Christianity 201

July 25, 2021

Utter Dependence on God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today once again we’re featuring the website Out Of The Ordinary. We’ve showcased writing here by Rebecca and Kim before, this time it’s the third member of the team who goes by Persis. She wrote this in May of 2020 when the global pandemic was just a few months in. How little did we realize for how long we would need to depend on God as our source of strength and comfort. She also (in the first paragraph) quotes a theologian whose name I have been hearing much in the past few weeks. Click the title below to read at source.

The Place of Dependence

We live in a strange world, a world which presents us with tremendous contrasts. The high and the low, the great and the small, the sublime and the ridiculous, the beautiful and the ugly, the tragic and the comic, the good and the evil, the truth and the lie, these all are heaped up in unfathomable interrelationship. The gravity and the vanity of life seize on us in turn. Now we are prompted to optimism, then to pessimism. Man weeping is constantly giving way to man laughing. The whole world stands in the sign of humor, which has been well described as a laugh in a tear.1

Herman Bavinck may have have written those sentences 111 years ago, but he could be describing the present. Life as we know it has changed drastically for the entire world. Every level of society has been impacted, and what we once knew may never return. I am more aware than I have ever been of the complex tangle of human lives, basic needs, information, and decisions that are “heaped up in unfathomable interrelationship.”

In March [2020], two pastors on Twitter asked if Christians would be willing to fast and pray for an hour on Friday afternoons regarding the coronavirus. I was gung-ho the first two weeks and eager to pray. The hour passed quickly as I prayed for everyone and everything I could think of. But as the weeks passed, the number of situations and people needing prayer seemed to grow exponentially. When the last prayer time rolled around, I began to think of government employees from national to local levels, medical staff and researchers, essential workers, the unemployed, the elderly, those with compromised health or mental illness, and the list went on and on.

All these people so dependent on each other.  Some have positions of authority with decision-making power over many. But there are others previously overlooked who we are literally depending upon for our daily bread. So many people. So many lives. Any attempt to untangle these interrelationships would inevitably result in harm to someone because this is a no-win situation. These thoughts were too overwhelming, so I had to give way to the tears and lament that had been building up inside. The only words left to pray were, “Lord, you know.”

In our inmost selves, we are immediately  — without benefit of reasoning, that is, and prior to all reasoning — conscious of ourselves as created, limited, dependent beings. We are dependent upon everything around us, upon the whole spiritual and material world. Man is a “dependent” of the universe. And further, he is dependent, together with other created things, and dependent this time in an absolute sense, on God who is the one, eternal, and real being.2

If our sole dependence rested on other fallible human beings, we would have good reason to fear. There is a limit to the best wisdom, knowledge, and skill any person can offer, and that “best” is still tainted with sin. But there is Someone greater, wiser, and more powerful under-girding our interrelationships and interdependence on each other. Someone on whom we truly depend. He is not the watchmaker god of the deists who winds the timepiece and observes what will happen from afar. Our God sees perfectly and judges righteously. His purpose will not waiver and neither will his love. He took on humanity that he might redeem us, purchasing pardon with his death and providing righteousness with his life.

As his children, we have an open invitation to the throne of grace. We are welcome to pour out our hearts in petition, but we are also free to come when we are too overwhelmed to even know what to pray.  We can come to the end of our rope and the end of ourselves in this place of dependence. A place where Christ accepts a feeble, “Lord, you know,” and gives us assurance that he does.

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb. 4:15-16 NASB


1. The Wonderful Works of God, Herman Bavinck, Westminster Seminary Press, 2019, pg. 29.
2. Ibid. pg. 27.

July 15, 2019

Communicating with God is Different

We’re back once again with Joanna Pierce who writes for the blog of Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Bloomington, Illinois. There is a longer set-up to this piece, so be sure to click the link below to read everything. (We decided with this piece to embed the scriptures, since many of you don’t click through!)

No Email Required

Then said the LORD unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12, KJV).

Getting answers, completing work, and building relationships in the business world is vastly different than the supernatural world. I’ve learned business tactics don’t translate well with God. Why? Because He doesn’t like constant check-ins to make sure He’s working. He’s God: He’s not a man that He should lie. Therefore, God will do what He said He will do (Numbers 23:19)! Even when it doesn’t look (or feel like) He’s working, He is—trust me!

Num.23.19 God is not human, that he should lie,
    not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
    Does he promise and not fulfill?

This key Scripture is a great reminder that God will complete His will (assignments). Another translation says God is actively watching over His Word so He can complete it. God’s not like a bothersome coworker that tells you s/he will get something completed and then drags his/her feet to get it done or has no idea as to the project status. The Lord’s watching, working, and moving things along more closely and perfectly than any of us could ever do (Philippians 1:6).

Phil.1.6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

The best part is that God will achieve His work according to His project timeline (Acts 1:7).

Acts1.7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

He’s never going to let a deadline pass or create a scramble-work emergency on our part to fill in the gaps. God’s literally got it all covered, and we don’t need to worry or do a thing. He will do what He’s planned, and He won’t delay fulfilling it (Ezekiel 12:28).

Ezek.12.28 “Therefore say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: None of my words will be delayed any longer; whatever I say will be fulfilled, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”

God’s really the best work-partner as He creates a stress-free working environment. When I get on my knees in prayer and send up those “knee-mails” I don’t need to set reminders for follow-ups. Once I pray a prayer, God will never lose track of it (Revelation 5:8). Realistically, once God answers our prayer, He’s the One reminding us that He’s answered them (it’s not the other way around)!

Rev.5.8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.

