Christianity 201

July 21, 2021

Book Excerpt: Don’t Waste Your Pain (2)

This is our second of two excerpts (see here for part one) from a new book by Paul Willoughby titled Don’t Waste Your Pain: The Journey from Brokenness to Wholeness. Have you known pain in your life? Paul’s book is equal parts of autobiography — including his (and wife Gloria’s) ministry nationally in Canada through Christian television, in local churches in Ontario, in Uganda, and in India — and exposition of key Bible narratives. There are 13 challenging chapters and each has questions at the end for personal or group reflection, as well as links to some supplemental online resources relating to each.

Our excerpt today is from one of the teaching sections. Learn more about the book and how to order at dontwasteyourpain.com.

Fruit from Darkness

God has given us many wonderful parallels in nature that help us understand spiritual realities. Often in the Scriptures we see Jesus using everyday objects to illustrate great truth. One of Jesus’ favourites was to talk about farm life – something very familiar to His hearers. He spoke of a farmer sowing seeds, or of a vineyard that needed tending. One time, in speaking of His death Jesus said those words about a kernel of wheat dying, being buried, so it can produce a harvest of many seeds.

For a plant to grow, a seed needs to be buried in the soil. It is a picture of death and pain, of darkness and loneliness. Unless it is planted it will not bear fruit.

Many times in our lives we also feel like that seed – buried, forgotten, alone. But, like the seed, if we allow God’s presence to fill our lives He can cause us to grow and to be fruitful. It’s not easy. And it may take some time. There may be further pruning involved. But as the great Gardener of our lives, we can trust Him to know what He is doing and to bring us to a place of fruitfulness!

Naomi’s Pain: From Bitter to Blessed

One of the many examples of this in Scripture is seen in the life of Naomi. I imagine that she must have spent many nights weeping, crying out to God, wondering why her dreams had been shattered and buried.

Naomi and her husband Elimelech, along with their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, left Israel due to a severe famine. They headed as refugees for Moab, a country neighbouring Israel. Not long after, Elimelech tragically died. Naomi was devastated yet grateful that she still had her two sons with her. She soon found wives for them: Mahlon married Orpah and Kilion married Ruth. As hard as it was to imagine tragedy struck Naomi again within ten years of her husband’s death: her two sons died.

Naomi could not bear the pain. She viewed her losses the way many people do and concluded that God was against her. Perhaps Naomi wondered, “Aren’t I part of God’s people? Doesn’t God see me or care for me anymore?” Resentment began to seep into Naomi’s soul. We can sense it in her words: “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” (Ruth 1:13). In fact, Naomi told her friends to call her “Mara” instead of Naomi, because Mara meant “bitter.” She was beginning to form her identity around her circumstances, rather than on what God thought of her, or had planned for her. Because of her pain Naomi thought her story was finished; she was unable to see how God could bring anything good out of something that appeared to be so bad.

We all need to be careful about how we interpret the bad things that happen to us. In deep sorrow Naomi gave up and advised her two daughters-in-law to go back home and find new husbands. Orpah followed her suggestion, but Ruth refused. “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you,” Ruth replied. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16). Could there be any stronger example of devotion in all of Scripture? Ruth’s willingness to selflessly bind herself to one in such tragedy and suffering is amazing. However, in the throes of depression, Naomi was unable to see her world correctly.

A small glimmer of hope for Naomi emerged in her daughter-in-law’s promises to never leave her, never forsake her. It is the same promise that God makes to us: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5–6). We begin to see how, in a sense, Ruth is like God and sometimes we are like Naomi; though many will leave us and forsake us, God will not.

Ruth’s promise did not take away Naomi’s pain, but it did help her begin to move in the right direction and kept her going until she reached a place where she could say, “God is good.”

If you read through the story, in the book of Ruth, you will see how after Naomi and Ruth returned to Israel, God moved the heart of Boaz to provide for Ruth and then to eventually marry her. They had a child, Obed, who would eventually become the grandfather of David, the great King of Israel. Hundreds of years later, of course, Jesus himself would come from David’s lineage.

