Christianity 201

August 8, 2021

A Devotional Three-for-One Special!

For the third year in a row, we’re bringing you a trio of short-form devotionals from The Bare Soul Daily Devotional by Rick Roeber (aka The Barefoot Runner). Click on each of the headers below to bookmark or read at source.

The Valley of Decision

Joel 3:14 – “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.”

The day of the Lord will characterize itself in a terrifying way to most. However, the day of the Lord can also be a day of great victory. For those of us who have accepted the Lord Jesus, our day of the Lord has come and God has already entered into judgment with our sin through the Lord Jesus Christ. Only as we have accepted Him as our sacrificial Lamb, will we then have moved from judgment to mercy as our sin has been forever atoned for by Christ’s perfect life.

The tragedy is that most will be caught in the conundrum of their own indecisiveness, not accepting the Lord’s most gracious gift before their respective death or His eminent return. If only they had known how close the Lord was to them in this time of decision! He patiently waited for their response but there was none.

As the writer of Hebrews tells us, if today you hear His voice, do not harden your heart but give your life to Him for He is full of love and abounding in mercy (Hebrews 4:7).

Divine Recognition

Acts 4:13 – “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.”

Have you ever recognized someone as having been with Jesus? They aren’t difficult to spot. As the Pharisees witnessed, the hallmark of these folks is their immovable confidence in what they believe. How does confidence of this type manifest itself? Well, it starts in secret and spills out publicly. It oozes out of believers that truly believe their Lord and desire to spend time with Him. It comes by searching out His Word, and then living it to the best of their ability. It comes by living out the Great Commission and spreading the love of Jesus Christ to their communities, counties, states, countries, and finally to the world. Godly confidence is something that cannot be self-created but is a by-product of living and breathing the Lord Jesus Christ on a daily basis.

Do you want to provoke amazement as the Pharisees experienced? They merely acknowledged the confidence of Peter and John, that they were uneducated but yet they recognized the Lord Jesus in them. Confidence in one’s standing with the Lord only comes by getting into that secret place with Him — to pour out one’s heart and to pour over His word. Then, when we come out into the public light, there will be little to mistake any of us from having been with our Risen Lord.

Love and Compassion

Matthew 20:34 – “Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.”

Often people confuse God’s compassion with His love. The Lord certainly loves at all times, for this is His nature (Proverbs 17:17), However, His compassions are often kindled according to His great will (Hosea 11:8). These ebb and flow in perfect measure as He touches and mends lives. Jesus’ nature did not always look loving, yet He never failed in this respect, even when He was angry or openly grieved. Likewise, His compassion was always at work although it was most demonstrative when God’s heart was “kindled.”

Always know God is a loving Father, even when He does not appear that way. The sign of a mature believer is patiently discerning how the Lord chooses to reveal Himself through His compassion. When God does touch us, there is a new awareness of His love and kindness and a greater desire to follow Him no matter where He might lead.


Bonus content:

It’s been awhile since we shared anything from Ruth Wilkinson. Today we have two video teachings for you in what will eventually become a series of four or five, which are based on the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy.

Click these links for

July 28, 2021

Are You an Outlaw, A Lawyer, or a Lover?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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At Christianity 201, we’ve had a long relationship with Rev. Kevin Rogers, a pastor in Western Ontario, Canada whose writing appears at The Orphan Age. This is excerpts from a 4-part series. To read the introduction, where he sets up the distinction click this link. He says,

I see three categories of people when it comes to the acceptance and application of God’s law—we are all outlaws, lawyers or lovers.

To read the individual parts in full, click the headers which follow.

Outlaws

Outlaw culture is often glorified, and we all learned it early in life…So what does it mean to be an outlaw?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary says:

1 : a person excluded from the benefit or protection of the law

2a : a lawless person or a fugitive from the law

b : a person or organization under a ban or restriction

c : one that is unconventional or rebellious

Some perceived Jesus to be an outlaw based on his application of God’s Law. He and the disciples picked grain to eat on the Sabbath, brought healing to many on the Sabbath, did not always wash their hands before eating, association with people deemed unclean and a daily myriad of offenses drummed up by the faultfinders.

In spite of what the authorized experts had to say, Jesus was not an outlaw.

Matthew 5:

17 “Do not think I have come to get rid of what is written in the Law or in the Prophets. I have not come to do this. Instead, I have come to fulfill what is written. 18 What I’m about to tell you is true. Heaven and earth will disappear before the smallest letter disappears from the Law. Not even the smallest mark of a pen will disappear from the Law until everything is completed.

It is when we determine that laws are unfair, unattainable or illegitimate that we are tempted by outlawry. It’s easy enough to find reasons to minimize or defy human laws, but what about God’s Law? There are many outlaws that choose to live in opposition or resignation to what they perceive to be an unrealistic or impossible standard.

The Greek word for sin is hamartia. It is an archery term that means your arrow did not land on the target. When we recognize that we are sinners, we admit that our arrow went astray or dropped to the ground before the ideal target that God gives us to aim for.

Jesus came to hit the bullseye and inspire us to have an improved aim. We are to learn from the ways that fall short and allow God to perfect our aim. You may have given up on basketball or piano lessons, but the reason to learn God’s ways are not trivial options. God’s ways are a matter of life and death in a very real cosmic and earthly sense.

Every outlaw must live by a code that supports their values and will be deemed heroic by those sharing those values. But you cannot love God and at the same time have a complete disregard for the things God says. To know and disregard the law of God is to be truly lawless.

1 John 3:

Everyone who sins breaks the law. In fact, breaking the law is sin. But you know that Christ came to take our sins away. And there is no sin in him. No one who remains joined to him keeps on sinning. No one who keeps on sinning has seen him or known him.

Dear children, don’t let anyone lead you astray. The person who does what is right is holy, just as Christ is holy. The person who does what is sinful belongs to the devil. That’s because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the devil’s work.

In recognizing that your aim is off, the key remedy is remaining joined to Jesus. As we  understand what Christ is doing, we find that he is taking away our lawless instincts. He is mending our broken bow and showing us how to aim true and hit the target. It is in our mimicry and imitation of Christ’s ways that we see through the fog and shoot for the bullseye. The apostle Paul understood this implicitly when he said,

1 Corinthians 11:

Follow my example, just as I follow the example of Christ.

Lawyers

If the outlaw faces judgment, he is going to need a good defence lawyer. A lawyer will endeavour to prove that his client is not guilty, or at least not maliciously intent on breaking a law. The problem is that there will also be a prosecuting lawyer whose aim it is to prove that you are guilty.

There is an interesting phenomenon that happens to people trying to live up to God’s standards. If they are not rightly motivated inwardly, they will get obsessive about hacking their aim and telling others that they are the masters that can teach others how to achieve their spiritual aims.

It’s exactly the old adage that those who can’t, teach.

Matthew 23:

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples. “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,” he said. “So you must be careful to do everything they say. But don’t do what they do. They don’t practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry. Then they put them on other people’s shoulders. But they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them.

Watch out for people that try to load you down with high expectations but don’t offer any understanding or relief for the burden they lay on you. They may be legalistic in their passion for definition, but inwardly lack the law of God. They may have the authority to wield the law, but are more interested in winning their case than being personally answerable for the consequences that ensue.

