Christianity 201

September 26, 2021

“There is No Shadow of Turning with Thee”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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There are Biblical phrases which have a beauty to them in older Bible versions that some might feel gets lost in modern translations, although, if the translators are doing their jobs correctly, the meaning should stay the same.

Some may know the phrase, “There is no shadow of turning with thee;” from the scriptures (though that’s not a direct quotation) but I’m betting that more readers here — including some younger readers — know it from the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness.

The hymn’s title phrase is from the book of Lamentations,

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (3:21-23 NIV);

but the next line is from the book of James. In the KJV, which was probably the version before the hymn writer, 1:17 reads

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

The blog, An Open Orthodoxy takes the time to show us other renderings,

NLT: “He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.”
ESV: “…with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
NASB: “…with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”
RSV: “…with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
RSVn: “with whom there is no variation due to a shadow of turning.”

In the Biblical Hermeneutics section of Stack Exchange, there is the same analogy that my wife suggested when we discussed this earlier today:

The ‘shadow of turning’ I can only assume to refer to a sundial, whose shadow turns as the sun moves. Or, in extension, to any object which might be used as a dial to monitor the sun’s movement ; even a tree in a field can have sticks poked around it in the ground which will, as long as clouds interfere not, tell the workers when to have a break and when to go home. ‘When the shadow reaches the eighth stick, you can go.’

But God is Light, 1 John 1:5, or, more strictly, ‘God light is’ – an equivalence in apposition.

Thus if all is bathed in light, rather than a single point-source giving illumination, there will be no shadow.

That was the first of three comments on the forum, and the third dared to get into a discussion of sunspots, but you can use the link and check that for yourself!

There was only one answer at the forum eBible,

In my opinion, James in this verse is contrasting God the Father with the movement of heavenly bodies (including the sun and moon) that exhibit differing levels of illumination, or changes in the shadows that they cast, as they “turn” (that is, as their position or appearance in relation to the earth changes).

The Father does not possess this variability. He is the “Father of lights”, and is the same from eternity past to eternity future. As such, He is a continuing source of gifts, even to the unjust … but especially to those who seek Him and His will through Christ, and to whom He is faithful in keeping His promises.

At the site, Reflections in the Word, there is a short devotional application to all this:

How can there be all that light and the earth still gets dark? It’s because the earth turns. The earth gets dark because the earth is spinning on its’ axis. Therefore, the side that faces the sun gets light and the side that is facing away does not.

If there is darkness in your life, it’s not because God, the Father of Lights is turning; it’s because you are turning. He is the Father of Lights and in Him there is no shadow. There is no darkness in Him.

Because God is faithful, He’s consistent. Just like the sun, He is always shining and in His light there is no shifting or moving shadow. We just have to make sure we are turned toward Him to experience the fullness of His Light.

At the blog, A Pilgrim’s Theology, there is a mention of 1 John 1:5: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” and Malachi 3:16 “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed; followed by,

…The literalistic but memorable turn of phrase “no … shadow of turning” used in the KJV, even if not an exact representation of the semantic equivalent of the metaphor that James uses, captures the notion of God’s faithfulness and steadiness. Given the instability of the world in which the nascent community of believers lived, the solidity and reliability of the wisdom of God was important, and the steadiness of the believers as lights is an important corollary in demonstrating that divine wisdom to the world.”

While we won’t quote it, for all the mathematics nerds reading, the blog Edge Induced Cohesion examines the verse in the light of calculus. (That one was above my pay grade!)

Going back to An Open Orthodoxy (linked above), the author offers a different perspective,

…I’d like to suggest that the point of the illustration is to make it clear that God is unlike objects which cast a shadow when held to the light of the sun because God cannot conceivably be thought to stand in the light of any reality or truth other than himself. Objects cast shadows because they are passive in relation to a source of light outside themselves which they reflect and according to which they cast a shadow, revealing their form. The only thing that can cast a shadow is that object whose substance reflects light cast upon it from a source outside itself, and its shadow is the outline of its reflected form. Its shadow shifts and changes as the object moves relative to the light. Everything on earth reflects the sun’s light in this way.

To say God “casts no shifting shadow” or that God is he “in whom there is no variation of shifting shadow” is to say (among other things) that God does not stand in the light of some measurement, that God’s reality casts no shadow because there is no reality outside God whose light or presence or truth God can be said to reflect and in reflecting reveal his form or substance, that God’s gifts do not reflect a goodness other than God.

