Christianity 201

March 22, 2021

Two Psalms of Comfort

Today I paid a return visit to Prayerful Pondering by Pat Luffman Rowland. She has not been actively writing this year, so I reached back a decade in her archives finding this article from March, 2011. However… in the process I also noticed the ‘bonus’ devotional which appears further down the page, and realized I simply had to combine these. You might even want to print that one! (In case you do copy/p[aste that section, I’ve left out the green which normally accompanies scriptures here.) The links for each appear in the titles which follow.

Psalm of Comfort

Psalm 103 is a psalm of comfort for the one who feels ashamed and discouraged over sins and needs reassurance that God forgives and loves His children in spite of their actions.  It is for the one who needs encouragement, healing, and hope.  This psalm answers the question “Does God still care about me?”  And the answer is a resounding yes!

David, who wrote this psalm, was called “a man after God’s own heart.”  He was called that because he had, from his youth, developed an intimate and trusting relationship with the Lord.  He walked with Him and talked with Him — always.  Even so, because David was human, he sinned.  Adultery and murder were among those sins.  But David knew how to come back to God when he had gotten off track.  David knew the way back because he knew God.  His years of living intimately with the Father taught David who God truly was.  He knew that God hated sin, but loved him with an everlasting, unfailing love.  He knew God would always forgive him and always welcome him back when he came with a contrite heart.  What David had in relationship, we can also have.

Notice that David begins and ends with praise for God.  Scripture says that God inhabits our praise.  David wants to be heard, he wants the presence of God, and he adores his Maker with words of exaltation.  His intention is to establish a right position between Creator and created.  After David has entered God’s presence with words of exaltation, he continues to pay tribute to God by explaining all he finds in Him.  This is a defining poem about a God of love and David’s confidence in Him.

May this psalm provide comfort to the one seeking it, for whatever reason.  We can claim it as our blessing from the One who knew everything we would do before we did it and still sent His Son to die for us to save us from those things we could not save ourselves.   Before we were born, God knew the obstacles we would face and the pain we would go through, and He gave us the promise that He would never leave us to go through it alone.  Declare this psalm to your weary mind, body, and spirit and be infused with His love and the peace that follows.

Psalm 103  (NIV)

1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– 3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, 5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 6 The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. 7 He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: 8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. 9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; 10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; 14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. 17 But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children– 18 with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. 19 The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. 20 Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. 21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. 22 Praise the LORD, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the LORD, O my soul.

Father, there is no one’s forgiveness we need more than Yours.  We may hide our sins from other people, but we can never hide them from You.  There is no one that can encourage us like You.  A word from You, O God, is precious beyond measure.  We come with praises and thanksgiving for a love like Yours!  We hide ourselves in the shadow of Your wing, where we are comforted and restored.  No matter how hard life gets, there is always healing in Your presence.  There, you renew our hope and give us new vision. We bless Your holy name, most high God!     

Comfort Prayer

The book of Psalms provides much comfort.  As David and other psalmists share with us their own emotions, we learn how to deal with our own.  Psalm 91 is a psalm many of us like to pray for ourselves or others when comfort is needed.  We do that by personalization.  To make it your own declaration, or your prayer for a family member or friend, fill in the blanks accordingly.   If it is your loved one who needs comfort, bless them further by reading it to them.

Psalm 91 (NIV translation, but with capitalization of pronouns indicating God’s name)

1 He (or she) who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  2 _______ will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”  3 Surely He will save _______ from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.  4 He will cover _______ with His feathers, and under His wings _______ will find refuge; His faithfulness will be _______‘s shield and rampart.  5 _______ will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.  7 A thousand may fall at _______’s side, ten thousand at (her/his) right hand, but it will not come near _______.  8 _______ will only observe with (her/his) eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.  9 If you make the Most High your dwelling– even the LORD, who is my  refuge—  10 then no harm will befall _______, no disaster will come near (her/his)tent.  11 For He will command His angels concerning _______ to guard _______ in all (her/his) ways; 12 they will lift _______ up in their hands, so that _______ will not strike (her/his) foot against a stone.  13 _______ will tread upon the lion and the cobra; _______ will trample the great lion and the serpent.  14 “Because _______ loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue _______; I will protect _______, for _______ acknowledges My name.  15 _______ will call upon Me, and I will answer _______; I will be with _______ in trouble, I will deliver _______ and honor _______.  16 With long life will I satisfy _______ and show _______ my salvation.”