But let’s think about Naomi once again. Imagine her in Moab, her husband and two sons suddenly gone. All her dreams suddenly shattered, her longings unfulfilled, her hopes dashed to pieces. She put a label on herself: “bitter.” But looking back we see that God actually had blessing in store for her. What if she had really given up? Turned her back on God? She could have said, ‘I never want to go back to Israel and its God! He doesn’t care about me!’ But, no, even though she could not understand it, she returned again. And as we turn to the Lord, even in the midst of pain, God can turn our bitterness to blessing, just as he did for Naomi!

When our circumstances look desperate and we are tempted to become despondent, we must remember that there is still hope.

So, don’t give up. God is near. Turn your eyes toward heaven and know that He sees your tears. Let Him draw you close to Himself. Rest there in His embrace and allow Him to “quiet you with his love” (Zephaniah 3:17). Yes, loss is a bitter pill to take, but we never know what good God will bring out of it, or the greater plan He can unfold if we only trust Him.

 

June 19, 2021

Divine Appointments are Divinely Appointed

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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With our area now released from a stay-at-home order, yesterday I ventured to a place that is always a great context for Jesus-centered conversations; unlocking the door for the first time in nine weeks. Within minutes, I found myself deep in conversation with a new Christian. He had a lot of questions, and I tried to answer them humbly, bearing in mind that,

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.James 3:1

So while it was nice to be entrusted with this mission, I also had a sense that in these encounters I can have a posture of learning, perhaps learning as much from the questions and responses, as he hopefully learned from the information I imparted.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.Proverbs 27:17

He promised he would be back, though I seriously erred in not getting contact information. To use an overworked phrase, I’ll have to “leave that with the Lord.”

I’m also sorry we didn’t get to pray together, but there were other people coming and going. In any event, pray for T.

Part of the reason those two things didn’t happen is because L. dropped by. I didn’t remember her at first, but as she recapped her story, she’s been through every religion in the book, and in the words of a U2 song, she “still hasn’t found what [she’s] looking for.”

She said the last time we were together, I shared with her “the story of the geese.” The who of the what? I had no idea. She said the major point was that “geese follow.” I suppose that was what I asking her to do.

I assured her that this was an analogy that God had given me on the spot to share with her and that nobody had ever heard the geese story before or after. I like coming up with my own ‘redemptive analogies‘ or any analogies for that matter. Or maybe it was something I had read that week.

Be very careful, then, how you live‚–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. — Ephesians 5:16

A woman who was also in the building then picked up the conversation with her. I felt that as much as God might have used me in the conversation with T., she was much more God-appointed to continue talking to L. That was her divine appointment, not mine.

I offered a Bible to L. but she just kinda glared at me. Not the eagerness you expect to hear in stories like this. She was probably thinking, ‘Been there. Done that.’ But then the other woman placed into her hand a copy of In His Steps by Charles Sheldon. An odd choice, in human terms, but then I chimed in and told L. that it’s a fictional story of what the world would be like if we actually lived as Jesus instructed us. When you remember to pray for T., pray also for L.

The verse,

Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope.— I Peter 1:15b

is used in the context of formal witnessing or evangelism situations, but sometimes God sends divine appointments without even a moment’s notice.

I would shorten the verse to simply, “Always be ready!”


Two follow up things:

First, I inserted a link with the phrase ‘redemptive analogy’ in case you’re not familiar with the term. But for those who know the story and are wondering, several years ago the son of Don Richardson returned to the area, with the result that Mustard Seed International was formed. This is a charity that we support personally, and if God has blessed you financially, I encourage you to check them out.

Second, we don’t always feel ready for divine appointments. In many ways, I’ve been going through something that the kids call spiritual ‘deconstruction,’ for lack of a better word. I’ve been down and depressed for nine weeks now, and within minutes of returning physically to the place of ministry (as opposed to posting devotionals from home) God handed me a special assignment to encourage me. He knows what he’s doing. In addition to praying for the two mentioned today, pray for me as well!

November 3, 2020

Seeking Knowledge When We Want Power

John 9.1(TPT) Afterward, as Jesus walked down the street, he noticed a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Teacher, whose sin caused this guy’s blindness, his own, or the sin of his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither. It happened to him so that you could watch him experience God’s miracle.