For those who wish a new theological term for today, all of this is reflective of God’s divine impassibility.

 

 

 

 

September 25, 2021

The Safety and Protection David Knew

For a weekend reading, we’re introducing another new source to you. Salty Saints are a husband/wife team that’s been serving our Lord Jesus Christ together for 14 years. Their tag line for the blog is, “Sprinkling some salt and shining our light all over this world for Jesus!” Angela, who does most of the writing, is currently in a series on the Psalms. Click the header which follows to read this there, and then explore more well-written, thoughtful devotionals.

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
    so why should I tremble?
When evil people come to devour me,
    when my enemies and foes attack me,
    they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
    my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
    I will remain confident.

The one thing I ask of the Lord—
    the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
    delighting in the Lord’s perfections
    and meditating in his Temple.
For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
    he will hide me in his sanctuary.
    He will place me out of reach on a high rock.
Then I will hold my head high
    above my enemies who surround me.
At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
    singing and praising the Lord with music.

Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
    Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
    And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
Do not turn your back on me.
    Do not reject your servant in anger.
    You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
    O God of my salvation!
10 Even if my father and mother abandon me,
    the Lord will hold me close.

11 Teach me how to live, O Lord.
    Lead me along the right path,
    for my enemies are waiting for me.
12 Do not let me fall into their hands.
    For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
    with every breath they threaten me with violence.
13 Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
    while I am here in the land of the living.

14 Wait patiently for the Lord.
    Be brave and courageous.
    Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

This Psalm really resonated with me this morning. With all that is going on in this evil world right now and the fear-driven agenda that’s all around us, the best thing we can do is remind ourselves of God’s character and goodness and the safety and protection we find in Him, just as David did. The dark and the unknown are things that scare us, but we need to remember that the Lord is our Light and our Salvation, our Fortress and Protector. No matter what may come, we can remain confident that He will take care of us always.

Even if we get to a point where we are surrounded by enemies, attacked, and suffer violence for our faith, we can rest assured that God will guide, guard, and keep us. We can be bold in the face of whatever lies ahead.

Three things that I notice that David did: He

  • reminded himself Who God is (built himself up in his faith),
  • he desired more than anything else to worship in the Lord’s presence, and
  • he prayed and waited on God.

These are all the very same things we can and should do when we are facing trying times. These are the things we should do at all times, actually!

As followers and disciples of Christ, we need not fear what tomorrow holds for we know Who holds all tomorrows! So let’s work on building up our faith in these days by seeking the Lord consistently through His Word and becoming a living sacrifice, worshiping and honoring and giving Him praise in all things, and communicating with Him in prayer about everything. There is nothing we can’t go to Him with and He already knows our heart and all of our thoughts, so let’s talk through those things with Him and receive His peace, joy, and direction.

As David had assurance that God would always be with him and never leave or abandon him, we can be sure of this too. No matter who else may leave our side, He won’t. No matter how hard things may seem and how alone we may feel at times, He sees us and feels great mercy and compassion toward us and He offers us comfort and even joy that passes all understanding. He IS a good, good Father and verse 10 says, “He will hold me close.” That’s awesome to think of, isn’t it? I imagine Him just holding me in His arms close to His chest as the kindest, loving Father in such a warm embrace and just never letting me go.

This also says that He teaches us the way we should go. We have to be constantly seeking Him in order to be guided along life’s journey by Him. He will show us which path to take and it will always be the narrow one. Remember that broad is the way that leads to destruction and MOST are on it. So we must stay on the narrow path that leads to life, even if it’s a lonely path because everyone else seems to be on the other one.

David was confident that he would “see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living” but he knew that he had to be brave, courageous, and patient. This holds true for us as well.

We are sure that we will see His goodness, in life and in death, and we must face both in this same way. We do not need to give in to fear, for that is Satan’s number one tactic. We must be brave and courageous…these are characteristics that God has always instilled in and demanded of His soldiers. Cowards have no place in the Kingdom of God and Heaven. And much patience and endurance (to the end) is going to be needed for all that lies ahead until we meet Jesus face to face and are ushered in and hear that long-awaited, “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

These are just some thoughts I had as I read this beautiful and encouraging Psalm this morning and thought I would share with all of you. I hope you have a blessed day in the Lord! Remember, let’s be about the Father’s business!


Read more: Here’s another shorter devotional from Salty Saints based on Psalm 29: Click here. (Actually, all of the recent articles we looked at are really good!)