Father, may this bless the lives of the wounded and weary.   May it bring needed peace and new hope.  May Your children feel Your very presence surround them as they pray these words.   

September 5, 2019

Blessed Are They That Mourn

Matthew 5.2 And He began to teach them.

    Blessed are those who mourn—they will be comforted.

This summer I was given a copy of a book from Regent College Publishing, which is one of the best treatments of The Beatitudes in Matthew 5 that I’ve seen. Written by former pastor and Regent professor Darrell Johnson, it is titled The Beatitudes: Living in Sync with the Reign of God. I’ve offered a fuller review of the book at this link.



…the picture the second Beatitude suggests is not that of Jesus coming into our city, spotting people who are mourning, and reaching out to them with comfort. He did do that, blessed be His name. He spotted the widow in the town of Nain, following behind the funeral procession that was carrying her son’s corpse to the cemetery, and He reached out to her (Luke 7:11-17). He saw the tears flowing down the faces of Mary and Martha as they stood outside the tomb of their brother Lazarus, and He so reached out to them that he Himself began to weep (John 11:1-37). But those encounters are not the primary picture suggested by the second Beatitude. Rather, the picture is that of Jesus coming into our city, reaching out, and calling people to Himself who then begin to mourn. Yes, they (and we) begin to rejoice deeply! But they (and we) also begin to mourn deeply…

…”Blessed… for you shall be comforted.” When? When are the mourners to receive comfort?

In the end, when the kingdom of heaven is fully realized. When, as the Voice from the throne of the universe says, God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Revelation 21:4).

But we shall also be comforted before the end, even now. How? The word translated “comfort” is the verb parakaleo, a rich word. The primary meaning of parakaleo is to exhort, to encourage, or to embolden. It is used of soldiers cheering each other on. This is also the original meaning of the English word “comfort”: com “with,” fortis “strength” – com-fort, “strengthen by being with.”

Jesus is saying that as we dare to open ourselves up to pain and grief, we feel ourselves strangely strengthened.

How? Why? From the verb parakaleo comes the noun paraklete. Paraklete is the word Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit, with whom and in whom Jesus baptized His disciples. Before the end, when every tear is wiped away, the Paraklete, the personal embodiment of the kingdom, comes alongside those who are mourning.

When we become aware of the depth of sin, the Paraklete speaks His word of comfort: “Jesus paid it all. Your guilt is removed, your iniquity is forgiven, your sin is covered by the blood of the Lamb.”

When we feel just how broken the world is, the Paraklete speaks His word of comfort: He reminds us that even now the Father and the Son are at work, that creation is groaning only because it is in the throes of childbirth, that the turmoil in the world is due in part to the kingdom invading and disturbing the status quo.

When we feel despair over how far we are from the kingdom’s way, the Paraklete speaks His word of comfort: The kingdom has come near; the kingdom is breaking in all over the world, and nothing can ultimately stand in its way.

As you can probably tell, I have great vision of what can be.

pp 45, 53-55

 

 

March 2, 2019

The God of All Comfort

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

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

God Promises His Comfort

Scripture

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

Worship

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

Devotional

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go

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

Extended Reading: Psalm 34

March 5, 2018

Vertical Devotionals

There’s a story here. My other blog runs a feature every week where we do a news and opinion roundup called Wednesday Link List. This week, we’re running edition #400, so we went looking to find #1. We located it in early January, 2010, and decided to try the links. One of them was to a blog called More Than Useless, written by Thom Fowler who pastors two churches and also works full-time in retail. There we found he has continued to be faithfully writing ever since, even though we’d lost contact over the years.

So we emailed him (which we don’t usually do) and told him how it all came about and asked if we could use his material here at C201 and asked him to select a few pieces. Today we present you with two of them which are vertical in orientation, in other words, prayer-like in their composition. He describes his process as, “Basically, my blogs are taken from my journal, typed just as I have written them. I open with a short prayer and then read a passage of scripture. After that I usually write whatever I feel the Lord saying to me about the passage.” Click the titles to read at source.

I Have a Tree

Father, thank You for getting me up this morning. It was very tempting to remain in bed but I cannot, my spiritual fitness suffers if I do not take time to regularly meet with You. Thank You for caring so much about my spiritual health, not just this morning but for everything You have done so I can find salvation in You.

20 Timothy, guard what God has entrusted to you. Avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who oppose you with their so-called knowledge. 21 Some people have wandered from the faith by following such foolishness.