Let’s pray God helps us realize He’s actively watching and fulfilling His Word in our lives, our loved ones, and the church. We don’t need to (and can’t) micro-manage the Lord of glory who is the greatest project manager, organizer, and Way-Maker of all time. We serve a mighty God who hears us, sees our needs, and will fulfill them in His time—no email required.

 

May 21, 2019

My Grace is Sufficient for You

by Russell Young

Paul had an issue with his body, although he never clearly reveals the nature of that problem. He had pleaded with the Lord three times to have it taken away. The Lord’s response was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9) There are lessons that can be learned about ourselves, and about the Lord, in this response.

Paul’s prayer was a plea. He had wanted the problem to be resolved because it was bringing him discomfort. He prayed three times and no more. He did not persist in desiring something that the Lord did not want to give. His heart and mind had become settled on the matter and he had learned that God’s graciousness was enough for him and had determined that the matter should not be pursued further. He had accepted that his weakness had merit. It is important to accept and to live in the limitations of God’s grace. In that state that he can exercise his power according to his will and purpose and for the believer’s good.

The North American world is affluent and often petitions are made that are contrary to God’s will and harmful to the petitioner. He is working in the lives of his children; he knows their heart and their needs and is working towards a goal. Those in his kingdom will be in the likeness of his Son. (Rom 8:29) How often do our prayers reflect his goal? How much faith do we put in him to achieve that goal? Can we assume greater understanding of our need than he has? “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Rom 8:26−27) Endless personal petitions should be carefully considered. Paul stopped after three.

In directing his disciples in the matter of prayer the Lord told them, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Mt 6:7−8) Perhaps more time should be spent in thanksgiving, even for the trials that are being faced. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his Father.” (Heb 12:7) Escape from hardships is not always to be sought; blessing is gained as the believer engages God’s refining ministry. “All things work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Would you avoid trials? They could be for your eternal good.

Believers are not meant to live a trial-free life. Those confident and independent in this world may very well end up apart from God, while the humble will recognize their need for him. Someone once said that Christians need religion as a crutch. Of course, this is true, and it should not be taken as an insult. No one can gain God’s heavenly kingdom by himself or herself.

Paul revealed that it is in weaknesses that he was made strong. It was through his limitations that God could exercise his power to accomplish his will. Paul’s weakness kept him humble and avoided the pride that might have otherwise entered his soul because of the “surplassingly great revelations” that had been given him. God does not give his glory to another (Isa 48:11) and he must have recognized a developing need in Paul.

The reality is that humankind is weak. Our bodies are frail, and our minds cannot fathom the things of God. To neglect to give credit to God when it is due him usurps his glory and promotes a lie; disaster is sure to follow. Accordingly, Paul could say, “Therefore I boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9−10)

If God hears prayers, and he does, he knows the desires of a person’s heart and his or her needs. (Rom 8:26−27) To persist in the matter is to assume that the petitioner has greater understanding than does God concerning that need. Prayers are often made for the petition’s comfort and ease of life. Even issues of health, as in Paul’s case, need to be rested in the Lord’s provision. With comfort often comes laziness and indifference concerning things that matter to the Lord. In speaking to the Israelites before they entered the good land, he cautioned them not to forget him when life was going well because their blessings had come from him. (Deut 8) Wealth and comfort provide opportunity for people to neglect the Lord because their needs have been met; whereas, he wants people to be in constant awareness of their reliance on him. Unfortunately, too much time is given to petitions and too little to thanksgiving. Too much time is given to self-interest and too little to the Lord’s interest. Our prayers may not be as God-honoring as we would like to believe. God’s grace is sufficient!

What does it mean to rely on God’s sufficiency? It requires accepting conditions that we might not like. It means not being of the attitude that we have earned certain privileges and have right to expect the abundant worldly life. It may even be accepting that we may not have right to life itself. Paul found “delight” in the many hardships etc. that he faced; that must be the believer’s outlook as well.

The Israelites complained about their state. “Now the people complained abut their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.” (Num 11:1) When they complained about lack of meat he said, “You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the LORD.” (Num 11:19−20)

God’s grace is enough since it will accomplish his goal in the believer’s life. Consider your prayers carefully and accept his sufficiency to meet your need.


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article by Russell on the topic of sin and forgiveness.

March 12, 2019

The Motivations of the Heart Will Be Exposed to Judgment

by Russell Young

Many live according to the great freedom that they suppose is offered through the gospel of Christ. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians should give all pause to reflect on the latitude that they have allowed themselves. He presented the need for those entrusted with the secret things of God to remain faithful and avowed that not even he could declare himself innocent. “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.” (1 Cor 4:5; See also Heb 4:12) Not only are people going to be judged according to the things that they do, but according to their motives. Therefore, although Paul could declare that his conscience was clear, he claimed that a clear conscience did not make him innocent.

Paul’s word and concern should make each of us reflect on the motives for our words and actions. God demands a pure heart. While others can see the expression of our motivation through our actions, the Lord will be examining the heart.

It would be of value for each of us to not only consider the nature of our actions, but to examine the state of our hearts that promote intended actions. The very need for humankind is to have a transformed heart, one in the image of the Son of God. (Rom 8:29) The heart of people was condemned from the earliest times. “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:5−6) It was not to pardon the sins of people that Christ was incarnated; it was to destroy the devil’s work by conforming them to himself and making them an offering acceptable for the Father’s kingdom. (Rom 15:16)

There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” (Mt 10:26; Lk 8:17; 12:2) “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Heb 4:13) Does your theological understanding find a place for such teaching? Everything, even the motives of the heart, will be revealed and examined and must be defended. The confessor’s justification was not completed at the cross. James has recorded that “a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” (Jas 2:24)

The point is that a person’s heart-state needs to be considered along with their actions. Jeremiah has written, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9) The heart is not beyond “cure” through the mercy, grace, and power of the Holy Spirit who is the Lord’s indwelling presence in the believer. It is for this reason that Christ in you is your hope of glory. ((Col 1:27) The Spirit is the lord (2 Cor 3: 17, 18) and must be treated as such.