John 9.3(NKJV) Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.

If you’re unfamiliar with this story, check out all 41 verses of John’s gospel, chapter 9.

A year ago this month we introduced Wes Barry who is the pastor of Waypoint in North Carolina, a church he planted seven years ago. Today’s article is actually older than a second piece by him we shared six months ago, but one I wanted to share with readers here. Clicking the header below will take to this article at its source.

The Wrong Questions

Perhaps you have heard the acronym that the Bible is “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” to imply that the Bible is life’s instruction manual. Or, if you were like me and involved in FCA, you heard the analogy that the Bible is God’s Playbook. When I received Davidson’s football playbook, I received detailed descriptions of what was expected of me and how I was supposed to run a play. Though I rarely actually read instruction manuals when putting together a project, an instruction manual gives us specific step-by-step how-tos. As I have read scripture I have come to see how both of those are wrong. And they cause us to ask the wrong questions.

The ultimate problem we face is that through Adam and Eve’s eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we have knowledge but lack power. For example: We know the impact of this virus, but we lack the power to control it. Knowledge without power is an extremely painful position to be in. Therefore, we try to minimize that pain through scientific questions of “How” and “What,” that give us a false sense of power. Yet, this causes us to fail to ask the spiritual questions of “Who” and “Why.”

Our industrial and mechanical minds ask “How” and “What” questions. Scripture, however, is answering “Who” and “Why” questions. If we approach scripture with a What/How mindset then we are asking the wrong questions and will entirely miss the purpose of scripture.

While the question in John 9 is translated into a “who sinned”—the heart of what they are asking is “what caused this man to be born blind?” They are seeking to capture the cause of this man’s difficulty in life—probably in an effort to avoid their own peril, or the peril of their children. They are seeking a rational explanation.

Jesus, however, re-frames the question. He tells them they are asking the wrong question—the question we should be asking is not “what caused this” but “why.” Why would God allow this to happen?”

Who and Why questions ask relational and purpose questions. They draw us closer to God, and once we discover who God is, we become aware of who we are and are not.

As John Calvin states in the opening part of his Institutes: “The whole sum of our wisdom is…the knowledge of God and of ourselves…the first ought to show us not only one God whom all must worship and honor, but also that the same One is the fountain of all truth, wisdom, goodness, righteousness, judgment, mercy, power and holiness…The second part, by showing us our weakness, wretchedness, futility, and greed, leads us to feel cast down about and to distrust and hate ourselves; and then kindles in us a desire to seek for God, since in Him lies all the good of which we are empty and naked.”

Once we realize who God is and who we are, then the only logical question becomes, “why.” If God is good, and I am not, then why is God allowing this to happen?

For this man born blind, Jesus is saying that the purpose of this man’s blindness was so that one day the glory of Christ might be revealed. His blindness revealed the futility of his efforts and his parents’. The man’s entire life—all the limitations that he felt due to his blindness, his parents’ worry that they may have caused this malady—was necessary so that on that particular day during that particular encounter Jesus could demonstrate his power to give sight to the blind. Due to this man’s life and testimony, one of the greatest hymns was written: “I once was blind but now I see.”

Now, finally, notice that this man’s healing required active engagement on his part. He was not a passive recipient but an actor in the healing story. While other healings occurred immediately, this man was commanded to go and wash. So once we understand who and why, it does not mean we become mere observers of God’s plan, but we must become participants in His mission.

 

 

June 1, 2020

Just One Way: Through Jesus

Today we’re introducing a new website to you with the unusual title, Theist Thug Life. (I really wish there was an about page for this one!) Click the header below to read at source, then click the page header there to look at other articles.

