Christianity 201

November 19, 2019

God is With You, No Matter What

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:11 pm
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Today, a series of searches led us to this devotional, which, we discovered after a few minutes, was actually reblogged from an article by none other than Rick Warren. You can read more at PastorRick.com or click the header below to read this one at source.

God Watches Over Us

“Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6 NLT).

When King David declared that God’s goodness would pursue him, he wasn’t saying, “Surely only good things are going to happen to me!” He knew as well as anyone that bad things happen to good people.Instead, David was saying that only God’s goodness would follow after or pursue him. No matter how bad or evil or difficult something seems, God can work it out for good.

It’s one of God’s great promises that he’s given to believers: Everything that happens to us is working for our good—if we love God and are fitting into his plans (see Romans 8:28). If you’re a believer, the Bible says all things are working together for good—not that all things are good, but things are working together for good.

There is no difficulty, dilemma, defeat, or disaster in the life of a believer that God can’t ultimately turn toward his purpose.

Like goodness, God’s unfailing love follows us in life. King David says it pursues us!

Picture a parent following a little child around picking up after them. When we’re struggling with hurts, habits, and hang-ups, God is coming right alongside us, helping to pick up our messes and telling us that his unfailing love is always there.

So instead of entering into the future with a question mark, you can do it with an exclamation point! God will be with you no matter what happens. He will help you out: “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6 NLT).

  • God’s goodness will provide and protect.
  • God’s mercy (unfailing love) will pardon and forgive.
  • God’s goodness will supply.
  • God’s mercy will soothe.
  • God’s goodness will help.
  • God’s mercy will heal.

Goodness is the fact that God gives us good things in life that we don’t deserve. Mercy means God holds back the condemnation we deserve.

When King David said he would live in the Lord’s house forever, he was saying that God had prepared a place for him in heaven.

That’s one of the most important connections we see in the Bible. It connects yesterday with today and then connects them both with tomorrow.

God says, “I’ve got this great life planned for you, and surely goodness and mercy will follow you through it, but that’s not the end! I’ve got something else at the end!” God builds it to a crescendo.

So David ends his psalm by saying, “We’re going to heaven!” Jesus saves the best until last. With God it just keeps getting better and better. The best is yet to come. “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1 NIV).

Talk It Over

  • What are some ways that you see God’s unfailing love following you?
  • The Bible teaches that no matter how bad or evil or difficult something seems, God can work it out for good (see Romans 8:28). How does that truth affect your life?
  • How have you seen God use difficulty, dilemma, defeat, or disaster in your life—or the life of another believer—for his purpose?

PLAY today’s audio teaching from Pastor Rick

November 6, 2019

Deep and Lasting Friendships Don’t Just Happen

NIV.Eccl.4.9 Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.

NIV.Prov.27.17 As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another.

Six months ago we shared something from the writing of Glenn Kaiser, a leader in the Jesus People USA community in Chicago which gave birth to Resurrection Band, Cornerstone Magazine and the Cornerstone Festival. Today we’re back with another one of his devotional pieces. Click the header below to read at source.

True Friendship!

Some years ago someone repeated to me what another person had stated about a third party. The sentiment was something like “He might sometimes drive me crazy but he’s the kind of person you want to have next to you in a foxhole.”

I get a long list of daily devotionals in my inbox most of which I read slowly through. Sometimes they seem to nail truth or at least open up a line of thought I find encouraging to consider. On occasion they spread open to a larger field of reality I think it good to share.

Here are three quotes on friendship.

  • “A true friend is the one who walks in when others walk out.”  -Walter Winchell

Boom. A few more thoughts on this in a moment, but I have several such friends and am SOOOOO grateful to God for them!

  • “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

True friendship costs and the sad truth is that plenty of people are not committed to one another enough to pay the bill.

Lastly a “Yes and No” on this quote:

  • “In true friendship, one can express anything and everything without feeling ashamed or afraid of being rejected.” -Aparna Chatterjee

I agree but counter and add that even when you do feel ashamed a true friend is one you can still express anything to and not fear being rejected.

These kinds of deep and especially lasting friendships don’t just “happen”. They take real investment of time, effort, forgiveness, agreeing to disagree but not terminating the relationship easily. Actual continual physical abuse and life and death matters are another matter entirely and certainly friendship with such a person is not what I’m taking about.

Some of us are so insecure and/or arrogant, at times we’re just not willing to build truly deep and close alliances, maybe even a sort of coalition. This does not mean full agreement in every area but enough that you still reach out, respect, actually hang out willingly with one another.

The lack of such commitment to mutual friendship contributes to extreme polarization which can and often does happen. I believe this an element of why our world is often quite mean, impatient, fractured, even brutal to the extent of breeding outright hatred in our times.

How easily do you “send ’em packing”, just dump a friend? Whether or not you agree on everything (you don’t and won’t) what sort of friend are you when they’re hurting? How willing are you to point them in directions that may bring them needed help and perhaps relief from issues they’re plagued with?

Are you simply a friend of convenience- they have some of what you want so you hang out to take not so much share and/or give?

Some of the amazing reality of God is He already knows everything about you and knows the depth, importance, right or wrong, good for you or self-destructive, He’s down with it all -and still loves you. He doesn’t always agree with your choices but Jesus didn’t come to a world of people who all full-on agreed with Him, gave/give a rip about God or even care much for others. He came for all sinners -meaning you, me, all of us!