Matthew 7:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Lawyers are often great communicators and can weave a story line that will either condemn or excuse a lawbreaker.

Watch my life carefully. I may appear to be a masterful persuader and still have a lawless heart. Fortunately, you will not have to answer for me. I stand before the one true judge that can truly condemn me or save me. Don’t be naïve and do look out for the Pharisaical lawyer in me and for the one in you.

Fortunately, God has mercy for outlaws and for self-righteous lawyers. Otherwise, we would be surely doomed.

Romans 9:

30 What should we say then? Gentiles did not look for a way to be right with God. But they found it by having faith. 31 The people of Israel tried to obey the law to make themselves right with God. But they didn’t reach their goal of being right with God. 32 Why not? Because they tried to do it without faith. They tried to be right with God by what they did. They tripped over the stone that causes people to trip and fall. 33 It is written,

“Look! In Zion I am laying a stone that causes people to trip.
    It is a rock that makes them fall.
    The one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

Imagine that. Your faith in the goodness and mercy of God is the bullseye. Jesus died to save outlaws and lawyers and we are both.

Lovers

In essence, you become what you love. When it comes to the Law of God, are you a lover of His Law? You will not become Christlike if you do not love God.

If it’s true that we all fail to hit the target, there must be something that Jesus wants to teach us. When you are being coached in some ability, it is easy to get overwhelmed and distracted. So what will keep us in the game, so to speak? What is it about God’s Law that we can learn to keep us from becoming an outlaw or a lawyer?

That is a great question and one asked by an expert in law.

Mark 12:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard the Sadducees arguing. He noticed that Jesus had given the Sadducees a good answer. So he asked him, “Which is the most important of all the commandments?”

29 Jesus answered, “Here is the most important one. Moses said, ‘Israel, listen to me. The Lord is our God. The Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 And here is the second one. ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There is no commandment more important than these.”

32 “You have spoken well, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one. There is no other God but him. 33 To love God with all your heart and mind and strength is very important. So is loving your neighbor as you love yourself. These things are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 Jesus saw that the man had answered wisely. He said to him, “You are not far from God’s kingdom.” From then on, no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.     NIRV

Your aim always improves when you love from the core of your being. Loving God means loving the wisdom and perfection of what he is teaching us. Loving your neighbour and loving yourself flows from the love you find in God.

Jesus says that all law is grounded in love. Until you know that and agree to it, you will resist the true nature of God. Jesus is the highest expression of God’s Law. He fulfills the law of God.

Are you convinced by the Holy Spirit that the ways of God are desirable? Listen to this ancient song of praise for the ways of God. Listen to effect that the love of God has on the fabric of our life.

Psalm 19:

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.
NKJV

Talk about exactly hitting the target… love will do all of these things to establish your heart, mind and soul. We are taught by perfect love and changed from outlaws and lawyers. We are lovers of God’s Law.

May 10, 2021

Identity: Being The One That Jesus Loves

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we are highlighting an author who is new to us. Brian writes at On The Way. He is a pastor, which we learned from his various blog posts, but without an “about” page we can’t tell you more, except to say that we really enjoyed this article — it was one of three I considered — and hope you’ll click the header which follows to read this at On The Way.

I am the one Jesus loves

…I came across a bit from the book What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey:

“Not long ago I received in the mail a postcard from a friend that had on it only six words: ‘I am the one Jesus loves.’ I smiled when I saw the return address, for my strange friend excels at these pious slogans. When I called him, though, he told me the slogan came from the author and speaker Brennan Manning. At a seminar, Manning referred to Jesus’ closest friend on earth, the disciple named John, identified in the Gospels as ‘the one Jesus loved.’ Manning said, ‘If John were to be asked, “What is your primary identity in life?” he would not reply, “I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,” but rather, “I am the one Jesus loves.”‘

“What would it mean, I ask myself, if I too came to the place where I saw my primary identity in life as ‘the one Jesus loves?’ How differently would I view myself at the end of the day?

“Sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are. How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible’s astounding words about God’s love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?”1

The promises in our reading are amazing. Jesus is talking to his disciples after the Last Supper was over and before he was arrested. This reading comes right after last week’s discussion of the vine and the branches. Jesus says, “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you.” He says, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could produce fruit and so that your fruit could last.” Jesus loves you and he chose you. How does life change if we take this point of view seriously? Would your view of yourself change if you saw yourself as Mr. Yancey suggested: “I am the one Jesus loves.” This suggests that our primary identity doesn’t come from our jobs, our families, or our achievements, but from God. You are loved by God, and are a child of God who was chosen by God. When God sees you, it’s not through your acts, good or bad, or through your eyes or anyone else’s. God sees you as a child, and sees you through the lens of Christ.

You are loved and chosen. Many of you may think you have chosen Christ. It’s easy for us to think of that choice we made for Jesus to be our Lord and Savior. But before you could even make a choice for Jesus, Jesus made a choice for you. In prevenient grace, God seeks you even before you are aware of it. And as we accept the sacrifice of Jesus we are justified in God’s grace, with our sins being nailed to the cross. The grace of God continues throughout our lives, sanctifying us in God’s love. God chose us, offered us this amazing gift and as we have journeyed with Jesus he calls us his friends. Jesus told his disciples all the Father told him. He said they are no longer servants, but friends.

This distinction as Jesus’ friends is crucial because of the cross. Jesus said, “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.” This is what Jesus did for his friends, the ones he loved, the ones he chose, you and me. This is not some romantic love or a friendly love. This is amazing love, a deeper love than we have known. This is a sacrificial love. This is not some abstract idea. This love is a verb, implying actions. The action is so deep that death can’t even destroy it.

But he doesn’t just love you and he didn’t just choose you, he loves and chose all of us. It’s not for you to decide who gets the love of Jesus; that’s Jesus’ choice. So if Jesus chooses to love everyone in this room, praise be to God, but you’ll have to deal with the fact that Jesus loves some people you may not enjoy. So what are you supposed to do with that? Harbor resentment, extreme dislike or hate for another person? No. Jesus says in verse 12, “This is my commandment: Love each other just as I have loved you.” Jesus isn’t simply asking us to pretty please with a cherry on top maybe consider thinking about loving each other sort of. No. Jesus is plainly commanding us to love each other as he has loved us.

Jesus is repeating the commandment he gave in chapter 13, where he tells the disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus restates this in his prayer to God in chapter 17, just before his arrest, saying, “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

This love is what we are to be known for by those who aren’t Christians. But again, this isn’t some romantic love, some pleasant thoughts about one another. This is a love that is both feeling and action. Jesus calls for us to love one another as he loved us. How does he love us? He has walked among us, taught us, healed us, equipped us and ultimately died for us in order that we may be set free from sin and reconciled to God. Jesus’ love was one of self-sacrifice. Jesus’ love was one of servanthood. After the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and told the disciples to do the same to each other. They are told to love one another and to serve one another as he has loved and served them.

Jesus says that we are his friends if we do what he commands: to love one another as he has loved us. By doing this, we can live lives of complete joy knowing who we are and our purpose: We are beloved children of God who have been chosen by God to bear fruit and love one another. In loving each other, we show our love and devotion to God and bear the light of God’s love in the darkness of the world. Our light becomes the fruit of our love.