The Exclusivity of Christ V. Religious Pluralism

“I am a Christian who believes that there are certainly many more paths to God other than Christianity”. – Oprah Winfrey

Immediately one may see the problem in Oprah’s statement above: A blatant contradiction.  Claiming to be a Christian she states that there is more than one path to God aside from Christianity. So what is she doing here? Oprah is advocating religious pluralism. Religious pluralism is generally the belief that two or more religious worldviews are equally valid or acceptable. This goes beyond simple tolerance (disagreeing but living peaceably together) but rather the very real acceptance of multiple paths to God (or gods) as a possibility. This is in stark contrast to those views that are exclusive, which is the idea that there is only one true religion or way to know God. Christianity is one such view that is exclusive. Immediately it becomes clear that her belief that there is more than one way to God is in opposition to her professed belief in Christ. In fact it is in blatant opposition to Jesus Christ himself. What do I mean? Christianity isn’t exclusive because Christians want it that way or because we are trying to come from a position of superiority of belief. No, Christian exclusivism just is because God has made it plainly known that he alone is God and there is only one way to him. One of the most prominent verses towards this end is found in John 14:6,

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The claim here made by Jesus is distinct and purposely narrow. It’s exclusive in that it leaves no room for another way.  In a world that has hundreds, if not thousands, of worldviews proposing the way to God (or gods or not gods) we must apply the law non-contradiction. This law essentially states that contradictory propositions cannot both be true ‘at the same time and in the same sense. Ravi Zacharias helps us understand this point here,

“Truth by definition is exclusive. Everything cannot be true. If everything is true, then nothing is false. And if nothing is false then it would also be true to say everything is false. We cannot have it both ways. One should not be surprised at the claims of exclusivity. The reality is that even those who deny truth’s exclusivity, in effect, exclude those who do not deny it. The truth quickly emerges. The law of non-contradiction does apply to reality: Two contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense. Thus, to deny the law of non-contradiction is to affirm it at the same time. You may as well talk about a one-ended stick as talk about truth being all-inclusive.”

Every worldview about God or how to get to God can’t be correct. Either Jesus is the WAY, TRUTH, or LIFE or he isn’t.

Now some may object here by saying that various religious views share certain values and agree on some social issues. Isn’t this religious pluralism? No it isn’t. While, for example, Buddhists and Christians both agree that helping the poor is important, such limited concord is not pluralism per se. Again pluralism has to do with lending credence to competing truth claims. It is a position that advocates the acceptance of diverse beliefs regarding God and salvation as being just as true as any other. However, worldviews contradict each other on a fundamental level. This doesn’t mean some religions can’t share some doctrinal beliefs (like there being only one God) but that the fundamental positions that each hold are irreconcilable. One or the other is true, not both.

Christian Core Beliefs

Christians are those individuals who have been forgiven of their sins. They are individuals who have entered into a close personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8–9Romans 10:9–10). Within the faith there are those beliefs that are essential and those that are non-essential. The non-essentials are those things that do not affect the salvation of an individual. Such things as dancing, head dressing, alcohol consumption, and so forth are not salvific issues. They are those issues that different Christians can disagree on but not divide over. Essential beliefs are those that are the core foundational beliefs that are paramount. These beliefs are something a person must fully accept as part of his or her own personal worldview to be called a Christian. The following are core beliefs:

• Jesus is the Son of God and is equal with God (John 1:149Luke 22:70Mark 3:11Philippians 2:5–11)
• Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18Luke 1:26–35)
• Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life (Hebrews 4:15John 8:29)
• Jesus was crucified to pay the penalty for our sins (Matthew 26:281 Corinthians 15:2–4)
• Jesus rose from the dead (Luke 24:46Mark 16:6)
• We are saved by the grace of God; that is, we cannot add to or take away from Christ’s finished work on the cross as full payment for our sin (Ephesians 2:8–9)

Notice that these core beliefs of Christianity fly in the face of Oprah’s statement. While she claims to profess Christ she believes differently from what the core beliefs of Christianity are. Many people may indeed be ‘Christian’ in name but ignore or outright reject core beliefs that define who a Christian is. Truly if Christ is our only hope…our sole way of forgiveness of our sins and gaining redemption…then belief that we or others can go outside of Christ for hope and redemption is simply anathema. It does not follow. Such a person who advocates that there are other ways to God aside from Christ is someone who either doesn’t know what they are talking about, deceiving themselves, or they are outright lying and do not believe the truth.

Summary

Ravi Zacharias perfectly finishes off this article below with these last words,

“So where does that leave us? We must not be surprised at truth claims but we must test them before we believe them. If the test demonstrates truth then we are morally compelled to believe it. And this is precisely the point from which many are trying to run. As G.K. Chesterton said, the problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it has been found difficult and left untried.