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” -Jesus in John 15.12,13

We may split from others, might run away from Jesus but He never left. While we were yet sinners… hmmm… He died for us. HE laid down His life for us. That’s the sort of friendship I’m talking about!

When nobody else is around -He is.

I can’t tell you how thankful I am for my Best Friend.

God help us learn to love and cultivate, indeed sacrifice to become the sort of friends Jesus calls us to be for others. And Thank You Lord for such friends!

October 19, 2019

Trying to Earn God’s Presence

Six months ago we introduced you to Kristen Larson who writes at Abide.Trust.Believe. I stopped in for a visit again this week, and was touched by how she writes at a deeply personal level, as you’ll see in the piece below. Click the header which follows to read at her site.

Loved

I was raised in a Christian home. My upbringing included Sunday School on Sunday mornings, Youth Group on Wednesday nights, and Small Group on Fridays. From an early age, God quickly became the most important person in my life.

I can remember the first time I raised my hands in worship during Sunday School. I would spend hours in prayer at church camp in the summer. My journals are filled with prayers and questions – looking to God for the answers.

Growing into adulthood, the godly women in my life encouraged me to spend intentional time alone with God, where you read your bible and pray. And I have done my best to make this a priority for the last 10 years. They’ve never been the perfect “hour every morning with a cup of coffee”, and they’ve never been perfectly consistent, but spending time in the Word and in prayer has continued to grow in importance the older I get.

I have had many seasons in life where I’ve felt alive in Christ. I’ve felt his love wash over me and my times with him have been fruitful and life giving. But this year, my times in solitude with the Lord started to get frustrating.  I was leaving each time upset and irritated. I couldn’t feel God. I couldn’t hear him. The logical solution was that I was doing something wrong. So, I would try getting up before work to start my day off right. I kept falling asleep, so I’d plan out exactly what I would read. When that didn’t work, I’d try spontaneity – just opening up anywhere in the bible and reading. I gave devotional reading a shot. I tried focusing on prayer alone. I gave reading a book by a Christian author. Nothing worked.

It wasn’t until just recently that I was able to finally voice the lie that had been planted in my heart. Luke and I were driving home from a dear friends funeral, and I don’t remember exactly how it came up or how the conversation wound its way there, but I remember telling Luke with tears in my eyes… I don’t think God loves me.

Just voicing this to Luke and identifying it caused blinders to off my eyes. I can see it now. I was trying to earn his love. I realized on that car ride home that I had been trying to earn his presence by getting up early each morning. I was trying to be good enough for him to speak to me by doing all the right things. I was trying to come up with ways to manipulate him into speaking to me.

But as I remembered the overarching story of the Bible, the truth became so clear: I cannot, under any circumstances, earn his love. 

Romans 5:6-11 says,

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

God chased after us, even while we rejected him. God extended his love to us, even when we failed, yet again. God sealed the deal, even while we sat covered in our sin – paralyzed by our inability to measure up.

Psalm 23:6 says,

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

He pursues us.

I hope you can begin to walk in this freedom today, too. I encourage you to spend time with the Lord, knowing, believing, and declaring that he loves you.  Let this truth wash over you:

You are loved. You are his.

October 6, 2019

God: What He Did was Who He Is

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

In my formative spiritual years, I remember hearing this:

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

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

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

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

I get that.

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

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

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

And here is my point:

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

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

He is a God of love.

He is a God of mercy.

He always has been.

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

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

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


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

 

September 17, 2019

Let There Be Grace

grace

We continue where we left off yesterday, with another scripture medley. Today’s post is entirely scripture, prepared using BibleHub.com, an online Bible resource.

As I slowed down to read through each verse in many different translations, I was very much aware of:

  • Who was speaking (made clear by the reference)
  • Who it is who was or is the recipient of grace
  • Whether the verse was testimony, instruction, promise or warning
  • The centrality of the theme of grace in scripture

I hope you’ll take some time with this and not rush through…

But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me–and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace.
– I Cor. 15:10 NLT

I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ
– I Cor 1:4 KJV

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.
– Titus 2:11 NIV

I do not misapply God’s grace, for if righteousness comes about by doing what the Law requires, then the Messiah died for nothing.
– Galatians 2:21 ISV

As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it.
– 2 Corinthians 6:1 NLT

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
– 1 Peter 4:10 NIV

Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.
– Hebrews 12:15 NLT

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.
– Ephesians 3:7 NIV

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you
– Ephesians 3:2 NIV

Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord;
– Acts 11:23 NASB

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
– Hebrews 2:9 ESV

The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
– Luke 2:40 NASB

We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you.
– 2 Corinthians 1:12 NLT



Here’s another collection we posted previously:

Galatians (NLT) 5:4 For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.

Romans (Voice) 10:4 But Christ makes the Law no longer necessary for those who become acceptable to God by faith.

Hebrews (AMP) 10:14 For by a single offering He has forever completely cleansed and perfected those who are consecrated and made holy.

Romans (NASB) 5:19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.


And one more passage:

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;

That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.   Titus 3:5-7

July 17, 2019

Judgement will be Merciless to the One Who Has Shown No Mercy

Today our blog tour takes us back to Charlie Garret at The Superior Word blog. Click the title below to read at source. Then look around, there are some other great articles there.