1 Timothy 6:20-21

I would ask, Lord that you would help me to guard what You have entrusted to me. Please give me the strength and the courage and the wisdom and the love to proclaim Your Good News to everyone I can.

Our world is replete with “godless, foolish” notions and there is so much banter back and forth. Help me to invest my time, thoughts and efforts wisely – putting my efforts into things worthy of eternity and Your kingdom.

In my mind’s eye, I see an orchard. I have my tree and everyone else has a tree, too. Each of our trees bears a regular harvest and that harvest is impacted by those things with which we feed and nurture our tree. We water and fertilize our trees but we can also graft in branches from other trees as well. All of these contribute to the kind of fruit we will glean from our trees and for that matter, the kind of fruit others will glean as well from our trees.

Lord, my tree is a gift from You – it is my life. I have done good and bad things to my tree but it is what it is. I have freely chosen to do with it as I will. First of all, I am grateful that I have given my tree back to You. You know what is best for its growth. You have trimmed out dead and diseased patches. You have grafted in branches that strengthen me and help me to produce better fruit. I still, quite often, have to interject things that hinder my growth. But You are patient and help me little by little rid them from my life. Lord, help me to guard what You have entrusted to me. Help me to be very careful with what I nurture my tree. My greatest desire is for the Master Gardener to use my tree as He sees fit and that its fruit will nourish others for years to come.

Swept Up into Your Arms

When I call You, Father, that denotes that I am Your child…and there is no better place to be. Life is a big thing. It is full of good things. It is full of bad things. As a child needs a parent to navigate through all the good and the bad in life, I need You.

Prior to writing this morning, I have already processed many things, good and bad. I’ve read of people’s love for each other, the joy of welcoming children into this world and the anticipation of the same. I’ve also read of people’s disregard for the preciousness of life and the audacity they have of expressing that mentality to others…and unfortunately the pain that such words can bring.

As I sit here, I need You Father. Not to just to hold my hand or to pat me on the head but I feel the need to be swept up into Your arms and to bury my face in Your strong shoulder. To be held tight. To feel Your strength…and Your love…Your understanding…Your comfort. Those are the things we so often need. These are the things we crave.

So many of us go through life and we never experience these things. The last part of James 4:2 states,

“You do not have because you do not ask God.”

Father, I am asking and I want to encourage others to ask, as well. You are willing and You are more than able. You can meet every single one of our needs. You can strengthen us for the paths we must tread. And much of that strength is in knowing that You are by our side. May we never forget what a great and awesome Father we have. Amen.

December 2, 2016

For His Name’s Sake

sheep in green pasturePsalm 23 is one of the best known passages of scripture. It is familiar to both believers and the unchurched, and has brought comfort to millions over the years. In this Psalm the Lord is described as a shepherd who does these things:

  • He makes me lie down in meadows of fresh grass
  • He leads me beside calm waters
  • He restores my soul
  • He leads me along the paths of righteousness

At this point the form address changes from He to You:

  • You are with me
  • Your shepherd’s staff brings comfort (security)
  • You prepare a banquet for me as my enemies watch
  • You anoint my head with oil

The results of all this are:

  • I have everything I need (lack nothing)
  • My cup is full to overflowing
  • I have the expectation of His goodness and mercy with me daily
  • I have a certain hope that His house is my home for my whole life (or forever)

(Wording above is an amalgam of various translations.)

That covers the entire Psalm except for two phrases. One of course, concerns walking through the deep, sunless valley of death. The other is our focus today:

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.  (v. 3b, NIV)

Other translations have:

  • You are true to your name (CEV) or your Word (Message)
  • for the ·good [sake] of his ·name [reputation] (Expanded Bible)
  • for the sake of his reputation (NET)
  • bringing honor to his name (NLT)
  • truth and righteousness echo His name (The Voice)

Elliott’s Bible Commentary says: “God’s providential dealings are recognized as in accordance with His character for great graciousness.” In other words, his provision in this Psalm is simply a natural consequence of nature in general and his compassion specifically. It’s who he is, which should remind us of the popular worship song, Good, Good Father (see below).

The Benson Commentary states the phrase means, “Not for any merit in me, but merely for the demonstration and glory of his mercy, faithfulness, and goodness.” As Max Lucado reminds us in a book of the same name, “It’s not about me.”  Matthew Poole reiterates this: “not for any worth in me, but merely for the demonstration and glory of his justice, and faithfulness, and goodness.”