Christ is either the immeasurable God or one dreadfully lost. Apply the tests of truth to the person and the message of Jesus Christ. You see not only his exclusivity, but also his uniqueness.”

Note: While Christianity is exclusive in that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation it must be said that Christianity is perhaps the most inclusive faith. No matter your skin color, creed, where you were born, or social status you are able to come to Jesus. No one is turned away as long as they repent and believe the Gospel. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16

Further Reading and Citations

https://www.rzim.org/read/a-slice-of-infinity/point-of-exclusion

Here are 10 verses that speak to the exclusivity of Jesus.

  1. John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
  2. Acts 4:12 – And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
  3. John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
  4. Romans 10:9 – Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
  5. 2 Corinthians 4:4 – In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
  6. John 3:36 – Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
  7. Acts 10:43 – To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
  8. 1 Timothy 2:5 – For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
  9. Romans 3:22 – The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:
  10. John 17:3 – And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

October 17, 2018

No Turning Back

Today we’re highlighting the writing of Jeffrey Youngblood from Tyler, Texas who appears here for the first time. His blog is titled Thoughts of a Blessed Man. We narrowed it down to four articles and they were all so good I wish we could run them all. Click the title to read this one at source.

Burn the Ships

I love to read. Specifically, I love to read history. One of the stories that piqued my interest the most as I was growing up was the story of a Spanish Conquistador named Hernando Cortez(writing about him does not mean I endorse him). This man was a ruthless leader who conquered most of present day Mexico for Spain. He never had to worry much about his men deserting him, because when they landed in this “new world,” his first order of business was to set ablaze to their only way back home… He burned the ships. Cortez had a goal in mind, and nothing was going to stop him from reaching the fame and fortune he was looking for in this new world.

This man had no idea where he was going. There were no maps he could purchase in Spain prior to leaving. He knew one thing for sure. If he left an avenue back to where he came from, the men in their times of uncertainty would gladly run home.

Pursuing something new can be exciting, but also terrifying at the same time. Trying to develop new habits or lifestyles is difficult to do, but there is an end goal in sight. As a follower of Christ, we start out on our journey much like Cortez, by faith. We are serving a God that we cannot see.

The easy thing to do is return where we came from, but the difficult thing to do in any situation is to destroy the way back. We all have a past. Some of us have a past that we hope we can forget (or at least part of it), others are indifferent, and others have a great past. The only thing about pasts, though, is that it is a place we cannot return or remain. We cannot camp out in the past and not move forward. The apostle Paul discussed this in Philippians.

Not that I  have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

Paul was probably more mature in his walk with God than me… and by probably I mean certainly. He had it figured out. His past in people’s eyes differed based on who you asked. He thought for the longest time he was doing the right thing until Jesus Christ knocked him to the ground. He realized quickly that he needed to be leading a very different life, if he was going to obtain the prize. Paul went through so much, but he knew that he could not look back.

Paul burned the ships.

The author of Hebrews decided to chime in with Paul and offer some advice to us as well.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The advice given is to get rid of some stuff in our life, and run the race that is in front of us. In our walk with God, we need to keep our momentum going forward. Moving backwards is not an option for a Christian.

If we are not careful our past seems better. Our past seems easier. Our past is something we know. Familiarity can be dangerous. We all know people who are living in the past (I even see some mullets floating around Tyler every once in a while). The past will handicap our ability to move forward into the plans that Jesus Christ has laid out specifically for you and me.

It is time to burn some ships. Remove the possibility of going back, and decide today that the only option is to go forward and possess the things that God has planned for you. Looking over your shoulder will be useless, because you will have destroyed the only vehicle to your past.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Get to burning and move forward.

August 11, 2018

The Psalms as Narrative

This one involves a lengthier introduction.

It started a few days ago when I was composing a book review where I noted that while there has been much emphasis lately on the importance of respecting the various genres of scripture and reading each according to its unique style; the author of the book I was reviewing “suggests that they are all narrative, even to the point of labeling the poetic books as ‘wisdom stories,’ existing alongside ‘war stories,’ ‘deliverance stories,’ ‘gospel stories,’ ‘origin stories,’ and yes, in a category by themselves, ‘fish stories.'”