James 2:13

For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. -James 2:13

The Greek reads with more force than is presented here. It more rightly says, “For the judgment will be merciless to the one who has shown no mercy.” It is a precept which permeates Scripture in various ways. Solomon says this in Proverbs –

“Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor
Will also cry himself and not be heard.” Proverbs 21:13

James’ words also remind the reader of the parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:21-35. Jesus shows there that mercy in us is something that is evaluated by God in our own judgment. David’s words in 2 Samuel acknowledge this precept as well. There he says, “With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful.”

The reason for this is that mercy is an attribute of the Lord. It is a part of His very nature. In Exodus 34, when revealing His glory before Moses, the Lord proclaimed

“The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6,7

Later in Numbers, when the people of Israel sinned against the Lord, Moses appealed to Him for them. In his appeal, he said,

“And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken.”

After that, he repeated the very words of the Lord from Exodus 34 as the prime example of how the Lord would most effectively reveal His great power

“‘The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.’ Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” Numbers 14:18, 19

Astonishingly, Moses saw the power of the Lord most fully demonstrated in His mercy and forgiveness. This is what the Lord had declared concerning Himself, and Moses grasped onto it, knowing that the Lord is unchangeable in His Being. As this is so, he appealed to that truth.

Moses is considered Israel’s great lawgiver. A law demands justice leading to punishment for transgression. But Moses saw the strength of the Lord in withholding that, and in its place granting mercy. Does that not sound like God working in Christ? The greatest demonstration of all of God’s power is found in the giving of His Son for sinful man. It is the very heart of the gospel, and the gospel is the very heart and purpose of all Scripture in regards to salvation. Paul says as much in Romans 1:16

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”

The law and its penalties could not compare to the mercies of the Lord. And the Dispensation of Law was but a dark moment in redemptive history as it led to the gloriously revealed light of the Dispensation of Grace. Moses, understanding this precept above all else, then spoke out his petition to the Lord, and the Lord pardoned according to his plea.

This is why the judgment will be merciless to the one who has shown no mercy. It is because in not showing mercy, we cast off one of the principle attributes of God, in whose image we are created. But in being merciful, we too will find mercy. As James says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” God who is merciful will look upon us in mercy when we reflect His nature and demonstrate mercy.

Life application: James indicates that mercy is a powerful tool for good in our lives and for our eternal destiny. A good way to remember the meaning of mercy is to remember it along with the meaning of grace. Mercy is not getting what you do deserve; grace is getting what you do not deserve.

As Jesus speaks of this so poignantly in Matthew 18, take time today to read the entire parable and see how this confirms what James says. However, remember to take the entire subject of forgiveness in context. When we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, all our sins are forgiven. Therefore, in the context of the Christian’s life, being unmerciful will result in loss of rewards, not condemnation. Either way, being merciful will keep us from a greater judgment because we are acting as our Heavenly Father does when we stray.

Lord Jesus, it is not always easy to be merciful, but it reflects Your divine character when we are. Because of this, please grant us the ability to be more merciful to others so that we might be pleasing to You. May Your words sink into our lives and become our very nature – to Your glory! Amen.

June 16, 2019

God’s Picture of Father Love

AMP Mark 4 : 2a And He taught them many things in parables (illustrations or comparisons put beside truths to explain them)…

PHILLIPS Mark 4 : 1 – 2a Then once again he began to teach them by the lake-side. A bigger crowd than ever collected around him so that he got into the little boat on the lake and sat down, while the crowd covered the ground right up to the water’s edge. He taught them a great deal in parables…

When you look at the ministry of Jesus there are at least three things that separate Him from all others who came before and all others who have come after:

  • Miracles
  • Questions
  • Parables

While all the parables contain more depth than we see in the first reading, one that is especially rich is the one we call The Parable of the Lost Son, or The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Six years ago, for Father’s Day our pastor spoke on this parable and as always happens with this particular section of Jesus’ teaching, there is always a new takeaway waiting if you look for it.

Before we gloss over this point too quickly, let me say that we need to approach familiar Bible passages with the attitude of expectancy. I do this every year at Christmas and Easter and I am never disappointed if I have my radar set to look for a new insight or revelation.

I knew of a pastor once who would begin some of his messages with a prayer that ended, “…and God if there’s anyone here who feels they’ve heard this all before, help them to know that your desire is to write this on the tablets of their heart.” (And that was before computer tablets!) Some messages we simply need to hear over and over and over and over and over and over again.

But that’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about where we haven’t heard it all before because there is so much depth to the passage in question. I’ve said that I think all scripture is like that to some degree, but in some passages, the potential message outlines are infinite.

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multifaceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others.

Christianity 201, 1/24/13

At church that Sunday, the takeaway had to do with the father in the story running to meet his returning, contrite, repentant son. Our pastor pointed out that traditionally, because of the son’s shame in losing his money to Gentiles, the town would gather to shame him as he re-entered. But instead, the father runs to meet him, hug him, kiss him and give him a ring.

NIV Luke 15: 20b … But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Usually, the focus here has to do with the way in which the father runs to meet the son, that he was essentially shaming himself by lifting his tunic to run to do so. He thereby identifies with his son’s shame, his indignity, his disgrace.

But there’s a parallel between this event and what happens minutes later in the story where the father has to take shorter but equally important walk to meet his other son, the elder brother.