August 21, 2021

Malformed Views of God

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? – John 14:9 NIV

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. – Jeremiah 29:13 NIV
 

Almost exactly ten years ago, while looking for something else, a copy of Your God Is Too Small by J. B. Phillips fell into my hands.  He is the same person who did the Phillips translation of The New Testament.

This 124-page pocket book is usually remembered for its first 59 pages which focus on a number of “wrong pictures” we have of God, and while I know that C201 readers would never fall into one of these errant views, I believe that we often partially fall into looking at God in one of these stereotyped forms.

Furthermore, it could be argued that many of our doctrinal distinctives resulting in various sects and denominations of Christianity have their origin in the different aspects and attributes of God’s character that were emphasized by different groups. For example, I would argue that the differences between Calvinist theology and Arminian theology have less to do with the individual doctrines, and more to do with the picture of God which gave birth to those doctrines.

(On a personal level, I would say my understanding of deconstructing faith is better expressed in terms of remodeling.)

Getting back to more basic distinctives in our God-view, here’s a quick paraphrase of the types Phillips lists:

  • Policeman — an image usually formed out of a ‘guilt-based’ response to God
  • Parental hangover — the Father image of God evokes images of an earthly father which is often more negative than positive, particularly when there was abuse or addiction in the picture
  • Grand Old Man — the head of the seniors group perhaps, or president of the service club; but the danger is the ‘old’ part if it implies irrelevance
  • Meek and Mild — an example, Phillips would argue, of a Sunday School chorus influencing theology which we might want to keep in mind when choosing modern worship pieces for weekend services
  • Absolute Perfection — which leads to us trying to be absolutely perfect even though we don’t often grasp what it means; or thinking God isn’t interested in us when we’re not perfect
  • Heavenly Bosom — a variation perhaps on burying our head in the sand; we bury ourselves in God as a kind of escapism
  • God in a Box — what I think Phillips is intending describes people whose image of God has been shaped by subjective experience in local churches or denominations; or conversely, is defined by the beliefs of his or her denomination
  • Managing Director — with an emphasis on God as “controller,” this image evokes another metaphor: puppet string God
  • Second-Hand God — a longer section; it might be summarized as variations on the God-picture we would get from having seen a single movie or read a single book about God and built everything else up from there; a situation common today where people know “just enough” about God to think they know about God
  • Perennial Grievance — whatever the God-view the person holds, this one is ever mindful of the time that God let them down them; disappointed them; etc.
  • Pale Galilean — an image Phillips uses to describe people whose faith is lacking vitality and courage; or whose loyalty is fragile
  • Projected Image — which we would describe today as “creating God in our image.”

Do you ever find yourself falling into any of these mistaken views of God?

While the terminology might not be readily used today; the book is fairly thorough about describing the full range of false views about God that can exist.  I felt led to share this here, but then needed to come up with some resolve to this.  Phillips views the first half of his book as deconstructive and follows it with a constructive second half.

With the phrase, “deconstructing my faith” being so commonly used in 2021, I think we need to recognize that what is so often happening is better described when we lessen the emphasis on the first word, “deconstructing” and place that emphasis on the second word, “my.” It’s often my version of God that needs to be deconstructed.

What I want to do here instead, is end with a quotation I’ve used before, but which I believe everyone should commit to memory. Say this out loud, placing the stress on the words in italics:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God.   Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.

~E. Stanley Jones

Further reading:  If you can get your hands on this out-of-print book, look for Jarrett Stevens’ The Deity Formerly Known as God (Zondervan) which is an updated version of Phillips’ classic.

If you can’t find it, get the original by Phillips, which after all these years is still in print!

 

June 29, 2021

Unanswered Prayer for Healing and God’s Sovereignty

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”

Romans 11:33

Our daily search for good devotional studies takes us back to previously featured writers, and others who, as with today’s piece, we are discovering for the first time. Author and speaker Reagan K. Reynolds lives in North Carolina (USA) has been blogging at her eponymous site since April, 2015. As always, support these writers by reading their work at the source webpages; just click the header which follows.

Wrestling with The Sovereignty of God in Delayed Healing

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 

Romans 8:26-29

She sobbed into the phone, “It’s just so confusing. Does God heal people or not? Jesus healed everyone who asked him, so where is the healing I’m asking for?”

My heart ached for my friend, as she has found herself in a whirlwind of despair while also riding a fast train of newly devoted faith in Jesus.

“I feel like I’m on a roller coaster, and I just want to know how this all works.”