A person’s thought-life can be controlled. Doing so requires considering the things that impact our lives. Care needs to be given to the things that we allow our eyes to see, our ears to hear, our fingers to touch, our mouths to taste, and our noses to smell. The mind responds to the senses, feeds the imagination, and motivates actions. Most people have some control over the things that their eyes see and the places that their legs take them. Paul cautioned the Philippians to think about those things that are noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and excellent. (Phil 4:8)

If the Lord intended to meet all our needs and to provide all our victories without our commitment and dedication to righteousness, his Word would not warn of the judgment that awaits people for their motivations and actions. Believers have been called to engage the battle, to bring him alongside to win victory over temptations, but they are not to be passive and neglectful. Paul has written, “continue to work out (complete, finish) your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12) Addressing the motivations of the heart is the place to start. Addressing motivations may mean tackling some difficult, but ungodly practices; it may mean whole-heartedly forgiving another. It will mean complete honesty with ourselves.

Because a person’s motivations will be known and he or she will suffer God’s judgment, the heart must be made pure. The Lord offered, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” (Mt 12:35)

It must be appreciated that all people, including believers, will face judgment (2 Cor 5:10), and that some of the issues to be addressed during judgment are deep within the human soul.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link.

December 10, 2018

God Knows Us

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Paul reminds Timothy that the scriptures are living, and because they contain life, we have a trademark of putting everything from the Bible in bold face and green. That continues today, even though the verses have been somewhat fused together from different sources. I hope I haven’t overstepped the bounds by doing this, but the words are so strongly rooted in the texts indicated.

Author Rory Norland is best known for his thoughts on worship. At his blog, Heart of the Artist, he presents a very short scripture medley each day called Daily Praise Offering. I wanted to share several posts in which verses from Psalm 139 were seamlessly joined with New Testament references.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. I worship you, Jesus, for you are the good shepherd. You know your own and your own know you. (Psalm 139:1-6; John 10:14).

Where can I go from you Spirit, O Lord? Where can I flee from your presence? And wherever two or three are gathered in your name, O Christ, you are there. There is no place I could go and be out from under your loving gaze. (Psalm 139:7-12; Matthew 18:20).

You skillfully formed my inward parts, O Lord. You intricately knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they exist and were created. (Psalm 139:13-14; Revelation 4:11).

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I could count them, they are more than the sand. For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But praise God we have the mind of Christ. (Psalm 139:17-18; 1 Corinthians 2:16).


Michael W. Smith recites Psalm 139:


And the same text from The Message:

1-6 God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
I can’t take it all in!

7-12 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.

17-18 Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!
God, I’ll never comprehend them!
I couldn’t even begin to count them—
any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you! …

23-24 Investigate my life, O God,
find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—
then guide me on the road to eternal life.

 

 

October 25, 2018

Nothing is Escaping God’s Notice

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Editor’s Note: Some of you know I like to cut to the chase here and don’t like devotional studies which begin with a long set-up or illustration. In this case however, the song which Clarke begins by quoting echoes the view of many people, especially in a world where some people know all they think they know from popular music. You probably know people who subscribe to the view expressed in the lyrics.

So with Clarke away this week, I chose this particular devotional from his personal archives, which appears here for the first time.

Genesis 6-8 Up Close and Personal

by Clarke Dixon

It is not a song that lasts very long around me, I change the station if I hear it on the radio, and move the song on if it comes onto my wife’s iPod. It has not even made it onto mine of course. The verses I quite like as they inspire us to a greater sense of harmony and the ideal of peace:

From a distance you look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting is for

From a distance there is harmony
And it echoes through the land
And it’s the hope of hopes, it’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man

All very nice and all but what ruins the song for me (beyond a lack of power chords) is the chorus:

And God is watching us, God is watching us
God is watching us from a distance

Now there is wishful thinking and I suspect there are many who wishfully are thinking this. It seems God our Heavenly Father has been replaced by God our heavenly great-grandfather, whose eyesight is failing, and who cannot tell what the great-grandchildren are up to because their lives are so far removed from his. But they can always depend on him for unconditional love and a hug. Methinks this is how some people want to see God, or better, how they want God to see them;from a distance.

This is not the case in Genesis 6:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. (Genesis 6:5 NIV)

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. (Genesis 6:11, 12 NIV)

No heavenly cataracts here, nor a need for God to squint like I did for three years in school before I finally admitted to needing glasses. God saw what was going on, and his remarkable vision had disastrous consequences for most earthlings:

The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:6, 7 NIV)

So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. (Genesis 6:13 NIV)

The story of the flood in Genesis teaches us some valuable lessons, most of which many would rather not learn.

  1. Sin and violence does not escape the notice of God. I was and am blessed by a mother who knows her Bible. The Biblical truth most quoted my Mum as I was growing up? “Be sure your sin will find you out.” Good to know and too bad more don’t know it.
  2. God has the right to be judge. All too often people will try to be the judge of God and his decision to send the flood, making it out to be a cosmic genocide. If you or I had done it, it would be a condemnable genocide, and a violence that would grieve God deeply (note Genesis 9:6 from the flood story). But in the hands of God it is justice brought swiftly, which brings us to our next point –
  3. God owes us nothing. All human living is lived in a time and as a result of God’s grace and mercy. We live because God withholds His just judgement. God does not owe us another day, nor an hour, nor even a second. Each breath, each heartbeat is a sign of God’s grace. It is not owed to you. Eternal life in Jesus is grace and mercy taken to the extreme. That is not owed to you either.