The Voice Luke 15 : 28b The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with him to join the celebration.

The NLT has “begged” instead of “pleaded.” Young’s Literal Translation has “entreated.” This was not a 30-second conversation. This other young man required convincing; he needed to be persuaded.

So the parallel is that the father leaves his party of which he is the host, and leaves his home to go outside and beg the older son to come in. He is identifying here with the elder son’s appraisal of the injustice of the situation, his feeling that his performance based approach has counted for nothing.

And in terms of performance, Jesus was sinless. Jesus’ life was characterized by the injustice of the condemnation of an innocent man. Jesus had to leave the comparative ‘party’ of heaven to come to us. Jesus suffered the indignity of the cross…

…I grew up in The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada under the ministry of Dr. Paul B. Smith. Each Sunday night as the choir sang Just As I Am, Dr. Paul would remind everyone that, “If you take one step toward God, God will take ten steps toward you.”

So imagine how much the speed at which God will move to embrace and welcome and restore you if you yourself come home running…

May 19, 2019

Entering the Place Where the Lord Dwells

Today we’re introducing an author who is new to us here. Mark Stephenson co-pastors Horizon Church of Towson. Maryland and writes at Fire and Light. In today’s article, he paints a vivid picture of what it is like to enter into the dwelling place of the Lord, referred to in scripture as Zion or Mount Zion.

Click the link below to read at source.

City of the Living God

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel…

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”[ref. Deuteronomy 4:24]

– Hebrews 12:22-24, 28-29

When we worship God we get to enter the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. We get to walk among thousands upon thousands of angels who have gathered to joyfully worship the Lord. We get to approach the throne of grace with confidence knowing that Jesus has made a way by His blood.

Can you picture it?

As you walk toward God’s throne, surrounded by cheering angels, you are clothed in garments of white. The aisle to the throne is as clear as a crystal sea. The angels, as servants of the King, all know that a child of the King has entered the throne room. Royalty has walked in and they all act accordingly. You are an heir of an unshakeable Kingdom, a co-heir with Christ.

As you approach God on His throne, your pace slows. Your steps are careful. You are reminded that this is not only the King of Kings but also your Heavenly Father. You stop. You know this is close enough. The rest of the distance from you to Him is for Him to walk if He decides. He is a consuming fire, and you can feel His power from here. You bow down with your knees to the ground to honor the One who deserves all glory and honor.

You bow your head in reverence and awe. You don’t bow as a slave bows to a master. You are not afraid. You don’t bow in shame and guilt. His eyes see through you, but it is not a stare of disappointment or judgment. It’s a gaze of pure love. He loves that you bow your head in reverence, but He doesn’t want your head to stay bowed. As a loving Father, He signals to you to lift your head. He doesn’t want the top of your head but your eyes looking back at Him. He loves to see your face. The joy and pride of a proud parent fills His countenance.

As He stands to His feet, all the angels–the cherubim, seraphim, and all the other heavenly beings–drop to their knees in worship. As He walks the transparent aisle toward you, He signals you to your feet. You’re not sure you should be standing so your personal angel has to tell you to stand up. You stand before pure love and pure light walking toward you.

Self-limitation is an act of love and had He not reduced His own glory and power in this moment, you’d be fatally consumed immediately. And you know it. You can feel Him dial down His presence and majesty in order to draw near to you. It’s what He did in Jesus and here He is doing it again…just for a moment with you.

He has a smile that makes you smile. When you see His smile it’s so contagious you can’t help but feel joy well up from your gut and overtake your face. He puts His left hand on your right shoulder. You instinctively know that if His power wasn’t sustaining you in this moment you’d collapse under the weight of His glory.

He doesn’t have to say a word. Somehow everything that needs to be communicated is already being said, heart to heart, mind to mind. And somehow He’s not speaking one word at a time but instead it feels like He’s downloading whole ideas instantaneously. These thoughts would take a long time to explain using words but somehow the ideas come all at once.

He draws even closer. He wraps you in His arms. He transmits a love that is intoxicating and overwhelming. Tears burst from your eyes, and your heart feels like it is about to explode. It’s like your current heart wasn’t meant for this amount of love. You need a new heart, one with the capacity to hold a fraction of what is coursing through you in that moment.

The encounter ends.

Grateful is such a small word for what you feel in the aftermath, but it’s as close as you can get to describing the feeling. You have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and you are in awe!

 

April 18, 2019

Compelling Grace, Part 2

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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How Loving Others Points to God

by Clarke Dixon

For a worldview or religion to be compelling you would expect it to nurture good relationships. This is especially true where offence is involved. Where there are relationships, there are hurting people, for people hurt people. We are human. If a worldview or religion is true, we should expect that it will help us relate to one another and navigate the nasty quirks of our humanity.

Does Christianity provide a compelling vision for relationships including a method of dealing with offence? Some would say “no, Christianity is all rules which makes people get all judgemental.” Others would say, “no, Christianity is all forgiveness which turns people into doormats.” So which is it?

Last week we looked at the compelling way God relates to us. To summarize, God’s relationship with us is based on His grace, not our performance. How are we to relate to others?

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)

As God relates to us, we relate to others; with love and grace. Consider the following verses:

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . .
10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. . . .
16 God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.  We love each other because he loved us first.
 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. 1 John 4:7,10,16-21 (NLT)

We are to relate to others in the same manner God relates to us; with love and grace. There are some things we can say about this . . .