The issue of healing is confusing in the Bible Belt where main streets in every small town are dotted with Bible thumpers and prosperity preachers arguing about the rights and wrongs of healing faith. I know, I grew up here. I grew up confused.

As we talked, I prayed for wisdom. I’ve personally experienced very miraculous healing. I’ve also experienced long seasons of deep suffering. In some ways, I am still waiting on the Father. I sometimes catch myself observing that although Jesus has conquered sin and death, all things continue to die around me.

As I prayed I kept thinking about the Garden of Eden. Maybe you know the story, but maybe you don’t.

God creates a beautiful garden and then He places the first humans in that garden. We call those humans Adam and Eve. The Lord places two trees in the middle of the garden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil He deems off-limits––it is His one rule. He commands Adam (and Eve through Adam) not to eat of that tree with a warning that by doing so they will die. But a cunning serpent suggests to Eve that God is a liar and that if they eat from the fruit of the forbidden tree they will not die, but will be like God knowing both good and evil (Genesis 3:5). Eve disobeys God and takes the first step towards trusting her own understanding of what is good and what is evil by claiming the forbidden knowledge as her own. Adam also joins her and their eyes are opened to their nakedness. They feel shame for the first time. The Lord clothes them, curses them, and sends them out into the wilderness with a promise that the longer narrative would not end in tragedy.

Before they eat of the fruit, Adam and Eve live deferring to the God of Creation. When eating the fruit, they follow their own understanding of what is right and permissible for them. As a result, death and suffering enter the human story. The next generations recorded in the Old Testament prove that very real result of sin with a gradual, but drastic, decline in the life span of humanity.

And then another story from scripture came to my mind.

Job is a man who, although righteous before God, is allowed to endure great great suffering for a long time––great, great suffering. In his cries to the Lord he advocates for himself based on his righteousness (read: his faith) in the Lord.  He is desperate to understand why he is being forced to endure great despair. His friends suggest all sorts of things, including that he might be suffering as a result of sin––but he’s not. When God finally responds to Job’s myriad of questions and pleas and laments, He says, “Who is this who questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them,” and then He goes on to end in the most epic rap battle of all time showing Job a panoramic view of how great and mighty and sovereign He is. Summary: He is the Lord. Who are we to question His wisdom, even in our suffering?

In remembering this history, it occurs to me that the knowledge of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil’ belongs to the Lord, whether we have access to it or not. Living with Jesus as Lord means we follow His example and defer to the Father. The knowledge of what we should do and how the Lord should respond to us is His to determine completely––after all, He is infinitely greater in wisdom than our finite beings (Rom. 11:33).

Jesus understands this firsthand. He pleads, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). He goes forward and endures the greatest suffering known to man to free us from our sins. The perfect Son of Man responds in obedience and endures His unrighteous suffering, but we––in our weakness––sometimes demand results, and if not results––an explanation, in exchange for our allegiance.

God is not formulaic. God is not transactional. He is relational. And He is beholden to no one.

Yes, not even to you––dearly loved Christian.

Does your skin crawl a little bit and your soul get defensive when you read that? Does something inside you proclaim it is your right to know and determine what the ‘good’ outcome to your suffering should be?

When we demand a formulaic approach to miraculous healing, it’s as if we are holding the bitten forbidden fruit demanding the God of the Universe conform to our understanding of the knowledge He first forbade.

I gently and humbly suggest that if our faith is shaken when God doesn’t respond the way we think He ought to, then perhaps we’ve sized God to our own limited definition of ‘good’ and that perhaps in doing so, we are missing out on the larger blessings––the epic wins––as a result.

“Where is my healing?” is a permissible question to ask the Lord, He can handle all of our questions. But it just might not be the best one. I think the question I am hearing from the cry of the heart of my suffering friend (and so many others) is

“Can I trust Him in my suffering?”

One sure way I know to offer comfort to a believer is to remind them who the God of the Bible is…

He is sovereign. (Colossians 1:16-17)
He is good. (Mark 10:18)
He is righteous. (Psalm 11:7)
He is loving. (1 John 4:19)
He is merciful. (Deuteronomy 4:31_
He is miraculous. (Acts 3:16)
He is present. (Zephaniah 3:17)
He is active. (Romans 8:38-39)
He is powerful. (Job 26:14)
He is gentle. (Matthew 11:29)
He is humble. (Philippians 2:8)
He is a restorer. (Acts 3:21)
He is trustworthy. (Psalm 9:10)
He moves towards the broken. (Psalm 34:18)
He is our refuge. (Psalm 46:1-3)
He sees you. (Genesis 16:13)

He is the perfect embodiment of ‘love’ (1 John 4:7-8). He is the very definition of ‘good’ (Psalm 100:5). He created those words and ordained their original meaning (John 1:3).