Some may object that here we find the God of the Old Testament and that now we should focus on the God of the New Testament, as if God’s eyes are now failing and He is watching us from a distance today. Sorry, God does not change. Here we might consider the rainbow which is very interesting in what we learn from it. Most of us think of it as a reminder to us that God will keep his covenant promise to never again send a flood like he did. This is correct, but in fact we find that twice it is emphasized as a reminder to God!

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” (Genesis 9:12-16 NIV)

Do we grasp the implication of this? No, it does not point to God’s memory as if it could fail any more than his sight. It points to the fact that from the flood on God still sees the sin and violence of the world, it still grieves him, and he would still be right to just put a sudden stop to it. What is stopping God from doing so is not that he is watching us from a distance as some sort of cosmic great-grandfather who isn’t really seeing what is going on, but because he is watching us with the heart of a father, full of love and grace, bound by a father’s promise. Of course he is not a human father that he might fail, he is God that he shall follow through. God is watching us closely, but his eyes are full of love.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

 

October 13, 2018

He Knows Your Works, Love, Faith, Service and Patient Endurance

Six months ago we introduced you to Martha Anderson who has been writing devotions at Strengthened by Grace since January, 2014 and is the author of four books available on Lulu.com.

El Roi–The God Who Sees

I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.  Revelation 2:19

In Revelation chapters 2-3 there are letters to seven churches that are scattered throughout what was then called Asia.  God told John to write down both their strengths and their weaknesses. What strikes me as I read the letters again is this:  the words, “I know your works,” are repeated again and again. They are phrased a bit differently in some of the letters, like to Smyrna in 2:9, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)” and to Pergamum in Rev. 2:13, “I know where you live.”

Not only does God know the seven churches’ works, but He knows our works.  He told them things like, You have lost your first love, in Rev. 2:4 and, You have reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.  Remember then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.  Rev. 3:2-3

God didn’t just tell them words of rebuke, but also words of encouragement.  For instance, He told the church at Ephesus that they worked hard and had patient endurance.  Plus, they didn’t tolerate false teachers. To the church in Philadelphia, God told them that He knew that although they had little power, they had kept His word and didn’t deny His name.  God spoke of rewards to those who conquer and who keeps His works until the end.

† My question: What if God were to write you a letter?  What would He say? What strengths would He mention and what words of encouragement would He give?  Does it help you to know that He sees your heart, that He knows the things that you have done that no one else knows about, and that He knows the path you have taken?

If God were to say to you, “I know your works,” would that be a comforting and encouraging statement?  When Hagar fled from Sarai in Genesis 16 because Sarai was dealing with her bitterly, the angel of the Lord came and spoke blessings to Hagar in the wilderness.  So Hagar called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You are a God of seeing, for she said, Truly here I have see Him who looks after me. vs. 13.  That is where the name of God, “El Roi” is first used.

‡ El Roi, the God who sees, is a good thing.  God sees our works and He looks after us. He sees our love and faith and service and    patient endurance, and He will reward us for those things.  On the flip side, He also sees the things that we need to repent of. As Hebrews 4:13 tells us, No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.  It is much easier to shed off the yuck knowing that God  has my best interest in mind.

Forgive me for when my love grows cold and I tolerate false idols and teachers.  Wake me up so that you will not find my works incomplete. And thank you that You can trace my path and see my heart for You when no one else can.  You are the God who sees and who rewards.

 

December 22, 2017

The Four Mysteries of the New Testament

This a rare encore presentation here at C201. This original devotional first appeared here in December, 2013.


Psalm 139:14

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

There are some things that are just neatly tied up with a bow. Unlike a sitcom where all the subplots are resolved in 30 minutes, the realm of trust, faith, and belief is a realm of mystery.

The NIV translates Greek into English as “mystery” four times in the New Testament. The first has to do with the relationship between Gentiles who become followers of Christ (spiritual Israel) to those who originally carried God’s promise (ethnic Israel or national Israel). Not surprisingly, the passage is in Romans:

11.24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.

The transfer of God’s favor to such a broader, wider number that occurs with the coming of The Messiah (and the subsequent revelation to Peter that Gentiles are to be part of the Messianic promise) is really much of the major theme of Romans, and while it is relatively easy to be a partaker of such grace, it is relatively challenging to begin to understand it in the context of God’s master plan. “‘Tis mystery all.”

The second instance, also in Romans occurs in the book’s closing chapter and reiterates this aspect of its theme:

16.25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

The third instance occurs in I Cor. 2 and also refers to a widening or a broadening of God’s disclosure to His people through the Holy Spirit:

2.6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Some brief comments from Matthew Henry are helpful in this passage:

  • Though what we preach is foolishness to the world, it is wisdom to them. They are made wise by it, and can discern wisdom in it.
  • [T]he wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom of God—what he had a long time kept to himself, and concealed from the world, and the depth of which, now it is revealed, none but himself can fathom. It is the mystery which hath been hid from ages and generations, though now made manifest to the saints (Col. 1:26), hid in a manner entirely from the heathen world, and made mysterious to the Jews, by being wrapped up in dark types and distant prophecies, but revealed and made known to us by the Spirit of God.
  • [H]e had determined long ago to reveal and make it known, from many ages past, from the beginning, nay, from eternity; and that to our glory, the glory of us, either us apostles or us Christians. It was a great honor put upon the apostles, to be entrusted with the revelation of this wisdom. It was a great and honorable privilege for Christians to have this glorious wisdom discovered in the gospel…

The fourth and final use of the word in the NIV is in relationship to days to come, what some call the afterlife as found in I Cor. 15:

15.50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.