Barnes Notes extend this thought:

For His own sake; or, that His name may be honored. It is not primarily on their account; it is not solely that they may be saved. It is that He may be honored:

(a) in their being saved at all;

(b) in the manner in which it is done;

(c) in the influence of their whole life, under His guidance, as making known His own character and perfections.

Finally, Matthew Henry would argue that the previous verse is key to understanding the whole Psalm, namely that this is the testimony of a dying saint who would say,

Having had such experience of God’s goodness to me all my days, in six troubles and in seven, I will never distrust him, no, not in the last extremity; the rather because all he has done for me hitherto was not for any merit or desert of mine, but purely for his name’s sake, in pursuance of his word, in performance of his promise, and for the glory of his own attributes and relations to his people. That name therefore shall still be my strong tower, and shall assure me that he who has led me, and fed me, all my life long, will not leave me at last.

So many times we pray and our prayers may not be entirely unselfish, but their us-focused instead of God-focused. The full accomplishment of God working in our lives should be that His name is honored and glorified.

“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor share my praise with carved idols.
 – Isaiah 42:8 NLT

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus
 – Col. 3:17a NASB


We’ve looked at Psalm 23 before:


For Psalm 23 in all English translations at Bible Gateway, click this link to get to verse 1, and then change the very last character in the URL in your browser to move to the multiple translations of verse 2, etc.

The classic commentaries on verse 3, with the exception of Matthew Henry were sourced at BibleHub.

May 10, 2015

For Mother’s Day (Because God is not Gender-Specific)

This was shared in the opening of our worship gathering this morning. Many years ago a popular Christian book portrayed God as a woman, and some people were quite outraged. But there is a variety of imagery for God used in Holy Scripture. Someone observed tongue in cheek, “Just because it says God gathers us under his wings, doesn’t mean God is a chicken.”

Although the church has used the pronoun “He” for centuries — because English lacks a suitable substitute — we see the character of God extending far beyond any male-specific definition. Also, some people see the God of the Old Testament as violent compared to the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild;” but in these verses from Isaiah and Psalms, we see the compassion and love of the God of the First Covenant.

Our Gentle Patient God

(An Invocation Prayer for Mother’s Day)

by Laura Steen

Gentle, Patient God
Today we thank God for the gift of mothers and those who mother.
Isaiah wrote that God is a mother to us, comforting and carrying us in her arms.

As one whom a mother comforts, so I will comfort you. Isaiah 66:13.

Gentle, patient God
thank you for your tender care.

Isaiah also wrote that God will never forget us and that he
knows each one of us just as a mother knows her own children.

Can a woman forget her baby at her breast, feel no pity for the child she has borne?
 Even if these were to forget, I shall not forget you. Isaiah 49:15

Gentle, patient God
thank you for your tender care.

David wrote that in Gods presence, he was quiet and at peace,
trusting his God like a child safe in its mothers arms.

No I hold myself in quiet and silence, like a child in its mothers arms. Psalm 131:2

Gentle, patient God
thank you for your tender care.

Jesus spoke of himself as a mother, longing to wrap his arms around us like a
mother-hen gathering her chicks under her wings.

How often have I longed to gather your children together,
as a hen gathers her chicks under her
wings… Matthew 23:37

Gentle, patient God
thank you for your tender care.

May we have the power to grasp how wide and deep
and high and long your love is for your children
fully expressed in all that Jesus has done for us,
and may we share this love with others.

In His name we pray, Amen

May 17, 2013

Comfort From the Word

I tend to read the scriptures for instruction and teaching. I’m looking for passages that engage my intellect and illustrate the inter-connectedness and symmetry of scripture; not to mention scriptures I can share with personal contacts and blog readers.

I wrote about that in a blog post that has actually run twice here, sharing a popular verse of scripture, II Tim 3:16,  in three translations and then ending with my paraphrase:

All scripture has its point of origin in God’s mind, and

  • shows us the path God would have us walk
  • highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
  • points the way back to the path
  • gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

But while this list includes four benefits of studying the word, it is not inclusive. The point is that whatever we think of when we think of the Bible, it is always so much more.