First, grace provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships. Some relationships are like sailing in a thunderstorm or like walking on eggshells. Fear is a constant. However, “perfect love expels all fear.” God drives out our fear for He does not treat us as our sins deserve (see Psalm 103), but rescues us, and relates to us, by his grace. What is true with our relationship with God can also be true in our relationship with others. Grace provides a great fear-free atmosphere for people to thrive in growing relationships. In marriage, in family, among friends, at the workplace, in teams, the experience of grace given and received provides a great atmosphere to live, work and play.

Second, grace provides a compelling response to offence. People often deal with offence by either “fight or flight.” Neither work well. The Christian is to do neither. Rather than lash out and risk an all out war, we are to turn the cheek. Some will say that is not at all compelling. Won’t people will walk all over us and take advantage of our grace? Well, no, grace provides for a flexibility in responding to offence.

Suppose a spouse is abused again and again, and each time the abused spouse is expected to forgive the abuser as if nothing ever happened. Is that compelling? No. I call this “doormat grace.” Some would say this is the vision of Christianity in dealing with offence, but it is not. The Bible teaches the need for grace, love, and forgiveness in relationships, yes, but the Bible also teaches the need for wisdom. The Book of Proverbs is still in the Bible! We need not offer doormat grace, but wise grace. Grace toward offenders means wanting the best for them, it does not mean putting up with the worst for yourself. When you respond with grace, you do not seek the destruction of the offender, but neither do you open yourself up for destruction. The gracious person turns the other cheek instead of hitting back. The wise person also takes a step back.

Grace, when applied with wisdom, sounds like this: “I will not seek your harm, though I think you deserve it, however, I do not trust you and so have set boundaries so that you can not harm me further. There may be opportunities for changing these boundaries in the future, but right now I discern these to be appropriate for my own safety and well-being.” Grace leads to not seeking revenge. It does not lead to acting as if the offence never happened, that trust has never been broken. Wisdom considers trust. Grace considers the possibility of future relationship. Wisdom considers the possibility of future harm. Grace leads to treating people better than they deserve. Wisdom leads to not letting people treat you worse than you deserve.

Grace in relationships is compelling. It provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships and a compelling response to offence which includes flexibility in applying wisdom in responding to offence. Within Christian relationships there is space for growth, reconciliation, boundaries, and safety for oneself. Christianity when practiced in emulation of God, in the Spirit of Christ, and keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, provides a compelling vision for relationships, including a compelling method of dealing with offence. The manner in which Christians are to relate to others is really compelling. This is no surprise of course, for it comes from a real God.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

 

April 11, 2019

Compelling Grace

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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How the Love of God Points to the Reality of God

by Clarke Dixon

Is the manner in which God relates to us compelling? That is, does the relationship offered by God make us go “wow, that makes sense and is is consistent with a good creator God.” Is it consistent with what the Bible teaches about God, namely that “God is love” (1 John 4:8)?

Many would answer, no. Their impression of Christianity is that you try to keep the rules, then you go to hell when you die because you couldn’t. If that is it, then no, it is not compelling! However, that is not it! Many religions are based on performance, that is, your relationship with God is dependent upon how well you keep the rules. Many people, including many Christians, think that Christianity is based on performance. That, however, is not Christianity.

What does Christianity teach? What does the Bible teach as to how God relates to us?

Let us first go to the Old Testament.

We might be quick to point to all the rules of the old covenant law and assume that relationship with God was, and is, based on performance. However, look closer. Long before the law was given at Sinai, God continued in relationship with humanity. Adam and Eve sinned, which introduced death and separation from God. However, God stayed in relationship with Adam and Eve, and with humanity. Israel was called to be a different kind of people, a people who followed God’s lead. They often stumbled, and yes, bore the consequences. However, despite their poor performance, God stayed in relationship with stumbling Israel, and with stumbling humanity.

In the Bible we have a long record of relationship between God and humanity. Within this, to use literary language by way of analogy, the old covenant is a sub-plot which is essential to the unfolding of the main story. Yes, in the sub-plot Israel’s performance was tied to Israel’s future. If they rebelled against God, they would be exiled. They did rebel. They were exiled. But God stood by them anyway! Through Israel God was working out his plan for relationship with all of us. That plan was not dependent on anyone’s performance, but on God’s grace.

The old covenant law was not the main story, even of the Old Testament. The main story, from Genesis to Revelation, is God’s relationship with humanity, not through our performance, but by His grace.

. . . . God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,  but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Timothy 1:8-10 (NRSV) 

Second, let us consider Jesus.

How do you begin your prayers? Is it “O all seeing, all knowing judge, who is ready to pounce on me for every sin”? Jesus, in teaching us to pray, taught us to begin with “Our Father.” The Lord’s prayer begins in away which reminds us that we belong. We begin prayer with a reminder that when we are praying in the presence of God, we are exactly where we ought to be. We belong, even when we are aware that belonging is not what we deserve. In teaching us to pray, Jesus reminds us that we relate to God, not through our performance, but by God’s grace.

Consider too, how Jesus related to people in the Gospels. We have Jesus being gracious to all, being known as a “friend of sinners” (see Matthew 11:19). Jesus did have harsh words, but he reserved his harshest criticism for the religious perfectionists who harped on performance of the law. Jesus modelled a grace-filled life. God relates to us in the same way people related to Jesus, not by our performance, but by his grace.

