in its Old Testament usage – from God to his people – there is a sense that it was to be practiced ethically in the the way people treated each other, be it relatives, friends, or foreigners. Boaz recognized hesed (kindness) in Ruth’s character (Ruth 3:10). One also thinks of God’s desire that his people not seek vengeance, but show love toward their neighbor (Leviticus 19:18) which Jesus reinforced, as part of “Great Commandments” (Mark 12:30-31). The author of Mark used the term agape (love), the Greek equivalent of hesed. Again, think “go the extra mile.”

Hesed is used 248 times in the Old Testament, 50% of its usage is in the Psalms, so it isn’t difficult to spot. As you read, be looking for it. Pay attention to the context in which it is used. I find myself translating the English back to Hebrew, knowing the richness and robustness of the word. I recently read Psalm 85 (above) and wrote in my journal, “Hesed and emet meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” As in Psalm 85, hesed and emet are often found together, increasing the richness and robustness of the description of God’s character. May you experience the hesed of God as you spend time with Him in Scripture.

 

March 24, 2020

He Does Not Afflict Willingly

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:52 pm
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For He does not afflict willingly,
Nor grieve the children of men.
– Lamentations 3:33 (NKJV)

It is part of the amazing power of the Christian scriptures that passages will simply come to life at times when we need them most. Scripture portions that perhaps we rushed through or more or less ignored take on greater significance at pivotal times in our lives.

Thus was the case this week as I was housecleaning boxes and boxes of old correspondence, and found this selection from Lamentations 3 on a church bulletin. The above verse is NKJV as was the church bulletin, what follows is The Message:

22-24 God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
    How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
    He’s all I’ve got left.

25-27 God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
to stick it out through the hard times…

31-33 Why? Because the Master won’t ever
walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
He takes no pleasure in making life hard,
in throwing roadblocks in the way

Verse 33 was the one which really jumped out at me. Here it is in some other translations:

■ He definitely doesn’t enjoy affliction, making humans suffer. (CEB)
■ He does not enjoy causing people pain. He does not like to make anyone unhappy. (ERV)
■ He does not willingly bring suffering or grief to anyone (God’s Word)
[I]t is not the desire or way of God’s heart to hurt and grieve the children of men. (The Voice)

This stands in contrast to the theology of some people, that God is angry with us and waiting to pour out his wrath on people.

Some might suggest that this verse goes too far the other way! I compiled the various translations using Bible Gateway, but when you go to Bible Hub, you are always offered parallel passages. Perhaps reading all of these gives better context into the nature of God vis-a-vis his dealings with us in seemingly difficult circumstances:

For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness.
 – Hebrews 12:10 (NLT)

The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress.
– Job 37:23 (NIV)

My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.
– Psalm 119:71 (NLT)

Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
– Ezekiel 33:11 (ESV)

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
– 2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)

I’ll leave it there for you to consider. Comments are always welcome.

 

March 10, 2020

Those Early Church Descriptions in Acts 2 and Acts 4

Acts 2.42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

You’re read them.

I’ve read them.

Those classic descriptions of the early church that we find first in a section at the end of Acts 2, and then repeated more concisely at the end of Acts 4.

The early Christians would have trouble relating to so much of what preoccupies us, particularly in North America: Multimedia, megachurches, massive programs for children and youth. They simply met from house to house.

It was what Catholics might term, “the parish system,” but not because you were expected to go to the church closest to you (or the church in your parish) but because you couldn’t realistically go anywhere else in a world without mass transit.

Your churches were in homes because you were a small upstart group of rebels who followed something called “The Way” and believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the long awaited Anointed One, the long awaited Messiah.

At our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud, I recently wrote about how a thing so simple as the automobile sets us apart from the modus operandi of the church we visited in Cuba.

But here at C201, there’s something else in that description I discovered on the weekend in the shorter passage in Acts 4.

Acts.4.32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34a that there were no needy persons among them.

The verse numbering system is unfortunate here because it breaks up a phrase, in verses 33b and 34a, but on the other hand, that’s what drew me to the phrase,

And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.

Listen to how some of the other translations render this…

Phillips: a wonderful spirit of generosity pervaded the whole fellowship
The Living Bible: there was warm fellowship among all the believers
NASB: abundant grace was upon them all
The Passion Translation: great measures of grace rested upon them all
God’s Word Translation: God’s abundant good will was with all of them
NLT: God’s great blessing was upon them all.

Despite the variety shown here, the word grace is most often repeated among the English translations.

The overall picture is painted of a people who are recipients of grace, but are also issuers of grace. Grace flows through them.