And while loving as strong and sacrificially as Jesus does sounds like a tall order, I believe we can do this through the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t rely on your own power to love that much because none of us have that power. Only God has that power. In order to love like Jesus we need to let go of our anger and resentment toward others. We need to stop thinking we’re better than others, stop slandering and gossiping about others, stop making fun of others. And this is within the church walls. We need to open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit and see people as Jesus sees them, with great sacrificial love. Jesus commands us to love one another as he has loved us. Not only are you the one Jesus loves, but so are your brothers and sisters.

It’s not just us that we have to love. Jesus commanded love for God and neighbor, even when that neighbor is your enemy. How can we have love for our enemies if we can’t love each other? Our reading from 1 John 4 last week even questions our love for God if we can’t love each other. 1 John 4:19-21 says, “We love because God first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

The church and Christians are known for a lot of things, some good and some bad. Unbelievers look at the teachings of Jesus and then look to Christianity and too often find incompatibility. How can those who profess to follow Jesus neglect this important commandment to love one another. What is with the infighting within the church that has made it split into thousands of denominations? What is it within denominations that cause people to bicker and split? What is it within churches that causes people to split? Where is the love that Christians are to be known by?

We have to get this right. Our light and our witness affects our ability to make change in this world. Christianity isn’t just about scoring your pass to heaven but about bringing the kingdom of heaven to our current reality. The kingdom of heaven isn’t just about the place you’ll go when you die, but something that Jesus is calling us to right now. The key to bringing it here is by living in the power of Jesus’ love. Jesus chose you and Jesus loves you. Abide in his love. Be encouraged, inspired and empowered by this. Live like you are the one Jesus loves. But also live like others are also the ones Jesus loves. Jesus calls us friends. He has given us the command to love one another and the power to do so. Love one another, not just superficially, but truly and deeply, as Jesus loves you. Let us show the world that we are Christians by our love toward God, each other and the world.


1 Yancey, Philip. What’s so Amazing about Grace?, Zondervan, 2011.

March 3, 2021

Accepting Our Acceptance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Another day to highlight a writer here for the first time. Melissa Neeb lives in Minnesota in the U.S. and has written for a variety of publications. Her blog is Faith in the Mess where she writes about mental health, addiction, parenting and marriage. As usual, we urge you to click the header which follows to read this at source. Because this particular article was published just hours ago, we’re going to close comments here so you can leave a comment there.

Accepting Jesus May Be Easier Than Accepting Ourselves

I accepted Jesus into my heart at a very young age. I knew I was precious to Him and always had a seat at His table as His beloved child and daughter. The unconditional love and forgiveness and grace of God was a gift I could easily accept.

What took much longer to accept, decades perhaps, was myself.

I couldn’t accept my fearfulness. My over-sensitivity. How easily I was embarrassed and cried.

I couldn’t accept my shyness, or my depression and anxiety, or my body.

I couldn’t accept my inability to put on weight, or my awkwardness around guys, or my terror of public speaking.

I couldn’t accept my indecision, my passivity, or my lack of boundaries.

I couldn’t accept that the traumas I had endured had permanently left scars and changed me.

Decades after accepting Jesus into my heart, I was still having a difficult time accepting myself and all my obvious (to me) flaws. I floundered and failed, doubted and rebelled until I reached the very end of myself.

That is when God took over.

He whispered into the recesses of my desensitized heart until I started to feel Him working again and transforming me into who He created me to be. He kept working, challenging my perceptions, and reminding me who HE said I was.

I started repeating His promises to myself all day long. That I am the daughter of the King. That I was loved into being. That Jesus left the 99 to chase down and bring me back into His strong arms. That I was created with a purpose, with a divine calling on my life.

I had to learn how to accept myself and let Him use my weakness to showcase His power.

Friend, if you are unable to accept yourself, please meditate on these affirmations. Say them out loud. Write them down. Put them on your mirror. Insert your name into these verses. Start believing it.

I AM CHOSEN.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)

GOD COVERS ME WITH HIS SHELTER AND PROTECTION.

He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Psalm 91:4 (NLT)

I AM WONDERFULLY MADE.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.
Psalm 139:14 (NKJV)

GOD IS WORKING IT OUT FOR MY GOOD.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 (NIV)

GOD IS FOR ME.

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?
Romans 8:31 (NLT)

Let me remind you, precious one, of this truth. If you can accept Jesus into your heart, if you can accept Him as your Savior and Protector and Healer and Friend, if you can accept His boundless grace and mercy, then surely you can accept the being that was created in the image of God, whose body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is beloved beyond measure.

Yourself.

February 8, 2021

God’s Gift: At First Impractical, In Balance, What We Needed

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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NIV.Mark.14.3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. [Read the whole narrative here.]

HCSB.Mark.12.1 [Jesus:] “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug out a pit for a winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went away. At harvest time he sent a slave to the farmers to collect some of the fruit of the vineyard from the farmers. But they took him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent another slave to them, and they hit him on the head and treated him shamefully. Then he sent another, and they killed that one. He also sent many others; they beat some and they killed some…” [Read the whole parable here.]

What follows has been in my files for a long time. It’s the manuscript for a sermon given in a United Church in Morrisburg, Ontario on the day before Christmas, 1989. The pastor was Donald C. Smith. Beyond that, I don’t have much information. He began with a look at the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song and how of the 12 gifts, only 3 were remotely practical. Then he looked at The Gift of the Maji, by O’Henry and how in that story what started out as practical gift was rendered impractical by the sacrifice of the other. Then he continued…

You will remember that there was a day when Jesus was a guest in the home of a Pharisee and while he was eating his meal a woman of bad reputation came and brought an alabaster flask of very precious perfume; she broke it open and anointed his feet with her tears and with the perfume. There were three distinct reactions to what happened. Some of his critics refused any contact with her. A disciple, we are told, immediately pointed out that the perfume was extremely costly and should not have been wasted in this way; it should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus accepted both the woman and the gift because he realized that this was a beautiful act that does not have a price.

You may remember that Jesus spoke about an absentee landlord who had rented out his vineyard and who at harvest time sent servants to collect his share of the enterprise. One by one the servants were ill treated; some were spurned, some were beaten but all were sent away empty handed. Finally he decided to send his son with the expectation that they would have respect for him. On the contrary, they decided to kill the son. The hearers of the parable were angry and upset because they knew exactly what Jesus was saying.

The nation Israel had been given God’s good earth to tend and he had sent his messengers, the prophets, to collect his due, their love and their worship, but all had been badly treated. Finally he decided to send his son and they were on the verge of killing him. It was one of those few times that Jesus laid claim to sonship. When we celebrate Christmas we celebrate God’s rather impractical gift, but we understand that by Jesus’ coming into the world he was showing his unsearchable love.

In so many ways God’s gift was totally impractical and was not what most people were asking for. Most of the peoples of the world were not expecting anything from God because they did not know about him. The one nation that was expecting a gift was expecting a messenger with a totally different agenda from the one Jesus had. Some wanted a messiah riding on the clouds of the heavens throwing around heavenly thunderbolts to get instant obedience to God’s commands. Others wanted a military ruler to rally the troops and deal with the Roman overlords and all other conquerors. They wanted a second David to make the borders strong and extend them.