Related Song: You are Mystical (audio only in 50px window; click arrow button in center to play)

August 19, 2017

God is In Control

A music video today; one that was filmed at a time when the criteria and expectations for music videos were not the same as today. Twila Paris (and her sister Starla, don’t you love the names?) grew up on a base of Youth With A Mission. Her own story is worth knowing.

This isn’t typical of songs in today’s modern worship environment, but I have reasons for including it here.

For one, the question of “Where is God when bad things happen?” along with “How can a loving God allow suffering?” continue to top the lists of theological questions asked by believers and non-believers alike.

A strong declaration that God is, indeed, in control is, in my opinion, as needful as the song that says “How Great is our God.”

But the skeptic will ask, “Is God in control of the details of individual lives, or is God simply overseeing the big picture?” Psalm 139 speaks of a God whose ‘micro’ focus is detailed to the point of seeing the ‘knitting together’ of the baby in its mother’s womb. God is the author of a big picture story, but the idea that “He’s got the whole world in His hands” — an equally viable, although somewhat dated expression of worship — simply by definition must extend to the ‘macro’ picture and the ‘micro’ picture.

God’s either in control of everything or He’s not in control of anything.

But here’s the question: What’s your definition of “control?”

This is no time for fear
This is a time for faith and determination
Don’t lose the vision here
Carried away by emotion
Hold on to all that you hide in your heart
There is one thing that has always been true
It holds the world together

God is in control
We believe that His children will not be forsaken
God is in control
We will choose the remember and never be shaken
There is no power above or beside Him, we know
God is in control

History marches on
There is a bottom line drawn across the ages
Culture can make its plan
Oh, but the line never changes
No matter how the deception may fly
There is one thing that has always been true
It will be true forever

God is in control….

Why start to worry now?
He is still the Lord of all we see
And He is still the loving Father
Watching over you and me

August 1, 2017

Back to the Bible

When I was much younger, my mother would listen each day to a radio broadcast, Back to the Bible, taught by Theodore Epp (1939-1985). I have some vague memories of my parents driving to Lincoln, Nebraska in order to see the headquarters of the ministry firsthand. So today we’re featuring two shorter devotionals by Dr. Epp. There are several different teachers on their devotional page; I hope you’ll click through to see more.

God Knows the Heart

Read: Exodus 9:22-35Against the backdrop of this awful judgment is a verse that reveals God’s protection of His own: “Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail” (Ex. 9:26).

Goshen was part of Egypt, but God controlled the circumstances so that the Israelites were untouched by the judgment that Egypt experienced.

Notice what Pharaoh’s response was to this awful judgment: Although Pharaoh seemed to be conscious of his wickedness before God, it was only a feigned confession made in order to escape judgment.

Moses was not fooled by Pharaoh’s false confession. God had given Moses insight so he knew what was in Pharaoh’s heart and was not fooled in any way.

This reveals how hardened Pharaoh really was; it did not bother him even to fake a confession of sin to God. But God knows what is in each person’s heart, and He was not deceived for one minute.

God had showered His mercies on Pharaoh, but Pharaoh had refused to respond positively in any way. So in the remaining plagues God further hardened Pharaoh’s heart so as to fulfill His plan of total revelation of Himself as absolutely sovereign.

Shall not God search this out? for he knows the secrets of the heart” (Ps. 44:21).

When Is It a Sacrifice?

Read: 2 Samuel 24:18-25The Lord not only stayed the plague, but through Gad He also instructed David to build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan, the Jebusite (1 Chron. 21:18).

The Lord was very specific about this and left no alternative in the matter.

Why this particular spot was chosen does not appear in the narrative, but later on in 2 Chronicles 3:1 we have this statement: “Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD at Jerusalem in mount Moriah, where the Lord appeared unto David his father, in the place that David had prepared in the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.”

If David had been a grasping, selfish man, he might have looked on this as an opportunity to fulfill the will of God without any cost to himself.

He had been passed over when the plague struck men in Israel, and now a rich man had offered him a threshing floor for an altar and animals and grain for the offerings.

But David refused to bring before the Lord that which cost him nothing. “And the king said unto Araunah [Ornan], Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt-offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24).

What a tremendous lesson for us. It is one thing to serve on boards and committees that handle the affairs of others; it is quite another to make decisions that affect us personally.

It is not a sacrifice to the Lord if we give of that which costs us nothing.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17).

 

 

 

February 23, 2017

Little Power and Great Affirmation in Philadephia: Revelation 3

by Clarke Dixon

You feel powerless. Something is broken and you don’t think you can fix it. There is a problem and you don’t think you can find a solution. The complexities of life are like a maze and you don’t think you can find your way. What are we to do when we feel powerless?

Our friends may respond with a big dose of positive thinking; you are powerful, you can do anything, you are amazing! And sometimes, when we are thinking of ourselves more lowly than we ought, we need affirmation. But sometimes affirmation falls short. It feels hollow somehow. It is not just that we think we can’t fix it, or find the solution, or find our way. It is that we can not fix it, find the solution, or find our way. Sometimes we don’t just feel powerless, we are powerless.

In Revelation chapter three we have a letter to a small community of Christians who are of “little power.” (Revelation 3:8) This small community of Christians in Philadelphia could easily feel overwhelmed by those loyal to Roman ways of thinking and acting. They could also feel overwhelmed by those who strictly observe the Hebrew Bible but who don’t share their excitement over Jesus as the fulfillment of those scriptures. These two communities were much larger than the Christian community, and persecution was known to happen. So what does Jesus have to say to these powerless Christians?