Years ago I attended a fellowship in Toronto called “Reach Out.” The motto: “Everyone Gives, Everyone Receives.” Reach Out was based in I Cor. 14:26 which says, “When you gather together everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” (My paraphrase.) So people would jump up — sometimes suddenly — and say, “I have a Psalm;” and then read it; and other would jump up and say, “I have a teaching;” and would give a 60-second teaching; etc. They always said at the outset what it was they were going to say.

But their motto extended into being involved with their community as givers of grace. A place where you received grace and then extended it to the people in your own world; your personal sphere of influence.

At Thinking Out Loud last October, I also shared about the idea of being part of a chain of grace and offered three different models of what this phrase might describe.

Is the place where you worship a place people go to be the beneficiaries of grace and to be equipped to be distributors of grace? I hope so.

 


Postscript: Acts 4 also has another two of my favorite verses:

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

20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

 

March 8, 2020

Receiving, Then Sharing God’s Compassion

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today back again at the blog with the unusual name, More than Useless, written by Pastor Thom Fowler. Click here to uncover the meaning of the blog’s name, or click the header below to read this at source.

Compassion

Loving Father, I am regularly amazed at how You can take something that I have a certain amount of hesitancy about and use it in a way that touches people’s hearts. It is a great reminder and encouragement for me to know that I am certainly cherished by You but though I may feel limited and limiting, You still get Your word out! Praise the Almighty King!

Luke 7:11-17

11 Soon afterward Jesus went with his disciples to the village of Nain, and a large crowd followed him. 12 A funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The young man who had died was a widow’s only son, and a large crowd from the village was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion. “Don’t cry!” he said. 14 Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. “Young man,” he said, “I tell you, get up.” 15 Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk! And Jesus gave him back to his mother.

16 Great fear swept the crowd, and they praised God, saying, “A mighty prophet has risen among us,” and “God has visited his people today.” 17 And the news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding countryside.

I know what compassion means but looked it up anyway. When I typed in the word “compassion”, this came up on Google.

What does it mean to have compassion?

If someone shows kindness, caring, and a willingness to help others, they’re showing compassion. This is a word for a very positive emotion that has to do with being thoughtful and decent. … When you have compassion, you’re putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and really feeling for them.

I don’t know about you, but I felt that that explanation fell a little flat. …being…decent? …really feeling for them? Yeah, but…

Further down the page were this question and answer.

What is the biblical meaning of compassion? (emphasis mine)

Compassion alludes to kindness and sympathy, but there is something deeper, something even more profoundly powerful, in its meaning. … The Bible talks of a God who has compassion for Israel. It tells of a Savior who suffers for the world, and it asks us to live and act compassionately. (This is from Compassion International’s website.)

In reading through today’s passage, the line that caught my attention right off was

When the Lord saw her [a widow whose only son had died], his heart overflowed with compassion. NLT (emphasis mine)

As I have stated before, God’s word speaks more clearly than anything I could ever write. Here are more verses that speak of our Lord’s compassion to us. (These and many more can be found on the Compassion International link above.)

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Exodus 33:19 NIV

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10 NIV

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 145:8-9 NIV

Yes, the Lord has great compassion for us, but we also have a responsibility to show it to others.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12 NIV

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Philippians 2:1-2 NIV

Lord Jesus, may we wholeheartedly embrace Your compassion for us all and may we, like You, purposely, graciously be about sharing it with all we meet. Amen.

 

October 6, 2019

God: What He Did was Who He Is

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. – Hebrews 1:1-2 (NIV)

In my formative spiritual years, I remember hearing this:

We worship God for who he is.
We praise God for what he has done.

For some, the distinction may not be entirely clear as when we substitute the word thank as in:

We worship God for who he is.
We thank God for what he has done.

I was taught this in what we might call, for lack of a better term, an ecclesiastical setting; in other words, the intent of the speaker(s) was to communicate the difference between simply saying “thanks” versus bowing our hearts in total adoration for who God is; his power, might, majesty and… wait for it… his merciful love.

I get that.

But I think it also needs to be said that, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, it was part of God’s plan all along to make a way of atonement.

God didn’t simply wake up one morning (!) and say, “This sacrificial system isn’t working, we need to try something else.”

The broad story arc of the Bible points to the coming of a Savior. He didn’t simply know that this is where the story was going to lead, rather he had planned out that the opportunity for humankind to experience forgiveness that was both full and free was the direction of the story — the plot line — from the beginning. Dispensationalists call this “the age of grace.” I would call it the “age of atonement.” We went from having to cover our sins to having our sins be covered.

And here is my point:

This whole plan is a reflection not only of what God did — though it is certainly that — but also indicative of who God is.

His actions and his act of mercy toward we who are sinners are indistinguishable from his nature.

He is a God of love.

He is a God of mercy.

He always has been.