Consider too, the cross. We sinned; he died. He rose; we live. That is all grace. Eternal life is a gift made possible only by the grace of God.

Third, let us consider Paul, as an example of what the apostles taught.

Paul teaches about grace Ephesians 2:1-10;

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,   so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:1-10 (NRSV emphasis mine)

Though we were in a mess, God rescued us. Paul himself, is an example of grace, since he messed up terribly in persecuting God’s people. If God’s grace can reach Paul, it can reach anyone.

So how does God relate to us?

The Bible teaches that God’s relationship with us is marked, not by the performance of perfect people, but by God’s grace for imperfect people. This is a compelling aspect of Christianity.

Grace provides a great atmosphere for our relationship with God. When a relationship is based on performance, it can be like sailing in a thunderstorm, scary. When a relationship is based on grace, it is like sailing with a good breeze on a sunny day. There can be adventure, enjoyment, and progress. Grace provides an atmosphere perfect for flourishing and growth. When we receive God’s grace, we do not come before Him like a distrusted employee before a cruel boss, or a hated criminal before a harsh judge. The Christian comes before God as a child welcomed into the presence of a good, good father. The Christian experience of grace is therefore consistent with how God would relate to us if “God is love.” The manner in which God relates to us is consistent with a good and loving God. Grace points to the reality of the God we meet in Jesus, God as revealed in the Bible.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here. All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

 

April 4, 2019

Compelling Evil

Compelling Evil: How Suffering Points to a Loving God

by Clarke Dixon

If the Bible is correct about God, that God is, and God is love, then why is the world in a mess? Why is there suffering? Yes, the Bible teaches that God is love, but the Bible also teaches that the world is, indeed, in a mess. First of, notice that humanity’s relationship with God is destroyed by sin. Adam and Eve were free to enjoy the Garden of Eden, except that there was one thing they ought not do:

“You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” Genesis 2:15-17 (NLT)

Of course they did that one thing and death became an eventuality. Sin separates us from God. However, the Bible tells us that human sin affects more than just humanity:

And to the man he said,
“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree
whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you.
Genesis 3:17 (NLT)

Adam is affected by his own sin, he will die, but so too is the ground affected. Sin messes up everything. We see this theme carried on in the very next story:

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him. Genesis 4:6-8 (NLT emphasis added)

Sin was “eager to control” Cain, but Abel, and Adam, and Eve, were the ones to suffer. Before there was ever a death by the natural consequence of one’s own sin, there was violent death from another’s. Sin makes a mess of everything! It still does. Consider a particularly cruel and selfish man whose attitudes and actions make life miserable for his family. He spreads the misery into his workplace like a bad virus. He then either gets fired, or his business runs down. Soon the money runs out, and the house falls into ruin also. Sin messes everything up for everyone and everything, not just the person who sins.

The Bible teaches that sin even makes a mess of creation:

For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.  Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse [as a result of the sin of humanity]. But with eager hope,  the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. Romans 8:19-21 (NLT)

Creation is not waiting for God to wipe out humanity, so it can flourish on its own, but to rescue humanity. Brokenness in all creation is tied to human sinfulness. Restoration of creation is tied to the healing of humanity’s sin problem.

So if the Bible is accurate, then we should expect to live in a world where relationship with God is destroyed, where death is the expected and normal end, and where everything is messed up. This is the world we live in! There is suffering because there is evil & sin, there is sin because there is freedom, there is freedom because God is love. It turns out that the world is exactly as we would expect if God is love. Therefore the presence of evil and suffering lends support to the Bible being accurate about the way things are.

But if God is love, would we not expect God to rescue us from evil and suffering? Indeed. The Bible teaches, from Genesis through to Revelation, that God is not content to leave humanity in a mess. God continued to work with humans. He did not just walk away.

God rescued a particular people from a messy situation, then gave them the law so that they would learn to not make a big mess of everything. For example, the Israelites were forbidden from practicing child-sacrifice. If they kept that law, there would be less evil and suffering in the world, for that practice was too common in that day. The law was given to lead God’s particular people out of evil so they could be an example to the other nations. However, they kept tripping on the way out.

All of this was part of a bigger plan for a bigger rescue. God sent his Son and Spirit to rescue us from sin. The two problems of sin are solved. First, we are personally, and individually, reconciled to God. Death, and separation from God is no longer our final end. Second, when it comes to sin making a mess of everything, we are enabled to be part of Spirit-led solutions rather than part of sin-wrecked problems.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

Just think of how much less suffering and evil there would be in the world if all lives were marked by these “fruit” of the Holy Spirit! As people participate in God’s great rescue, our dark world gets brighter.

God’s rescue is not limited to the possibility of individuals being reconciled to God and making less mess along the way. God will rescue all of creation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
  I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”  And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.   All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. Revelation 21:1-7 (NLT)

Christianity provides a reasonable accounting of why evil and suffering exist in a world created by a loving God. There is suffering because there is sin, there is sin because there is freedom, there is freedom because God is love. Our sin messes up everything. God knows, and since God is love, He has a rescue underway. Christianity speaks of God’s revealed love solution to evil and suffering in Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and a future with God. The presence of evil and suffering in the world does not prove God does not exist or does not care. It confirms what the Bible teaches. People sin, God is, and God is love.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here. All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

March 17, 2019

God and the Human Race

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we feature a first-time writer here. Nick Fisher has been writing at Fuel for Faith since January, 2011. Click the header below to read this at source.