Instead God sent a baby. What possible use could that be? And he sent the baby to Bethlehem, a little town where only a few shepherds shopped. And he sent an angel choir to announce the birth to some shepherds, probably not even the owners of the sheep, probably hired men without seniority, doing the night shift. I can imagine that when God told the angels to go and sing at Bethlehem they must have thought it strange. Shouldn’t they go to Rome or Alexandria or Athens but not to Bethlehem. Surely they should go to kings or governors, not shepherds. But the baby was to grow into a man and what a man! His birth was to be a sign of the extravagant love of God.

Occasionally I find it good to say what I am not saying. I am not saying that an impractical gift is always better than a practical one. I am not saying that the gift must be more than one can afford. I am saying that the gift must be an expression of love and a demonstration that one cares about the person receiving it. God loved and gave his own son, in effect a bit of himself, because he loves his people.

I hasten to add that a great deal of gift giving falls short of this standard. Some is self serving. It is giving in order to get another person obligated to us so that some day the debt can be called and some demand can be made on the other person. A lot of criticism has been leveled at the affluent nations for giving their surpluses of food and their technical expertise to the developing nations in the third world in such a way that they will gain as much or more than the recipient gets.

Paul Tournier tells in his little book The Meaning of Gifts of a child who was promised a little money if she did a certain task but when she received it she was told she must donate it to a certain good cause which her parents had chosen. It was meant to be a learning experience whereby the child would come to learn the joy of giving, but what she learned was that people can be manipulative in their gift giving. Every family where the parents have gone through the sadness of breaking up knows something about the temptation to use gifts as a way of getting the children on the side of one the parents. The child usually learns that the gift is not an expression of love but that it is rather part of the tug of war and feels not the love that is expected but a lack of respect for the one who is being self serving.

Sometimes gifts can greatly complicate relationships, they can be divisive as well as being the means of cementing warm relationships. As a prospective grandparent, I suspect grandparents need to have a well defined statement of family policy because it is possible for them to be much too lavish in their giving. The parents may have decided that it is not safe for a small child to have a  bicycle until legs have grown long enough to reach the pedals with ease, but a grandparent can’t wait to see the child glowing with joy on finding such a gift under the tree. The parents may feel that too much at any one time can breed a materialism that does not fit with the family values but the grandparents may have their own needs to appear as lavish givers and may be more interested in meeting those needs.

I am sure gifts have even been used to express hostility as well as love. An article of clothing can be chosen with the expectation that someone with poor taste in dress will enjoy a gift that the giver feels is in good taste and dress more acceptably in the future. On such occasions the gift is given to change the person, not to make him feel loved and accepted.

What I have been trying to say is that there are faulty human ways to give and there is a divine way to give. The divine way means that the gift is an expression of love, it is a way of communicating love, and it is a way of making a deeper relationship than could otherwise exist. After all there are times when words fail. Even God does not rely on verbal communication. We cannot find a different way each day to say to the ones we cherish that we love them, so we use the non-verbal communication of gifts. God started it, we respond to his love by loving one another. His gift was in many ways extravagant and impractical and surprising, but the important thing about it was that he was self giving. God was giving his son; as the New Testament says, God was in Christ.

Receive God’s gift and respond with love to others.

December 13, 2020

Part of Love is Going ‘All In’

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Rebecca LuElla Miller is a freelance writer and editor whose blog A Christian Worldview of Fiction is actually a great source of devotional insights. This our third time with her, and she sees something in the Jacob/Joseph/Benjamin story which I had missed. Don’t let the blog title fool you. Click the header below to read at source, and then click the header at the top of her page to refresh and look at her other writing.

What It Means To Love

The Bible gives us the greatest example of love that exists:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

God gave His only Son because He loved the very people that were spitting in His face. Not literally at first, but eventually that happened too.

The thing is, the Bible also gives pictures of this love throughout the Bible. The one perhaps best known is Abraham willing to offer his son as a sacrifice, not for another person but in obedience to God as an evidence of his love for Him.

Interestingly, there’s a kind of reverse illustration, too. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob actually had twelve sons, but he loved one more than all the others. The jealous brothers kidnapped him and sold him into slavery, then lied to their dad to make him think the teen had been killed by a wild animal.

Years later a famine hit the land, so ten of Jacob’s sons traveled to Egypt to purchase grain because they heard in all the region hit by the famine, Egypt still had a supply of grain available.

When they arrived, they came face to face with the brother they’d sold into slavery. He recognized them, but they did not recognize him. After all, he was dressed like an Egyptian, was obviously in charge of the grain selling operation, and communicated with them through a translator.

Long story short, Joseph, the despised and forsaken brother who became a ruler, challenged his brothers—if you want to buy and sell in Egypt, bring me your other brother, the one who stayed home with his dad. That was Benjamin, Joseph’s full-blood brother.

Not sure what Joseph’s intentions were. Maybe he wanted to see if the ten had become as hateful toward Benjamin as they had been toward him. In that case, he could actually rescue Benjamin from them. Or perhaps he wanted to know if they had repented of their evil and were changed men. In which case, he’d have the chance to include his family in his life again. There is the possibility that he was toying with the idea of revenge against the ten. The point is, Scripture doesn’t tell us what he was thinking.

What we do know is that Joseph’s brothers, all except one he kept on condition of their return with the younger brother, went back to their dad, with food but without one of their number. Jacob was distraught. He’d never gotten over losing Joseph, and now one of his older boys was held captive in Egypt, and would not be released unless Benjamin went with the guys on their next trip.

So he delayed. And delayed. At some point things were becoming desperate. The famine continued and the food ran out. His sons needed to go back to Egypt to get food.

But Jacob said, “My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.”

At that point Jacob didn’t love anyone but himself. He was not willing to sacrifice his son.

But he didn’t stay in that state of mind. After time, he came to realize the severity of their situation, and he gave permission for Benjamin to go.

The story ends with Joseph revealing his identity to his brothers and telling them to bring their father and their entire households to Egypt to live because there were still years left of the famine. They did, and he was reunited with his father.

Of course Jacob was not sacrificing his only son, and he wasn’t even sacrificing him. More like risking him. Sort of an “all in” decision. But I think that might be part of love. Going all in. It certainly was the way in which God showed His love for the world.

October 10, 2020

The Peace We Crave Right Now

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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In the Spring of 2019 we introduced readers to MaryAnn Nguyen-Kwok and her blog, Searching for Treasures. She is an Associate Pastor in a church in San Diego, CA. Today’s readings are from a series of blog posts in September, 2020 on the subject of peace. Each section can be linked from the titles which follow. (I don’t think we’ve ever borrowed a total of four devotions, but these are shorter. There are also three more linked at the bottom.)

Perfect Peace

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.  Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal” (Isaiah 26:3-4).

There is an unseen and yet pervasive sense of pressure that we are all feeling during this pandemic.  We are weighed down as we are constantly needing to weigh the pros and cons of so many decisions.  Should we go to the store or get groceries delivered?  Can we dine at a restaurant or should we order takeout?  Should we send our kids to school or have them do online school?  These are the daily decisions that we find ourselves needing to make.  And all of it together for so many months may make us feel like the walls are closing in just a little.