The LORD passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The LORD! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  Exodus 34:6-7a (NLT)

When we consider God’s nature, we often end up at the big O-words — omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent — and can forget he is loving and merciful and in his ways that are far above our ways has devised a plan none of us could ever imagine.

For that we offer thanks; we offer worship; we offer ourselves.


Here are some thoughts on thanks from Ruth’s worship set this morning:

 

September 27, 2019

Don’t Speculate as to What God Cares About

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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This week we discovered Lauren Jensen and choosing which of three articles to share with you, decided this might be something someone here needs to hear. As always, click the header below to read this on her site.

His Ways Are Not Our Ways: Why We Need to Hear that God Cares

 

What is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 8:4 ESV

I used to fuel myself 12 hours of the day on coffee and caffeine. When my sweet friend would remark, “I don’t know how you get it all done,” I would shrug and smile and reply that I just had a lot of energy. Simple, stupid Lauren.

After embarking on a life sans caffeine, I realized that I actually have a very limited amount of energy. The only way to fill the energy tank is to simply rest, preferrably sleep. On top of that, I am also incredibly anemic.

In the face of finite energy and resources, I have adopted the phrase, “I don’t care.” The truth is I can’t care. I only have so much time and energy to use and I can’t waste it on things that don’t matter in the long run. Ahhh- that’s why kids tattle and adults don’t. We just don’t have the energy.

Anyway, I’m guessing I’m not alone on this one. With the world pulling us in every direction, we can’t possibly care about it all. And I think that’s partly due to the Fall, but also partly because we are dust.

Being weak clay with finite resources, it is impossible to conceive of a God of infinite resources. Of infinite caring. And phrases creep in that make God more like us. Phrases like “God doesn’t care about that.”

So in well-meaning Christian love we tell people that “God doesn’t care” about the color of their hair, the clothes they wear to church, if they even go to church, where they live, where their kids go to school…

Really, it’s a curious and dangerous thing when we start to determine and speak to what God cares about. Especially when He is quite clear that He is interested in every detail of His creation.

But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.

Matthew 10:30 ESV

“Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt,
to bring rain on a land where no man is…

Job 38:25 ESV

Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you observe the calving of the does?

Job 39:1 ESV

It’s really just a matter of reading Job 38 and 39. It’s watching closely as Jesus holds the little children close and promises the kingdom of heaven to “such as these.” It’s paying attention when God commands His people to remember the foreigners and orphans and widows. It is pausing to contemplate the millions of moments in each generation, the sequence of genes in each person along the way that led to the creation of you. Oh please please please pause and think about all the things that occured so you could occur. You are so precious. So important.

God cares about the small things and the big things. We don’t have a God who cares nothing for anything. Honestly, we have a God who cares so much about everything we can’t even imagine it.

And here is why I’m making a deal out of this: the moment we begin to determine what God does or does not care about, even in an attempt to be spiritually encouraging, we open mental gates to thoughts that if God does not care about that, then He probably doesn’t care about this. How many people don’t pray about things because they mistakenly think that God is busy with more important things and He won’t care about this? How many people, me included, have felt so small and insignificant that God probably doesn’t care about what we are going through?

How can we determine what God cares about when He repeatedly shows us in His word that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways?

And those little mistakes, the ones we are tempted to say God doesn’t care about, have been covered by the blood of Jesus. This doesn’t mean they are no big deal. It means they are forgiven. We are free. Our chains aren’t ignored- they are broken.

And while I don’t recall God saying in the Bible that He didn’t care about __________ (I could be wrong — feel free to refresh my memory), there are certain things He regards higher than others.

Appearances, facades, hypocrisy are not disregarded by God. On the contrary, His talk of bearing fruit and white-washed tombs and being ambassadors and putting on Christ indicates He feels very strongly about what our lives look like because often they reveal what is happening inside us.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart…” (Proverbs 3:5) “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”(Matthew 22:37) “I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 11:19) The hearts of His people rank number one; hearts that are turned to Him, humble hearts of flesh. Souls satisfied and cleansed in the blood of Christ.

Does God care about the color of your hair? The number of tattoos on your body? What you wear to church? Where you spend your Sunday mornings or Saturday nights? Your lineage, gender, culture? Absolutely. You are His child and He loves you. Will any of those things separate you from His love? Never.

We have some serious freedom, friends. We aren’t under the yolk of a bully God who will punish or disregard us with every misstep. We are in the hand of a loving God who desires a relationship with us. Who wants our obedience because it means the best for us in our relationship with Him and others. Who uses our every foible and failure to point to His glory and mercy and faithfulness.

In a world limited by the caring capacity of its inhabitants, we can’t hear this enough: God cares. He cares about it all. He cares about you. God is good.


 

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