Here is what Jesus says:

“These are the words of the holy one . . .” (Revelation 3:7)

Jesus is in effect saying, “I am the Holy One, and so the only One who has the power of God.” We read in Mark chapter 1 of a demon saying “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:24). The demon knew Jesus had the power to destroy because the demon knew Jesus was God’s Holy One. 

“. . . the true one, . . .” (Revelation 3:7)

The word “true” here means “authentic, genuine.” Jesus is the “real deal.” No one but Jesus can promise relationship with God, life, or eternal life, and deliver on the promise.

“. . . who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” (Revelation 3:7)

Jesus holds the key of of the Kingdom, and makes decisions on the door of the Kingdom. Persecutors may make decisions about a person’s death, but Jesus is the one who makes decisions on every person’s life & eternal life.

“I know your works.” (Revelation 3:8)

Jesus knows stuff! Nothing escapes his notice, neither the patient suffering of the persecuted, nor the evil deeds of those who persecute.

“Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” (Revelation 3:8)

Jesus creates opportunities. It may feel like opportunity belongs to the strong and powerful. However, Jesus can create opportunities for those with little to no power.

“I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet,” (Revelation 3:9)

In other words “I will make justice happen.” There is a turning of the tables here, from the Philadelphian Christians being kicked out of the synagogue to those of the synagogue gathering around them.

“ . . . and they will learn that I have loved you.” (Revelation 3:9)

Jesus will clear up misunderstandings. Those who hate people because they think God hates them will someday find out whom God loves and how foolish it was to hate.

“I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” (Revelation 3:10)

Here Jesus promises to hold the Christians through a time of trial. There are differing interpretations on the “what” and “when” of this “hour of trial.” The important thing is the promise of Jesus to keep his people through it.

“I am coming soon;” (Revelation 3:11)

Jesus will return and those persecutors who say that he is of no consequence, will see him and come to a new appreciation of just Who He is.

“If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it.” (Revelation 3:12)

Jesus will ensure the believer’s presence with God. They may have been cast out of the synagogue, and disowned by the city, but Jesus will give them a secure standing in his temple, the Bible’s great symbol for the presence of God.

“I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (Revelation 3:12)

This is a promise of inclusion in God’s people, as well as a promise of reflection of God’s character, a “family resemblance” if you will.

The Christians in Philadelphia have little power. Does Jesus respond with affirmation, telling them that they have much more power than they think? There is affirmation, but most of the affirmations are about Jesus Himself! Let us look at the full letter to Philadelphia and notice the affirmations that pertain to Jesus:

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens8 “I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. 11 I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Revelation 3:7-13 (emphasis mine)

Jesus does not affirm the power of his followers. He affirms His own power! In other words Jesus is telling the Christians in Philadelphia that they do not need to be God. He is! They do not need to be powerful. He is, and He loves them. Their part is to keep doing what they have been doing;

“I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. . . . Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, . . .” (Revelation 3:8,10).

Do you feel powerless? Something is broken and you don’t think you can fix it? There is a problem and you don’t think you can find a solution? The complexities of life are like a maze and you don’t think you can find your way? Perhaps you are correct. But you are not God. You don’t have to be. Look instead to the One Who Is.

There is one matter in life where we are completely and utterly powerless. We have absolutely no power to reconcile ourselves to God. But God does. And He has made it happen through Jesus at the cross. Let us not look to ourselves with false affirmations, but look to our Lord and Saviour with honest affirmations of His power and love.

 All Scripture references are from the NRSV

 Original Source: Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

June 8, 2016

Where is God When Life is a Mess? Ezekiel Knows!

•••by Clarke Dixon

With the world in a mess, and even our own lives sometimes in a mess, we might well wonder; “where is God?” If God is truly in our world, shouldn’t things be better by now? Is God weak? Or perhaps the powers of darkness are stronger? In Ezekiel’s day the people of God could wonder the very same thing for they were in a mess. Ezekiel was among a group of 10,000 people or so who were taken into captivity from Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Things were not looking good back in Jerusalem and in another five years the city would be completely destroyed along with the Temple. Was God weak? Were the gods of the Babylonians stronger? If God’s house is destroyed is He gone? Ezekiel is called to bring some clarity to the situation. His summary of the first vision is given in verse 28 of the first chapter:

Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendour all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking. . . (Ezekiel 1:28 italics mine)

So what clarity does Ezekiel bring?

In reading Ezekiel chapter one we learn that the glory of God is indescribable and incomparable.  God’s people in captivity would have been reminded by Ezekiel’s first vision of the religions around them. The Babylonians, like most nations of the day, but unlike God’s people of Israel, had statues and idols representing their gods. As Bible scholars point out, through the vision the Lord is drawing a contrast between Himself and the gods of the Babylonians. The statues of the Babylonians were lifeless, in contrast to the “living creatures” (verses 5,13,14,15,19,20,21,22) of Ezekiel’s vision which point to the living God. The statues could not see, in contrast to the many eyes, representing the all seeing nature of God. The statues could be destroyed, in contrast to the fire in Ezekiel’s vision, showing that God is the one who has the capacity to destroy and is not Himself consumed. The statues were stuck wherever humans put them whereas in Ezekiel’s vision there are many wheels and free movement. God is not stuck and will go where He wants to go! That God is alive, all seeing, the indestructible destroyer, and has the capacity of presence anywhere and everywhere is all part of the glory of God in direct contrast to the gods of Babylon.

So what is being clarified here? We could sum it up with O people of God. God is alive, all-seeing, powerful, and present. You are not in a mess because God is weak, or because the gods of Babylon are strong.” This is a good reminder for us when our world is in a mess, or when our lives are in a mess. It is not because God is weak, or because the powers of this world have any power over God.