What God Wants

Watching the news; observing people and the affairs of humanity; looking in the mirror and thinking of what I’ve done with my own life, I had to ask my God why He would care at all about the human race…

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4).

Those of us who are Bible believers know that we’re not worthy of God’s love: He gives it because He wants to. He did, after all, send His son to die for us while we were in our fallen state. But why? What could he, an infinite, omnipotent, incredible, beautiful God possibly want that we have or that we are?

I have to say that the answer, humanly speaking, is beyond me. If I were God I would probably just give up on the world and start all over. But as I thought the matter over this morning, for the umpteenth time, what came to mind quite apart from some relevant scriptural statements, were the few souls I’ve known in my life who were genuinely wonderful people-people who were consistently different to everyone else in a good way.

I realized that these people all had certain things in common. They were humble, warm, selfless, kind, loving and thoughtful, and lived a life of service. While no human “deserves” God’s love, humans were designed and made in His image. And perhaps in those divine qualities which a few somehow manage to exhibit there’s a glimpse of that image of God, and a strong indicator of what God through his son Jesus Christ seeks to foster in us, and to fill his heaven with for all eternity.

Worship doesn’t just consist of singing or raising hands, it’s more to do with how we live our lives:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:1-2).

Yes, we’re saved by faith in the son of God, because of God’s mercy and grace. But it’s when we consciously live out our faith in truth and genuine love and praise, that we please our Creator, and become the kind of people He wants in his kingdom. How many of us are studying the will of our Father in our lives? Jesus said:

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks(John 4:23 NIV).




Today is also St. Patrick’s Day.

If you would like to read the Prayer of St. Patrick which we featured here in 2013,

click this link

To learn about ten other Irish saints you should know,

click this link.

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 1, 2019

Pity vs. Compassion: What’s the Difference?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is actually our fifth time featuring resources from Seedbed, but each of the previous ones was the videos in their Seven Minute Seminary series. This time we join them in print for an excellent devotional by J. D. Walt.

On the Difference Between Pity and Compassion

Luke 7:11-17

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

CONSIDER THIS

Jesus went to a town called Nain. Jesus was not just wandering around the countryside. Every step he made held significance beyond our ability to even comprehend. Everything he did had profound theological significance and yet it all was insanely practical. He turned water into wine, a mystery whose theological meaning we are still discerning. All the while he was solving a major problem at a wedding celebration– the wine ran out. Watch as this same dynamic unfolds in today’s text.

So why Nain? Nain was a small town about six miles south of Nazareth in Galilee. We are about to see the clashing of movements. Jesus is followed by his disciples and a large crowd of people as they near the city gate. Just as they arrive, a funeral procession is leaving the city with a large crowd following a widow with her deceased and only son. The movement of Life is meeting up with the movement of death. Imagine the contrast between the joyfully astonished throng following Jesus and the mournfully broken crowd following the widow and the dead son. We are in for a cosmic confrontation.

When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Far from easy sympathy, Jesus had compassion on this woman. I’ve heard charity described as giving someone the shirt you no longer want and compassion as giving someone the shirt off of your back. I love this translation. “His heart went out to her.” When I say, in response to some tragedy, “My heart goes out to them,” what I mean is I feel sorry for them. That’s about it. With Jesus, it’s more like his heart actually leaves his body and enters into the body of another person. This is precisely what God has done in Jesus and continues to do through Jesus in the strength of the Holy Spirit. This is what it means for one person to “be with” another person; to enter into their reality and experience so deeply that their presence cannot be distinguished from your own. In the midst of two large crowds converging at the narrow place of a city gate, Jesus “saw her.” God seeks out the brokenhearted. We know “his heart went out to her” not because he said something nice but because he made a bee line straight to her. He was not at this funeral. He didn’t know these people. He was doing something else entirely, but he went straight to her.

So many times I have been in a hospital to see a particular person. As I approach their room I walk past and see so many other people, most of whom are all alone. Something in me says just knock on their door and ask if you can help them, pray for them, get them some water. Too often, though, I reason to myself that I don’t know them, that they have “people”, that it would be an unwanted intrusion to do this and I just go on about my business. In retrospect, I think the Holy Spirit was bursting at the seams to release the heart of God in those hospital rooms but was coming up short on Jesus types to actually do it. Lesson learned.

It’s so rare for someone to “be with” us like this. It requires the kind of attention of which only Divine Love is capable and this is the amazing thing about Jesus. He naturalizes Divine Love as a fully human expression. This is how he wants us to “be with” each other and particularly the broken and hurting among us. This is who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does: He naturalizes and normalizes Divine Love in and through our ordinary lives in all our dealings with one another. It’s all at once miraculous and ordinary. And Daily Text readers, this is not just the pastor’s job. This is all of our shared privilege together. I would love to tell you a story about Brother Buddy Ratliff who does this as well as I’ve ever seen it done, and I’d love to tell you a story about a community of Africans who taught me what this kind of “being with others” looks like in the wake of tragic loss.