Knowing what we know about our God, can we defer to Him in all the other unknowns?

My limited view values this life too much. My ego sometimes demands immediate relief from my suffering. But His view stretches beyond the scope of time, eternity, life, and death––and He holds for my life and His glory the perfect plan. And, yes, although everything in this life does die, (who can deny this?) I know that the God of all Creation has promised a new life with no suffering in the end (Revelation 21:1-4). And if you are living under the loving mercy of our mighty Savior, Jesus, then this knowledge is for you as well.

Friend, asking the Lord for healing is in no way undermined by our submission to His sovereignty in all things. We fear an all-powerful God who is out for our ultimate good. He has given a spirit that intercedes for us according to the will of God. Be encouraged that, even when it’s so very hard and none of it makes sense, we have a God that works all things together for our good (Romans 8:26-29)

June 13, 2021

Sins? What Sins?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NLT.Col.2.14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.

Ever tried to complete a spiritual scorecard for yourself, just to see how you’re doing? It might surprise you to know that God himself doesn’t do that.

Today we’re introducing a new writer. Esau Moraes is a Brazilian currently serving at a YWAM base in England. He writes in Portuguese and then produces an English translation of each devotional. Click the headers for each of these to read there, and if you have Spanish-speaking friends, tell them about his website.

[This devotional in Portuguese: Click here.]

My List of Sins

The other day, I thought I’d list the wrong attitudes I was still committing to remind myself that I needed to correct myself.

Immediately, that thought was countered by another: “You know who doesn’t keep a list of my sins? God!”. On the contrary, the Bible states in Hebrews 8:11,12 that:

“No one else will teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’, for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more”.”

Once we acknowledge and confess our sins before God, he does not keep them in a heavenly file. He’s not waiting to throw our past failures in our face as soon as we make a slip. That, in fact, is the role of our Accuser, the Devil.

For “if we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

In Christ, our sin debt was cancelled and removed by being nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). And the proof of payment no longer brings the list of faults committed, but declares that we are forgiven of all our transgressions.

And we do not need a piece of paper to tell us this, for the Spirit of God who now dwells in us testifies that we are washed and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. He testifies that we are children of God and no longer slaves to sin.

Therefore, we no longer need to cling to the list of our sins, being constantly accused in our memory. Rather, let all our thoughts be led captive to the obedience of Christ. He – who forgives our sins – must be the center of our attention and not our past.

“As you therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, established in the faith, as you were taught, overflowing with gratitude.”(Colossians 2:6-7)


When frustration comes

[This devotional in Portuguese: Click here.]

“Sing for joy to the Lord, you who are righteous; it is good for those who are upright to praise him.” (Psalm 33:1 NIV)

After two years living in the missionary field, the time had come to return to Brazil and, in my heart, I was more than ready for it. However, hearing the news that my flight had been canceled and there was no new date available filled me with frustration.

Weeks before, I had been meditating on Psalm 33. But on that day, the first verses of this passage struck my heart in a totally different and much more genuine way.

What would my response be in the face of frustration? Would I still choose to sing and praise the Lord?

The psalmist declares that this is the attitude that fits the righteous and upright of heart. He does not give us a list of circumstances that tell us when it is fitting for us to give praise to God. Praising the Lord is simply part of our new identity as righteous in Christ.

Our emotions vary according to circumstances and they will never be truer than the truth of God’s Word.

I remember that night, before I went to sleep, I put on some worship songs and I started singing. I knew that wasn’t what I felt like doing, given the situation. But that was my choice, knowing that the Word of God remained the same: “Sing for joy to the Lord, you who are righteous; it is good for those who are upright to praise him” (Psalm 33:1).

“For the word of the Lord is true; he is faithful in all that he does.” (Psalm 33:4)

What I was feeling at that time or perhaps I am still feeling now does not alter the veracity of God’s Word. He has not changed and neither has His Word.

On the other hand, our feelings are constantly changing. Our emotions vary according to circumstances and they will never be truer than the truth of God’s Word. But we sing and give praise to our “Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

So I would like to leave a challenge here for you and me. Regardless of the circumstance or what you are feeling, decide to sing and give praise to the Lord. For it is fitting for the upright of heart to praise him!

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.

 

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