Unless it’s one of the Psalms which contains historical narrative such as #137:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
3a for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;

…I personally don’t tend to think of the dramatic or narrative elements.

So when our son Aaron posted this to his blog earlier this week, I needed to read it twice to see the movement from micro-narrative to macro-narrative.

To make it easier for you to do, I’ve added a few sentences in italics below. It’s also helpful to ask yourself, “What is my present vantage point in this narrative?”

You can also click the title below to read the original.


Psalm 23 (CEV) 1 The Lord is my shepherd.
    I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
    he leads me to restful waters;
        he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
    for the sake of his good name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
    they protect me.

You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
    my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love
    will pursue me all the days of my life,
    and I will live in the Lord’s house
    as long as I live.

The Shadow of the Valley of Text

by Aaron Wilkinson

I’ve been reading about Hebrew poetry lately and I’ve realized that I may have been reading Psalm 23 all wrong.

Over-familiarity is our worst friend when we’re trying to develop a deep understanding of a text. I’ve heard the words “The Lord is my shepherd” and everything that comes after so many times that I’ve come to take it for granted. It becomes an absent-minded recitation. While I think all of us who grew up in the church have a grasp for the basic ethos of the poem, I’m discovering that Hebrew poetry demands that the reader slow down to really unpack the parallel images and words that characterize it.

I’ll assume you’ve read or heard or sung this poem before. Shepherd, Green Pastures, Quiet Waters. This part makes me feel nice. Although the line “I shall not want” feels more like a wish than an assertion. When I see my friends getting promoted or engaged, I definitely do want. I could say a lot about how profoundly rebellious this statement is against an ambitious and consumeristic culture, but that’s not my main point.

The tranquil tapestry of this mellow meadow ends with this.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

And then…

New paragraph. A gap in the formatting of the text! Now we’re going to talk about a new idea. If this were a film, we might put a scene transition here.

The camera pulls back from a tight close-up to a wider shot.

The tone is still optimistic but we’re no longer in that prior pastoral paradise.

But were we ever?

The way that the text is usually formatted suggests a shift that I’m not sure is meant to be there. Verse 3 and Verse 4 both use language of journeying. Being lead down the path and walking through the valley. Verses 1 and 2 show us images of stillness. Verses 3 and 4 get us moving. Unless the editors of the text are using the gap between the verses to symbolize a valley between hills, I think this break can be misleading.

Picture this: our scene opens on a young lamb, grazing on grass and sipping from a stream. We then see the lamb approached by a strong but gentle shepherd who signals to the lamb with his staff that it’s time to get moving. The lamb hops up and begins following the shepherd. As they go, they walk. They don’t run. They don’t hide. They walk.

The camera pulls back again.

Zoom out and we see that the two are, in fact, in a dark valley. Clouds thunder overhead and predators growl in the distance. Abandoned arrows, slash marks from swords, and spots of blood speak of some battle that was fought here recently. Warriors may still be crouching around the next bend. And there they walk, the sheep and the shepherd. Stopping for a break and a snack every now and then.

The green fields with quiet waters and the valley of the shadow of death aren’t two places. They are one. And Verses 5 and 6 will confirm this for us. How does the poem begin? Fields to graze in, water to drink, rest for the soul. Food, drink, rest. How does it end? A table in front of my enemies, an overflowing cup, goodness and mercy following me all the days of my life. Food, drink, rest – not in some idyllic ethereal otherworld, but in the very presence of enemies and threats. There are always the enemies, the shadow of death, but also the shepherd offers provision and comfort.

The camera pulls back one last time, this time showing a macro-image beyond imagination.

What’s more, we’ve zoomed out even further. We began in the sheep’s little world: the grass, the water, the shepherd. We zoomed out to see what the shepherd is protecting the sheep from: the valley. Now we are in “The house of the Lord, forever.” We end in the eternal transcendent House (surely this encompasses all creation) and the enemies and valleys are left sandwiched – surrounded – between the immediate local provision of the shepherd and the eternal promises of the future.