It’s in times like these, when I am feeling the constant pressure, that I know I need to return to this prophetic song of promise from Isaiah.  God will keep us in perfect peace when we trust in him.  He is worthy of our trust because he is a Rock that can’t be moved.  He can’t be shaken, and so we can entrust our whole hearts and our whole lives to him.  And, as we do so, he fills us with a perfect peace that is beyond our imagination.

Like a Rainbow in the Clouds

At the kickoff of his ministry, Ezekiel has a vision of a windstorm that comes from the north, and coming with the storm clouds was a throne and the appearance of the Lord as a figure like that of a man.  And this was the description of him, “Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him” (Ezekiel 1:28).

Something that strikes me about this vision is the reminder that the Lord comes with the storm clouds.

Often, it’s easy for me to think that when I am in the middle of the storm, the Lord is not there. Sure, he’s aware about the storm. Sure, he’s even permitted the storm within the realm of all our human free-will, but he is not there with me in the storm. But it’s interesting that here in this moment, when the storm came, there was the Lord too! He made his appearance with the storm. It’s hard to miss the hope that the Lord brings. He is like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day. Rainbows are the great reminder that storms have beginnings but they also have endings.

We have the hope in Jesus, that no matter what storms may come, he will be with us in the storm, and he will bring us safely through to the storm’s end. We will see the rainbow after the storm. This vision gives me so much hope. May it bring you hope and encouragement today as well.

How Can God be Glorified?

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!”  (John 12:27-28).

When Jesus faced the greatest trial of his life, he did not ask to be delivered from it.  Instead, he asked for God to be glorified in it.  This week, as I led the morning Bible study in John 12, I was struck by the posture that Jesus took.  When I face challenges, my default is often to ask for God to fix it and make it better right away.  But, what if, instead, I asked God how he could be glorified through this situation?  What if I asked how I could glorify him or how I could be transformed as I face these challenges?

I think that would make a huge difference, especially when the trials remain for longer than I anticipated.  Covid has lasted longer than was first predicted, and, as a result, life is full to the brim with new responsibilities to juggle. However, instead of asking God to deliver us, I am reminded today that what I really want is to press into asking God how he can be glorified in the midst of all of this.  I hope this reminder could be an encouragement for you as well today.

Not Forgotten

“I have made you, you are my servant; Israel, I will not forget you” (Isaiah 44:21).

There was no doubt that Israel felt forgotten when their beloved city of Jerusalem was captured and when they were all sent into exile.  While they faced famine, displacement, and death, it seemed like all the loving promises of God had been forgotten forever.  And it is in that context of suffering that God assures them that he has made them and he will not forget them.

Jesus reaffirms this reality of God’s love for us in Luke when he says that we are more valuable to God than the birds, whom God feeds and provides for every single day without fail.  He also reveals in John that the Spirit would be sent for us and will be with us forever.  God has not forgotten us.  He has not forgotten you.  What stresses and what difficulties are you facing?  What hard work have you offered that hasn’t been noticed by others?  God sees you.  He notices.  He hasn’t forgotten you. You are made by him and he loves you.  Hear God’s word for you today, “I will not forget you.”  Soak it in.  Let his words of love wrap around your soul and bring healing to you this day.

Continue reading:

There are three more articles which continue this theme at Searching for Treasures:

 

October 6, 2020

When God Ran

I’ve always felt a great deal of affinity with Jim Thornber, probably because we both have a blog called Thinking Out Loud, and both started in 2008, although his journey and mine are quite different. Since I last caught up with him, he’s faced the loss of his father and the passing of his wife on September 12th from complications arising due to Covid-19. Both are the subject of two previous pieces on his blog, which were then preceded by this one, which appears below under its original title. Our own title today is the title of a song by Benny Hester which came to mind as I was reading and appears at the end. Click the header below to read this at Jim’s site.

The God Who Runs

“And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” –Luke 15:20

I’d like to share with you a snippet of a recent conversation I had with God.

It started when I wanted to write the way Jesus portrayed God in Luke 15. After the wayward son spent his inheritance on wild living, he decides to return home. Verse 20 says the Father ran to the son, embraced him before he could deliver his well-rehearsed speech, and called for a party on his behalf. But I was missing something in the story and didn’t know how to start. I had blogger’s block. Finally (why is it always “finally’?), I settled myself down and prayed.

Me: Lord, as I think about Luke 15, how would You like me to represent You?

God: Tell people My forgiveness predates their repentance.

Me: Okay. What is the best way to do that?

God: Tell them why I ran.

I’ve been studying Luke 15 since the 1980’s when I first read Lloyd John Oglivie’s book on the parables called The Autobiography of God. The first parable Oglivie writes about is this one, which he calls, “The Prodigal God.” About the Father he says, “Rivet your attention on him. Don’t take your eyes off him,” because the spotlight is never off Him, even when He is off stage. He is the prodigal God.

That strikes most people as absurd, mostly because they think prodigal means “going away and returning.” In fact, the word “prodigal” means extravagant, lavish, unrestrained and copious. True, this describes the son in the way he lived in the far country, but it better describes the father. His love knew no limits, his joy no restraint, his forgiveness no boundaries. His forgiveness isn’t even bound by time.  The son was unrestrained with his money, but the father is unrestrained with His love.

Back to the parable. The son is now walking through town on his way to the Father’s house and Jesus says, “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.”

Let’s pause at that word “run.” Most of us skip over it and move ahead to the embrace and the call for a new wardrobe. But if we don’t stop and consider the Father running, we miss a very important part of the story.

In his exegesis of Luke 15, Kenneth Bailey tells us as the son approaches the village, a crowd will gather. The village, well aware the son wanted the father to die so he could have his money now, will taunt the son, abusing him verbally and possibly physically. Therefore, the only way for the father to protect his son from a distance was to draw the attention of the crowd away from the son and onto himself. Therefore, the father ran.

Bailey writes, “An Oriental nobleman with flowing robes never runs anywhere. To do so is humiliating.” Aristotle wrote, “Great men never run in public.” But the father ran anyway. Why? Because he had “compassion” for his son. The only way to keep the crowd from harming his son was to distract them, so the father runs this gauntlet, drawing the attention of the away from the son in order to observe the father’s shameful behavior. Bailey writes, “The boy, having steeled his nerves for this gauntlet, now, to his utter amazement, see his father run it for him. Rather than experiencing the ruthless hostility he deserves and anticipates, the son witnesses and unexpected, visible demonstration of love in humiliation.”

This is the character of God. Not concerned for His own dignity, He does the unexpected so those who would never expect it see a side of God they least expected: love in humiliation. This is Christ the Messiah who, more concerned with our salvation than His dignity, voluntarily hangs naked from a Cross. Why? “Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame” (Heb. 12:2).

While we were disabled due to sin, Jesus disrobed, shedding both His eternity and His clothes, to enable us to live again. Like the father running in the parable, he took the shame upon Himself and drew Satan’s attention away from us, knowing His death would set us free. By the time the Accuser figured out the resurrection, Christ’s victory over sin and death had already been won.

Our Savior exchanged his majesty for mortality, His sovereignty for shame, His glory for a grave. At the best possible moment in the history of humanity upon this earth, Christ came to us. Even as a baby, Satan’s attention was riveted upon Him. Christ ran.

We’ve been created by a Father who runs toward us. In His compassionate love, He forgives us before we ask, before we can convince Him we need His presence with our well-rehearsed speech. All the Father knew was His child who once was lost is now returning home, so He ran to embrace him.