In Ps. 23:4 we read:

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

What is the ‘rod and staff’ spoken of here?  Most translations, including The Message preserve this imagery:

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.  (The Message)

Matthew Henry affirms that this imagery is pertinent to the phrase that precedes it; that the protection of the Lord described here is that needed in the face of death:

It is a comfort to the saints, when they come to die, that God takes cognizance of them (he knows those that are his), that he will rebuke the enemy, that he will guide them with his rod and sustain them with his staff. The gospel is called the rod of Christ’s strength (Ps. 110:2), and there is enough in that to comfort the saints when they come to die, and underneath them are the everlasting arms.

Ultimately, our comfort is God Himself. The Voice version, which tends to add things to the text, simplifies it in this verse:

Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
near with Your protection and guidance,
I am comforted.  (The Voice)

This echoes Psalm 46:1

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (KJV)

a verse which in many ways parallels the first verse of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my Shepherd…

This itself echoes Psalm 121:2

My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.  (NIV)

This comfort should sustain us at all times; not just as we reach the end of life; though it is often at the end of life that people turn to God.

Now going back to where I started, many times in my day, both here and in my personal Bible study time, I find myself engaging scripture more as an intellectual pursuit than to seek comfort, solace and strength from its pages. My faith is way up in my head somewhere and isn’t penetrating my heart.

Or there is also the “This is really deep stuff; who can I share this with?” mentality that sees the truths about God more as a type of theological email forward to be sent on to ten people who must promise to send it ten others.  “This is so good, I must send it to Bob.”

The result of this is what I am experiencing as I write this: In times of anxiety, stress or fear, I sometimes feel I have woefully inadequate resources at my immediate internal disposal because I have not “banked” the truths of God’s comfort and life-giving strength. I find myself totally broken because I have studied God’s Word enough to know the comfort of God is there to be taken, but living in the middle of a disconnect, not being able to draw on it as I should.

I don’t need God’s rod or staff to drive away 3rd party oppressors as much as I need to be hit over the head with it as a reminder, “Hey…I am right here; I am the strength you need.”

Do some of you resonate with this? Is it possible you’re attracted here to the “201” nature of this page — perhaps even looking for Christianity 301 or Christianity 401 — but are missing the “Christianity pre-Kindergarten” principle that Jesus loves us?

Yes, we need to search the scriptures and study to know the core doctrines and history that we learn from its pages. But we also need to know how to find comfort from the Word; because in those times, all our Bible knowledge and ability to explain theology will not hold us up. We need to know the reality of  “still waters” spoken of elsewhere in the 23rd Psalm.  

I know I do.

March 15, 2012

Philip Yancey on Pain and Suffering

I really wish Philip Yancey blogged more often. His reflections are always fresh, insightful and pastoral. But between books, the blog and articles in Christian periodicals he does provide us with a large body of literature sharing his unique perspective.  Instead of reading what follows, I hope you’ll link to the fuller context and even explore more of the blog. Yancey is, without doubt, my favorite Christian author.

This is taken from two posts. The first section is from a fairly recent blog post, Following a Trail of Tears

On March 5 Janet and I leave for Japan, where I will speak at several events commemorating the earthquake and tsunami.  We’ve all seen videos that seem taken from a special-effects horror movie: of ships, houses, and trucks tossed down the streets like toys, of a modern airport suddenly submerged under water, of a nuclear reactor tower exploding in a thick black cloud.

While preparing for this trip I’ve been reminded again of the magnitude of the 2011 disaster in which 20,000 people died.  The wall of water reached a maximum height of 132 feet—as tall as a twelve-story building!—destroying 270,000 buildings in its path and forcing hundreds of thousands of people into temporary housing.  A year later, many still live in those temporary structures, and it will cost at least $200 billion to replace the damaged buildings.  When I think of the enormous effort involved in addressing the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, I can hardly fathom the challenges facing Japan…

…I have spoken in some tough places, such as Virginia Tech after the shootings and Mumbai the night after the terrorist attacks.  Never have I faced a tragedy so massive in scale.  I’ve learned, though, that for the people involved, scale doesn’t matter so much.  Pain zooms in very personally: a child swept away from a kindergarten playground, pets and livestock abandoned as their owners had to flee, a family business destroyed in an instant, a teenager terrified by the aftershocks that hit weekly, everyone frightened by the invisible threat of radiation.  For a theme my hosts chose the title of my last book, What Good Is God?—an appropriate question for people who have endured such an event…

And then he shares this:

The Apostle Paul gave us a clear formula for how we should respond to those in suffering and need:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” 

May we channel that comfort to the people of Japan, whose suffering has not ended.