In reading Ezekiel chapter one we also learn that the glory of God is terrifying. While the smallest of animals and the weirdest of bugs can scatter a room of humans, four creatures are seen which must have struck terror. Notice also the noise:

24 When they moved, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of mighty waters, like the thunder of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army; when they stopped, they let down their wings. (Ezekiel 1:24)

The noise is part of the terror for anyone who has lived through a tornado, or stood next to a railway crossing for a fast moving train with horns at full blast. This was not just a vision, but an experience for Ezekiel, a frightening one. The people of God in Babylon have good reason for fear; God is a God of judgement. They are not in captivity because God is weak or the gods of Babylon are stronger. They are there because they are reaping what they have sown. The glory of God is terrifying because the justice of God is perfect.

Where is God When Life is a MessSo what is being clarified here? We could sum it up with “People of God, examine yourselves and see why you are in a mess. Not because God is weak, or because the Babylonian gods are stronger, but because you have been in rebellion against God.” This will be a theme of the prophecy of Ezekiel. And this is a good reminder to us also; every mess has sin behind it somewhere, even if indirectly.

In reading Ezekiel chapter one we also learn that the glory of God is comforting. Think of Genesis chapter 3 where Adam and Eve experienced the consequence of their sin in being banished from the Garden of Eden. It is an amazing fact the Bible does not end there, indeed that is only the beginning. Adam and Eve go on to experience the presence of God. In addition to experiencing the consequence of their sin, they go on to experience the consequence of God’s love. Life in the presence of God goes on! Likewise, in Ezekiel the people of God experience the consequence of the sin of the nation, yet God is present with them in captivity! That the Temple might be destroyed is not of great consequence to God. He can be anywhere and there is nowhere He would rather be than with His people. That was the point of the Temple in the fist place. His presence is an expression of His love, whether at the Temple in Jerusalem, or in captivity in Babylon.

After seeing and experiencing the creatures, the wheels, and the fiery figure on the throne Ezekiel mentions a rainbow as part of his summary in verse 28. This was a reminder of God’s covenant promises. Yes, God’s people would suffer the consequences of not keeping their covenant promises, but yes, God was still faithful and would continue to keep His covenant promises.

So what is being clarified here? We could summarize it with “O people of God, despite the fact you are reaping what you have sown, there will be a future.” This is a good reminder for us, that when our lives get in a mess, even when it is a mess of our own making, God will love us through the mess. He remains faithful.

One last thought on Ezekiel chapter 1. There is a similar vision in Revelation chapters 4 and 5 where the glory of God is seen again. The themes of justice and mercy running through Ezekiel’s prophecy point forward to God’s perfect justice and perfect love coming together in Christ Jesus, “the Lamb that was slain”. At the end of his vision Ezekiel fell flat on his face. At the sight of Jesus in the vision from Revelation the elders fall down to worship. Falling on our faces is still the appropriate response to the glory of God. As the writer of Hebrews says about Jesus:

He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:3)

Yes the world can get messy. But God is not weak. Neither is His love.

(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor whose writing you can check out at this link.

December 10, 2015

Seeing Ourselves Through God’s Eyes

Two years ago I wrote that the Christian blogosphere is often dominated by American writers, so I was excited to mix things up and introduce you to Enoch Anti from Ghana. Today I returned to a recent post at his blog, Truth Publication. You can encourage him by clicking the title below to read this at source:

Eye is the Lamp - Michael NoyesSeeing Through The Lenses Of The Bible

I recently visited an optician for a routine check-up. As I sat to read the vision test chart, the poor state of my eyesight became evident. The diagnosis: nearsightedness. The solution: corrective lenses. So now I wear glasses.

Drawing an analogy, the Word of God is like corrective lens. It aids the believer with an accurate view of life and of themselves. The Word of God delineates the worldview of the believer and of humanity. It is in the Bible we are made conscious of our depravity. In the Bible we appreciate we have offended and continue to offend a Holy God. Humanity, without faith in Christ, is sinful and alienated from God; dead in sin. In the Bible we are told what we have done wrong and what we need to do to restore our relationship with a Holy God (Genesis 3, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 1:12-13, 3:16,Romans 3:23).

The whole theme of the Bible is about God’s plan to restore fallen sinners unto Himself. Under the lenses of the Bible, we see well: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”(Psalm 119:105). In an age of self-obsession and numerous self-help strategies, which only deals with the superficial, the Word of God comes as the only trustworthy source of diagnosis of our fallen human condition. Hebrews 4:12-13 gives a proper description of the ability of God’s word to reveal our true self to us.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

When I was growing up, I knew of only the x-ray machine as the only machine that can “look” into the human body. There might have been more. But in my small world, it was the x-ray machine. Today, medical science with sophisticated machines can pick up any ailment hidden anywhere in the body. Apart from medical sciences, there are other equally sophisticated scanning devices in other fields that can pick their targets even through opaque objects.

We are advancing in technology and knowledge. However, these advancements have limitations. You can’t use an MRI scan to detect the sicknesses of our spiritual being. In Jeremiah 17:9, God through the prophet, testifies about the condition of the human heart. This is not referring to the organ that pumps blood and sustains our physical life. He is talking about the state of our whole being. He says: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” No machine, notwithstanding of degree of sophistication can detect the evil and wickedness wedged in our hearts. Only God’s word can. Not leaving us in utter despair of our state, at the very place where God describes the depravity of our hearts, He went on to further tell us, what He alone can do.

I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.(Jer 17:10).

That is humbling. The dispositions of our hearts are laid bare before Him. Nowhere to run for cover.