Our Father, Holy is His name, likes to run. Have you experienced His embrace?


August 5, 2020

When Things Are So Very Hateful: Don’t Lose Your Love

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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One of the most-featured writers here over the years has been J. Lee Grady who’s blog is titled Fire in My Bones. Today’s article has been edited for length; you’re encouraged to read the entire piece at Charisma Blogs at the link below. Note: When you click through, you’ll have the option of listening to a devotional podcast At Work With God.

Don’t Let Love Grow Cold in These Hateful Times

…I’ve never known my country to be so hateful.

Anger has reached a boiling point. Passengers are being removed from planes because they started fistfights over leg room. Store customers are going ballistic because other customers aren’t wearing masks. Entitled Americans, always ready to record a cellphone video, are ready to blow the whistle on each other.

We don’t care how our words hurt people anymore. We have become a vicious culture. Jesus warned this would happen when He said that in the last days, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12, NASB)…

…The world tells us that ending a relationship is as easy as hitting the unfriend button. But when I read the Bible, I don’t see any room for outrage, resentment, intolerance or “unfriending.” Jesus calls us to love—and He gives us the supernatural power to do it.

Have you considered ending a relationship recently because of politics? Did you already walk out of a church or break a close friendship because of a disagreement? If so, examine your heart and ask these probing questions first:

  1. Am I giving up too soon? The apostle Paul told the Ephesians they should “always demonstrate gentleness and generous love toward one another, especially toward those who try your patience” (Eph. 4:2b, TPT). Your love will never grow unless it is stretched—and the best way to stretch your love is to show kindness when you feel like slamming a door in a person’s face.

The truth is that we often give up on relationships because we just don’t want to exert the energy to improve them. Relationships require a lot of work. When you unfriend someone just because they hurt you, you are missing an opportunity to become more like Christ.

Show some patience. Choose to love even when you don’t get anything in return.

Ephesians 4:3 (NLT) says we must “make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” The Greek word for “make every effort” means “to be diligent; to use speed; to be prompt or earnest; to labor.” That means you shouldn’t let wounds fester. Act quickly to repair the relationship before it gets worse!

  1. Would Jesus end this relationship? When you end a friendship because of an offense, you are doing the exact opposite of what Jesus did for you. Ephesians 4:32 says “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” You will never understand God’s merciful love if you don’t show it to others.

Jesus doesn’t flippantly write people off. He loved us even when we were sinners, and He patiently drew us to Himself using “ropes of kindness and love” (Hos. 11:4b). Before you end a friendship, judge a pastor, storm out of a church or give someone the cold shoulder, remember how aggressively Jesus pursued a relationship with you. Let His ropes of kindness pull you out of your bad attitude.

When Peter asked Jesus how many times we are required to forgive a person, Jesus answered “seventy times seven” (see Matt. 18:22b). Taken literally, that means 490 times—but Jesus wasn’t putting a limit on forgiveness. He was using the number seven to imply infinity. Stop counting how many times you have been offended and instead thank God for all the times He has overlooked your mistakes.

  1. Am I nursing a grudge? Our divisive political climate encourages people to get up mad in the morning, fuel their anger with hot political rhetoric throughout the day and then go to bed after listening to more arguments on news broadcasts. We are literally poisoning ourselves.

Many Christians have allowed similar poison in their lives because of church drama. They are mad that a pastor slighted them. They are jealous of someone who took a position they wanted. They are angry because a Christian did something hypocritical.

Resentment is deadly. It actually makes people sick. It also makes us ugly and unpleasant. Unforgiveness puts a frown on your face, wrinkles around your eyes and a sour tone in your voice.

Don’t let today’s culture of outrage infect you. Go against the flow of toxic hate. Make a decision today to work harder at maintaining your relationships. Forgive those who hurt you so your love doesn’t grow cold.

 

 

July 17, 2020

The Gifts God Gives Us

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest. John 10:10b CEB

I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.  John 10:10b MSG

Today we’re introducing Jenny Lee Young who lives in Randburg, South Africa and describes herself as a “former Methodist local preacher” who writes at Coffee in the Rain. Why the name? She says, “It reminds me of warmth and comfort when things are not ideal.”

As always, click the link in the title which follows to read this at source.

Enjoying Life

Two scriptures have grabbed my attention recently.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17 NLT)

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. (Psalm 36:8 NIV)

These verses speak to me about enjoyment and delight. God is the creator of all good gifts and pleasures. We only need to look at the variety of delicious food He has made available to us. Imagine if we ate grass every day like cattle! Or think of the futuristic scenario where all our nutrition might be reduced to a tablet a day. How much we would miss out on!

When our grandchildren were younger, I used to agonise over buying them presents for birthdays. How disappointed I was when a specially chosen doll was never played with, or a toy was left in the toy box unenjoyed. How much it delighted me when a gift we had given got taken to bed with the three-year-old, or was played with every day by the four-year-old.

I think God is delighted when we enjoy His gifts. He loves watching us having fun, enjoying life to the full. There is such a variety of things to enjoy; art, music, ballet, good wine, great sport-matches, riveting books and all things excellent.

Let us not merely “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die,” but “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

My Prayer.

Lord, even in the midst of this Corona pandemic, please open my eyes to the good gifts You have given me. May I enjoy them and give You thanks and praise. Amen.



This day’s devotional also contained a link to a fundraising platform for one of our related ministries, but as the campaign reached its goal of $4,000; the information is no longer relevant.

July 16, 2020

Not “My,” But “Our” – A Refection on the Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be kept holy. – Matthew 6:9

by Clarke Dixon

Prayer is a very personal thing. If we are being honest, the words “I,” “me,” and “my,” show up a lot in our prayers. Yet when Jesus teaches us to pray, we are to address “our” Father in heaven. Throughout the Lord’s prayer we also encounter “us,” and “our” a lot, but never “me,” nor “my.” This is important and reminds of three important facts as we learn to pray.

First, when we pray our Father, we are reminded that God is Someone we experience together. Faith is personal, but it is not something we create for ourselves, it is not something we possess and control or change for our own purposes.

If we began our prayer with something like “my personal cosmic being” we could then perhaps conjure God up as we desire. However, Jesus teaches us to pray “Our Father in heaven.” God is not someone we can change to suit our tastes. God has been experienced by a very large community of faith over a very long time.

If you ask my three boys what I am like, the facts they relate will need to fit with each other, plus fit with what you know about me. They might point to the obvious and say that I have blue eyes and and more grey hair today than yesterday. That would be true. Actually, my eyes were blue long before they came on the scene. We won’t mention my hair colour. You get the point though, that what is true about me is true about me whether you asked my boys or not. They cannot conjure me up, rather they experience me through my presence in their lives.

What is true about God was true about God long before you or I came on the scene. God is God, and that would be true even if there were no Church to speak of Him. God is not “my father, conjured up in my mind to suit my preference,” but “our father,” the one with whom humans have had a relationship for a long time. He is the one who revealed himself to his covenant people. He is the one who has revealed himself in Jesus. He is the one the community of faith has experienced and has spoken about. He is the one we meet in the Bible. He is our father, someone beyond us and experienced together by us.