I need to close for the day. Jesus tells her not to cry and then he shows us all why. He walks over to the dead son and talks to him. Yes, he speaks to a corpse:

“Young man, I say to you, get up!”

And lo and behold the MIRACLE happened!

The dead man sat up and began to talk,

The life movement won out over the death movement. Sooner or later, it always does. You want to know the real miracle here? It’s in this last bit:

and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

You see, this widow had not only lost her son, she had essentially lost her life. She was completely disconnected from the community with no source of status or sustenance. She had truly joined the ranks of “the poor.” This act of Jesus giving the boy back to his mother was a profound Gospel move, restoring not only her son but her life as well. Profoundly theological. Insanely practical.

The people were awestruck. I love that they said this:

“God has come to help his people.”

That’s what we want to be said in the wake of our being with others in the midst of hardship, struggle, loss and pain: “God has come to help his people.”

Tomorrow, we’ve been invited to join Jesus for a meal in the home of a Pharisee. It will be interesting. Prepare yourself.

P.S. Some of you may have felt a little deja vu in today’s text. That wasn’t a glitch in the matrix. Jesus doesn’t miss a trick. To see what I’m talking about check out this Elijah story.

THE PRAYER

Father God, thank you for showing us what it looks like when the movement of Life overcomes the movement of Death. It’s who you are. Lord, I want to be in that number; part of that movement. Open my eyes and my heart and my faith to this awakening movement today. IN Jesus name, Amen.

THE QUESTION

What stands out to you about this story today? Why do you think it stands out to you? What does it awaken in you?


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November 26, 2018

In The Eye of the Beholder

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re introducing a new author. Ron Harris is the author of Not Dressed for the Occasion (Word Alive Press, 2018) and has given us permission to use a couple of excerpts from the book which he describes as having “no specific beginning or end but is a string of observations birthed out of my walk with God. It delves into the deeply personal failures of life and honest confession of sins, as well as explores the wonderful experiences and potential we have in God. Though the book exposes the present world view that contradicts the traditional six thousand years of proven moral lessons, it also deals with the daily experiences that challenge our faith and intimacy with God, the most common thread being God Himself and the incredible revelation we enjoy because of the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.” 

Not Dressed for the Occasion may be ordered wherever you purchase Christian books.

Love and Beauty

It has been said of some new born babies that they are so ugly “only a mother could love them.” That term has become a way of describing many things that appear to be ugly in the eyes of the beholder, particularly human beings. Because my profession is to attempt to create beautiful environments, it is difficult for me to see beauty in things that I know from training and experience is intrinsically ugly.

We tend to judge the choices of others stating, “Love is blind” or “I can’t understand what he or she sees in her or him,” while still others say they are deaf, dumb, and stupid. We say the mother is blind because she loves an ugly baby, but I have come to understand that WE ARE THE BLIND ONES because the mother sees a beauty that can only be observed through THE EYES OF LOVE. Love sees with eyes that the natural man cannot understand and can therefore enjoy what others reject as ugly. Because we live in a society that is obsessed with “beauty,” we are blinded to the splendors that only love can see.

We all know the verse from John’s gospel that states; “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” [John 3:16 (KJV)] but I would like to amplify the word “world” to include; “every living person ever been born or even aborted; every weak, suffering, sickly soul, every Down’s Syndrome person, every child with cleft lip, every person regardless of age that is abandoned, abused, beaten, sexually or verbally assaulted and every soul ravaged by sin or tormented by Satan. Despite all of this, God still sees something in us because we were created in His image; “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: [Genesis 1:26 (KJV)] but it doesn’t stop there; He also says that; “You saw me before I was born…”[Psalm 139:16 (TLB)]

…I was at an annual conference of the Apostolic Church and a person with a Prophetic ministry came up to me, put both hands either side of my face, stared compassionately into my eyes and said, “God wants you know that He really loves you.” With that he removed his hands and walked away.

That encounter changed my view on both God and myself. Like all of us when we look at our lives and see our sins and failures we often despair at ourselves and wonder how could God love us with such faults and failures? Now I know that theologically we can say God sees us through the eyes of Christ because; “God has given me that genuine righteousness which comes from faith in Christ”=[Philippians 3:9 (J.B. PHILLIPS)] but I believe “He really does love us” even with all our quirky personalities. There are no “ugly babies” in God’s eyes because He sees beyond the obvious, loving us just as we are and because He loves us so much He will not leave us in our failure and sin. He sees so much incredible potential in us all, that He will move “heaven and earth” to bring us to the place of change for our full destiny in Him.

So, will this love that God has for us motivate us to be changed or will we continue to follow our own ways and never discover the full potential and destiny for our lives? One of the scariest powers we possess is the freedom to choose. We can spit in the face of God, even deny His existence but we do this to our own terrible eternal loss, breaking the heart of a God who has given everything possible to win us with His love. Yes, He will give strength and Grace to change those ugly things of sin in our lives and because He loves us so much He sees beauty where others only see ugliness.

If God then shows such love, we can, we must show this same type of love for each other for He has promised; “…God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” [Romans 5:5 (NIV)] As we choose to take that step of faith of loving each other, God’s Spirit is released in us. We can then start to see beauty in each other that the natural eye cannot see. We are not like the scripture that states; “Having eyes do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?”[Mark 8:18 (NASB)] We are not the blind ones; we now have eyes that see the beauty that only love can see.

 

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