The theme is quite similar at the end of a description of a tour that he did in Australia and New Zealand in September, titled Notes from the Great Southland:

…One of the sketches performed by the actors comes from the play Shadowlands.  “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world,” proclaims the confident professor C. S. Lewis from a lectern.  Yet later in the sketch, as he comes to terms with Joy Davidman’s imminent death, and then tries to comfort her son Douglas, his confidence has melted into confusion and doubt.  The book he wrote about Joy’s illness and death, A Grief Observed, has a very different tone than his earlier treatise The Problem of Pain.

Rather than megaphone, I prefer the image of pain as a hearing aid: while the Bible generally ignores the messy question of causation, it encourages us to “tune in” to the redemptive power of suffering.  Some respond by switching off the hearing aid and turning away from God.  Others follow the Apostle Paul’s example in allowing God to wrest goodness and growth from the bad things of this world.  Even wintry times offer reasons for hope.  We saw this most clearly at the site of our last event, held in New Zealand’s second largest city, Christchurch, site of a devastating earthquake last February…

…Often after a natural disaster, communities look to churches for help.  For example, six years after Hurricane Katrina, long after the federal government has moved on, churches in Houston and Dallas still send weekend teams to repair and rebuild houses in New Orleans.  In New Zealand, denominations banded together, assigned response teams to the neediest areas, and organized a food bank and tool bank.  More than 700 aftershocks have hit the area, creating an oppressive mood of fear and anxiety.  In a city whose very name expresses their identity, the churches hope to convey

“the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3).

As I told the group gathered in Christchurch, on the surface winter looks like death.  Trees once resplendent with leaves now appear as dead sticks.  Yet botanists tell us that most plant growth occurs during winter, below the surface, as roots spread out and absorb the moisture and nutrients they will need for the vitality of spring and summer.  May it be so, not just in Christchurch, New Zealand, but all across that nation and its larger cousin Australia, once known as “the great Southland of the Holy Spirit.”

…to which I would add, ‘and in Canada, the United States, the UK and everywhere else!’

If you’ve never read any of Philip’s books, may I recommend The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing About Grace as two good titles to begin with.

If you particularly resonate with Philip’s response to his world travels (as described above) you might enjoy the new title What Good is God? The title is rather provocative, and each of the 20 chapters consists of a description of the details which brought him to a particular place and time, paired with the transcript of the address he gave to that particular group of people, for a total of ten different locations and events.

June 30, 2011

Lord, May I Be Worthy of You

Jim Greer has a whole series on his blog called “400 Year Old Prayers.”  This one ran recently, and I’ve included his introduction, and also his link to the entire series which appears at the end.

The following prayer is from the largely forgotten deposit of the Puritan Movement of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It testifies to the richness and color of evangelical thought and language, as well as their devotion to the Savior. This prayer and others can be found in a book titled “The Valley of Vision”, by Arthur Bennet. I have included them in this blog so that others can use them in their own prayer life as a springboard to a more faithful walk with Jesus. These prayers are 300-400 years old! They were written in old English, but that should not get in the way if you don’t let it.

Need of Jesus

Lord Jesus,

I am blind, be my light,
ignorant, be my wisdom,
self-willed, be my mind

Open my ear to grasp quickly your Spirit’s voice,
and delightfully run after His beckoning hand;

Melt my conscience that no hardness remain,
make it alive to evil’s slightest touch;
When Satan approaches may I flee to your wounds,
and there cease to tremble at all alarms.

Be my good shepherd to lead me into green pastures of your Word,
and cause me to lie down beside the rivers of its comforts.

Fill me with peace, that no disquieting worldly gales may ruffle the calm surface of my soul.

Your cross was upraised to be my refuge,

Your blood streamed forth to wash me clean,

Your death occurred to give me a surety,

Your name is my property to save me,

By you all heaven is poured into my heart,
but it is too narrow to comprehend your love.

I was a stranger, an outcast, a slave, a rebel
but your cross has brought me near,
has softened my heart,
has made me your Father’s child,
has admitted me into your family,
has made me joint heir with yourself.

O that I may love you as you have loved me,
that I may walk worthy of you, my Lord,
that I may reflect the image of heaven’s first-born.

May I always see your beauty with the clear eye of faith,
and feel the power of your Spirit in my heart,
for unless he move mightily in me
no inward fire will be kindled.

For More of these old Prayers, visit our prayer page http://notforitchingears.com/prayer-of-the-week/400-year-old-prayers-1/