When we pray “our father,” we are reminded that God is beyond us, experienced by a whole community of faith, and therefore can be discovered by us, but not conjured up.

Second, when we pray “our father in heaven” we are reminded that we are part of a large family which is part of an even larger family of faith. Faith is personal, but it is not practiced alone.

The local church is a family of believers and so we can properly refer to one another as brothers and sisters.

Within our own church family I feel rather badly for those who have come from a tradition where one is taught to enter the sanctuary with quietness in order to prepare for worship. That simply does not happen at Calvary as there is a lot of chit-chat which goes on before and after the service. But as I like to say, God loves a noisy church for it shows that relationships are happening. Yes, we gather to worship God, however, we gather to worship God together. As a family of believers we do not gather at the church, but as the church.

Of course we have an even bigger family to think about. The believers that would normally gather at the church down the street are also our brothers and sisters. As are the believers across the town. Even if we think they are weird. As are the believers across the world.

We are a huge family brought together not by our efforts at thinking alike, or even by liking each other, but by God loving us alike. We do not need to agree with our brothers and sisters to be family. We just need a relationship with our father. When you enter into relationship with God, you automatically enter into a family relationship with many people you might consider a little odd, or even a lot wrong.

When we pray “our father” we also think of the many generations of Christ followers which have gone before. God was their father too. Actually, God is still their father! The dead don’t cease to be God’s children!

Third, when we pray “our father in heaven” we are reminded that we share something fundamentally important with all people, for God is the Father of all humankind. Faith is personal, but it does not not cut us off from the public.

I once heard someone make a distinction between Genesis 3 and Genesis 1 Christians. If we are Genesis 3 Christians we tend to see people first-off as fallen, as having suffered the consequence of the Fall. We may not even see people at all, we may just see sinners. Genesis 1 Christians on the other hand see people, first-off as being created in the image of God, for relationship with God. In that sense all humans are children of God. Praying “our” father reminds us of that.

However, we may wonder about those times the Bible speaks of people as being alienated from God, or even enemies of God. Is that not evidence that not all people can be called “children of God,” that from the Christian perspective they cannot be considered part of one big family?

Imagine you can go back to the days of slavery in the Southern States. If you met a slave, would you say “slave is an appropriate term for you for that is what you are, this is where you belong,” or would you say “slave is a tragic term for you for you were created to be free. You were created for something better. Slave fits your current situation, but not your identity. You are not currently where you belong.” So too, with those who would live far from God. There are terms, like stranger, and enemy, which accurately describe their situation due to sin, but those terms are tragic. All people were created in the image of God, for relationship with God. He is calling them to come home. In his grace he is offering forgiveness and a new start through Jesus. They are his children, but children may end up living with zero relationship with their parents. This is tragic. Do our hearts break?

When we pray “our father” we are reminded that God is father to all humanity. We are reminded to have the same kind of love and longing for all people from all peoples as God has. Our hearts will break for those who are far, even as God’s does.

When we pray “our father” we are reminded that family dynamics are always changing. Every person we meet can potentially also desire to pray this prayer too someday. Those far from God can come home. Faith is personal, but it is not private. What we call “evangelism” is often seen as unethical in our day of privacy and individualism, however, evangelism is unavoidable when we pray “our father.” Our father desires that all His children come home. Given that we are family, we would love to see them come home too!

“I,” “me,” and “my” may show up a lot in our prayers and that is fine. Prayer is personal and we approach God as individuals. He relates to each of us on a personal and individual level. However, let us remember that Jesus taught us to pray addressing God as “our” father. Let that be a reminder that,

  • God is a very real Someone that an entire faith community has experienced, and continues to experience.
  • we are part of a big family, in fact a huge and complicated family of faith.
  • We are part of an even bigger and even more complicated family, which includes even those who would rather not be in the family at all, whom God loves and is calling home.

May we ever be mindful that God is not just “my father,” but “our father.”


This reflection comes from the “online worship expression” at Clarke’s church You can also watch the reflection here.)

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.

June 8, 2020

John Mark Comer: Quotations

“Too much time spent in the past leads to depression; too much time spent in the future leads to anxiety. Live in the moment.”

John Mark Comer is the teaching pastor of Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon. He’s too young to have many pages devoted to his quotations, but in his four major published works, he focuses much on the concept of establishing spiritual rhythms or practices to lead a balanced Christian life. Most of the quotes which follow are from GoodReads.com and were posted by readers and voted to be their favorite quotations from each book listed below.

GC = Garden City
L = Loveology
GHAN = God Has a Name
REH = Ruthless Elimination of Hurry
CA2018 = Catalyst Atlanta 2018

Previously here at C201:

“That’s why Sabbath is an expression of faith. Faith that there is a Creator and he’s good. We are his creation. This is his world. We live under his roof, drink his water, eat his food, breathe his oxygen. So on the Sabbath, we don’t just take a day off from work; we take a day off from toil. We give him all our fear and anxiety and stress and worry. We let go. We stop ruling and subduing, and we just be. We “remember” our place in the universe. So that we never forget . . . There is a God, and I’m not him.”  GC


“It’s [menuha or Sabbath] not just a nap on the couch. It’s a restfulness that’s also a celebration. It’s often translated “happiness.” And to the Jews, menuha is something you create. It’s not just that you stop working and sit on the couch for a day every week. It’s about cultivating an environment, an atmosphere to enjoy your life, your world, and your God. It’s more a mode of being than a twenty-four-hour time slot.” GC


“But the Bible claims something radically out of step with its time. It claims there is one true Creator God who made everything. And the world was born, not out of conflict or war or jealous infighting, but out of the overflow of his creativity and love.”  GHAN


“Often what we believe about God says more about us than it does about God. Our theology is like a mirror to the soul. It shows us what’s deep inside.”  GHAN


“Ultimately, nothing in this life, apart from God, can satisfy our desires. Tragically, we continue to chase after our desires ad infinitum. The result? A chronic state of restlessness or, worse, angst, anger, anxiety, disillusionment, depression—all of which lead to a life of hurry, a life of busyness, overload, shopping, materialism, careerism, a life of more…which in turn makes us even more restless. And the cycle spirals out of control.”  REH


“It’s not failure if you fail at doing something you’re not supposed to do. It’s success. Because with each success, and with each so-called failure, you’re getting a clearer sense of your calling.” GC


“Sacrifice your ambition, your drive, your work-a-holism, influence, status, pat on the back. Let all of that die or your soul will die instead and the souls of those around you.” CA2018


“Our job is to make the invisible God visible — to mirror and mimic what he is like to the world. We can glorify God by doing our work in such a way that we make the invisible God visible by what we do and how we do it.”  GC


“If your strategy in life is to live out Jesus vision of the sermon on the Mount, but you don’t change your routine to match that of Jesus, you don’t stand a chance.” CA2018


“When God describes himself, he doesn’t start with how powerful he is or how he knows everything there is to know or how he’s been around since before time and space and there’s no one else like him in the universe. That’s all true, but apparently, to God, it’s not the most important thing. When God describes himself, he starts with his name. Then he talks about what we call character. He’s compassionate and gracious; he’s slow to anger; he’s abounding in love and faithfulness, and on down the list.”  GHAN


“To restate: love, joy, and peace are at the heart of all Jesus is trying to grow in the soil of your life. And all three are incompatible with hurry.” REH