O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.(Ps 139:1-6).

The Psalmist here awes about God’s omniscience: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” Nothing, not even our own self can do an accurate diagnosis of the state of our hearts than God can. Through His word, He meticulously searches and reveals the true state of our hearts. Like corrective lenses, the Word leads us in the path of righteousness (Psalm 23:3). God’s Word convicts us, it reproofs, corrects, and trains us in righteousness (2Tim 3:16). God through His Word renews and transform us (Rom 12:1-2). He washes and sanctifies us by His word (John 17:17). Jesus said “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”(Matthew 4:4).

The Word of God is a lens that will not distort our worldview if faithfully studied, applied and obeyed.

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you(Ps. 119:11).


I thought today’s graphic would fit, but I was hoping for the verse, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” done as an eye chart! If anyone is graphic arts inclined and wants to do one, we’ll post it.

February 6, 2014

Breaking the Predictable Ministry Pattern

Luke 5:1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,  the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

Today we pay a return visit to the Living Truth website, the ministry of Charles Price, pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. You can read this at source here.  For broadcast times of Living Truth in your country, click here.

“He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” —John 21:6

Just when we think we’ve got it all figured out we have to shake our heads in awe. What is there about Jesus that will surprise us almost every time?

In Luke, Chapter 5, Jesus tells Peter to go out into the deep and let down his nets for a catch. It’d been a long night. They hadn’t caught anything, and Peter was reluctant, but followed Christ’s instructions. Then in John, Chapter 21, Jesus stood by the Sea of Tiberias, and called out to His disciples, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they replied, and He said to them, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

On both occasions, the disciples were hesitant and sceptical, but after obeying Jesus’ instructions, they were left in awe of the massive amount of fish they had caught. Why do we think the disciples were fishing out of one side of the boat? Because that’s what they always did. In the process of fishing for people, we like to work in the same way; reduce it to a predictable pattern, because that’s how we’ve learned to do it; however, it does not require the initiative of God. We often diminish the work of God by doing what we’ve done before, and then wonder why we’re not catching any fish.

We have to allow the Lord Jesus, Himself, to be the origin of how we are going to reach out to people. We can’t tie Him down to familiar methods or programs that have met with success before. We simply will not be fruitful operating in automatic mode. Jesus is original every time, and it’s when our relationship with Him is alive and fresh that He initiates, directs and enables. We should not be looking at patterns, but at the principle that lies behind them. The patterns we bury, but the principle remains the same. And that is in our obedience and dependence on Christ, we give Him freedom to operate through us in His way and His time.

Jesus said, “Whoever serves me must follow me.” That means we keep in step with Him. Then He says, “And where I am, my servant also will be” (John 12:26).The fixed point is always Jesus, and keeping in step with Him will sometimes take us to unexpected places in unexpected ways. In relationship with Jesus, we learn to discern His will, reading into it all the circumstances of divine providence and divine initiative that works out His purpose. That often means casting our nets in different ways and in different places. It’s when we wait for His direction and follow His leading, that again and again, Jesus will astound us.

Matthew Henry writes:

He from whom nothing is hid, no, not [even] the inhabitants under the waters (Job 26:5), knew on what side of the ship the shoal of fishes was, and to that side he directs them. Note, Divine providence extends itself to things most minute and contingent…

Charles Price’s devotion concludes:

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, You amaze me again and again, and I pray, Lord, that I will always be able to discern your voice and follow your leading. Thank You, Lord.

TO REFLECT UPON: How has Jesus led me in an unexpected way?

December 21, 2013

Some Questions are Not Resolved

 

Psalm 139:14

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

There are some things that are just neatly tied up with a bow. Unlike a sitcom where all the subplots are resolved in 30 minutes, the realm of trust, faith, and belief is a realm of mystery.

The NIV translates Greek into English as “mystery” four times in the New Testament. The first has to do with the relationship between Gentiles who become followers of Christ (spiritual Israel) to those who originally carried God’s promise (ethnic Israel or national Israel). Not surprisingly, the passage is in Romans:

11.24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.

The transfer of God’s favor to such a broader, wider number that occurs with the coming of The Messiah (and the subsequent revelation to Peter that Gentiles are to be part of the Messianic promise) is really much of the major theme of Romans, and while it is relatively easy to be a partaker of such grace, it is relatively challenging to begin to understand it in the context of God’s master plan. “‘Tis mystery all.”

The second instance, also in Romans occurs in the book’s closing chapter and reiterates this aspect of its theme:

16.25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

The third instance occurs in I Cor. 2 and also refers to a widening or a broadening of God’s disclosure to His people through the Holy Spirit:

2.6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Some brief comments from Matthew Henry are helpful in this passage:

  • Though what we preach is foolishness to the world, it is wisdom to them. They are made wise by it, and can discern wisdom in it.
  • [T]he wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom of God—what he had a long time kept to himself, and concealed from the world, and the depth of which, now it is revealed, none but himself can fathom. It is the mystery which hath been hid from ages and generations, though now made manifest to the saints (Col. 1:26), hid in a manner entirely from the heathen world, and made mysterious to the Jews, by being wrapped up in dark types and distant prophecies, but revealed and made known to us by the Spirit of God.
  • [H]e had determined long ago to reveal and make it known, from many ages past, from the beginning, nay, from eternity; and that to our glory, the glory of us, either us apostles or us Christians. It was a great honor put upon the apostles, to be entrusted with the revelation of this wisdom. It was a great and honorable privilege for Christians to have this glorious wisdom discovered in the gospel…

The fourth and final use of the word in the NIV is in relationship to days to come, what some call the afterlife as found in I Cor. 15:

15.50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

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