“Will we buy the lie? Go our own way, thinking we know better than God? Flip a coin and hope for the best? Or will we listen, not to the voice of the serpent, but to the Creator. Will we believe that God’s way is the best way? He is the Creator, and he’s good.” L


“Because what you give your attention to is the person you become. Put another way: the mind is the portal to the soul, and what you fill your mind with will shape the trajectory of your character. In the end, your life is no more than the sum of what you gave your attention to. That bodes well for those apprentices of Jesus who give the bulk of their attention to him and to all that is good, beautiful, and true in his world. But not for those who give their attention to the 24-7 news cycle of outrage and anxiety and emotion-charged drama or the nonstop feed of celebrity gossip, titillation, and cultural drivel. (As if we “give” it in the first place; much of it is stolen by a clever algorithm out to monetize our precious attention.) But again: we become what we give our attention to, for better or worse.”  REH


“We’re image bearers, created to rule, to partner with God in pushing and pulling the creation project forward, to work it, to draw out the earth’s potential and unleash it for human flourishing — to cooperate with God in building a civilization where his people can thrive in his presence. And in this cosmic agenda, each of us has a vocation, a calling from God, a way that God wired us, somebody to be and something to do — because the two merge in perfect symmetry.” GC


Penguin Random House did not grant us status to review the latest book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, at Thinking Out Loud or do an excerpt feature on it here. The other books are available from Zondervan, a division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

May 19, 2020

The God Who Touches Lepers

Melody has creating devotional writing at In Pleasant Places since January, 2013. This is her 5th time being highlighted here. Her blog started somewhat organically from correspondence she was sharing with a friend, as she explains in her story. To read this at her blog, click the header below.

Powerful Healing, Compassionate Love – Isaiah 53:4-5

“Surely He has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows…
Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with His stripes we are healed.”

Isaiah 53:4-5

I read these words by Charles Spurgeon this morning:

“What a mass of hideous sickness must have thrust itself under the eye of Jesus! Yet we read not that He was disgusted, but patiently waited on every case… Whatever my own case may be, the beloved Physician can heal me; and whatever may be the state of others whom I may remember at this moment in prayer, I may have hope in Jesus that He will be able to heal them of their sins.”

This is the example the disciples witnessed. Jesus, with compassion and care for all. Not repulsed. Not hesitant or intimidated. Instead, He was welcoming and patient. Demonstrating that there is no lost cause; He can heal all who come to Him. A powerful physical demonstration of His ability to heal, cleanse, and restore, pointing to His greater healing of the soul for all who believe in Him.

No sin is too great, too dark, too ongoing. He cleanses all.

That’s what He died for.

And He meets us with the same compassion regardless of how dirty, shameful, and unworthy we feel – just as He met the high priest in Zechariah’s vision, rebuking his accuser, removing his iniquity (taking it on Himself ultimately on the cross), and clothing him in pure garments (Zechariah 3:1-4).

As Jesus reached out His hand to touch the leper (Luke 5:11-13), He reaches out His hand to touch and cleanse us. To pull us out of the mire and give us a new song to sing (Psalm 40:1-3). To change our lives because we are delivered into His kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13-14), freed to know Him in relationship and experience His grace in obedience. Freed to love and serve Him, walking in the newness of abundant life. With strength and peace, joy and steadfast hope.

When we are freed, may we never forget the greatness of His salvation, the depth and depravity of sin He saves us from, or our continual need of His mercy and grace – and His ability and ready willingness to meet that need (Hebrews 4:16).

May we never look at others’ chains and sicknesses with disgust, but as our Savior does – with compassion. With love. Reaching out to meet them where they are, and gently sharing our experience of a God who loves them enough to die for them, a God who will not shame them, a God who stands with ready open arms to assure them, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zechariah 3:4).

Fellow believers, let us not be repulsed.

Let us not shame.

Let us not cast down.

Rather, let us reach out to love.

Let us listen.

Let us share of the Father’s great love and mercy, manifested on the cross of Jesus and extended very personally to those He puts in our path.

Let us share this not to change them, but to introduce them to the living God of love, hope, peace, and freedom. For each precious one who believes in Him, He will draw them out of the mire into His light. He will free them from their sin. We bring others to Jesus in love and compassion; His Spirit does the rest, just as He continues His work to free us from our sin. A work that He will bring to completion for all who are His (Philippians 1:6).

Because His healing work is that powerful and His love for us is that great.

“I waited patiently for the LORD;
He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.”
Psalm 40:1-3


May 11, 2020

Have You Been Conscious of God’s Love in the Past Week?

This is an excerpt from Healthy Me, Healthy Us: Your Relationships Are Only as Strong as You Are by: Dr. Les Parrott and Dr. Leslie Parrott releasing later this month with Thomas Nelson. To read the full excerpt go to Devotions Daily. Learn more about the book at this link.

How to Change Your Negative Self-Talk

…In the 1700s, Jonathan Edwards used a simple analogy: “There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet and having a sense of its sweetness.” You can know honey is sweet because someone tells you, but you don’t really know its sweetness until you’ve tasted it.

We’re talking about opening your heart and allowing the sweetness of God’s love to be experienced. This is more about your heart than your head. It’s what John Wesley was getting at in pondering God’s love when he described his heart as being “strangely warmed.” Pascal, who was a mathematician and scientist as well as a philosopher, said his heart was “directed into the love of God.” It’s a feeling at the center of our beings. It’s beyond knowing with your head. In fact, it’s beyond comprehension. How can you wrap your head around being loved by the Creator — so much so that you feel it?

When I (Les) was a graduate student in seminary, a professor asked a class of more than fifty students: “How many of you experience God’s love?” He quickly added, “Don’t raise your hands on impulse. Think about it and only raise your hand if you know the feeling of being loved by God.” Out of this room of students preparing for ministry, how many hands went up? Fewer than a dozen. Those who didn’t raise their hands gave answers like “I know I’m supposed to say that I have… I know the Bible says He loves me… but I don’t feel it.” Some even admitted that God felt cold, aloof, and demanding — not loving.

The professor wasn’t surprised. It wasn’t his first time to pose the question to a class of students. He followed it up with another: “How many of you have been conscious of God’s love for you, personally, in the past week?” No hands went up this time. He waited a couple of beats and continued: “How many have been conscious of God’s disapproval of you this week?” Hands shot up all around the room.

If you want to experience God’s love, if you want to feel it deep in your spirit, you’ve got to admit that you are indeed inadequate — that you haven’t and will not ever earn God’s love. It’s an impossibility.

You can only receive it as a grace gift. When God tells us,
Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His presence continually.
— 1 Chronicles 16:11 ESV

He is not merely making a suggestion. He designed us to live with Him. That’s where we find health, wholeness, and fulfillment. Jesus underscored this when He said,
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
— John 10:10 ESV

You may feel as though a million hurdles stand in your way to experiencing God’s love — guilt, shame, blame, perfectionism, legalism, inadequacies, hurts — but be assured that nobody has or ever will earn the love of God. Each of us is undeserving. But when we open our hearts to receive it and continually walk with God to experience it, our internal dialogue forever changes…


Taken from Healthy Me, Healthy Us: Your Relationships Are Only as Strong as You Are by: Dr. Les Parrott and Dr. Leslie Parrott Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

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