I’m sure there are layers of this poem that I’m still missing. The Israelites were masters of poetry so I’m sure that there are layers that shine out much better in the original language. But this poem is dense even in English. It’s packed. The images are tied together brilliantly and even the subtle implications of a verb like “walk” are carefully selected to tell us something about the beautiful relationship that God has to his creation, and the relationship between his providence and our challenges.

I think we miss this when we treat the Psalms first as theology and as poetry second. When we slow down and read them as poetry, their theology becomes much more profound.

February 10, 2018

The Immensity of God’s Plans

Today’s writer is being featured for the first time here and came recommended. Cindy Dawson writes at Real Christian Women, with the subtitle, My Journey Unscripted. In this article she traces what I sometimes call “the chain of grace” that’s been at work in her church back 200 years. Click the title below to read this at source.

Does My Life Glorify God?

The Bible says, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:31) What does it really mean? My Pastor’s sermon last Sunday made me think.

He told us that two hundred years ago, a church of about 26 people in Rockfield, Ky were led by God to start a new church in Bowling Green. That church, started by four members of the Providence Knob Baptist Church, is the same church I worship in today.

To put this in perspective, 1818 is the year the famous American Patriot, Paul Revere, died. In fact, Warren County was named after General Joseph Warren of the Revolutionary War, who dispatched Paul Revere on his famous midnight ride.

The population of Warren County was less than 12,000 then, as compared to over 125,000 at the present time.

As I worshiped, I understood that the glory and praise being lifted up to God this very day in 2018 was God’s plan all along. A magnificent choir sings praises to our Lord. A team of singers and musicians lead the congregation in worship, little children sing of Jesus’s love.  An orchestra plays heavenly music in praise to the Lord. People are being saved. The Word of God is being proclaimed. God’s work is being done and God is being glorified.

I thought about those pioneers who, in 1818, prayed for God to build a church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Their obedience and prayers resulted in God being glorified. When God answered their prayers, He did “immeasurably more” than all they could ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20 NIV)

Did they see the fruit of their labor? Not unless they’re over 200 years old! But God was, and is, and will be, glorified in this place.

It made me think about my own life. Do I want to bring glory to God only? Or do I want glory for myself? Do I want to allow God to do “immeasurably more” than all I can ask or imagine? Do I want Him to use me according to His will, even if I never see the fruit of my labor? These are heart-searching questions. May we have the courage to ask them.

God’s plans are bigger than our ability to imagine. I understand now, that God’s plan for me must not be limited by my lack of vision or by selfish desires.

“Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” Psalm 115:1 

Jesus prayed to His Father, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.” John 17:4

God has the plan. Will we surrender our will to Him? Our part is to be willing.  He will do the rest.

“…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Philippians 2:13

“For the earth will be filled With the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, As the waters cover the sea.” Habakuk 2:14

“I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And will glorify Your name forever.” Psalm 86:12

This is God’s plan –  To glorify His name.

With Love, Cindy


Read more:

There were so many articles at Cindy’s site which would have been a great fit here. Here’s one more that may apply to some of you:

Promises That Will Encourage You To Keep Praying for Someone You Love


Before we leave Cindy’s website, I couldn’t help but notice that she ends each article with an invitation to the reader. It’s easy for us to make assumptions about readers here, especially when this is Christianity 201 and not Christianity 101, but we never really know who is reading. So I want to end the way she ends each article she writes:

Do you know Jesus?

If you have never asked Jesus to be your Savior, you can do it now. He loves you more than you can comprehend, and it will change your life forever.

Romans 10 (NIV) 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

July 1, 2017

God’s Direction for the Rest of Your Year

Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. Isaiah 30: 20-21 (NLT)

The year is half over. What’s next? Ever wish you could see God’s entire plan for your life like a giant road map?

Back in the day, if you were heading on a vacation trip to a place in the U.S. or Canada where you’d never been before, if you were a member of AAA (or CAA) you could request a trip guidebook. Using previously printed pages representing different highway sections, someone would assemble a series of these ‘strip maps’ into a booklet that also provided commentary on places of interest, restaurants and motels.

Hard to imagine in a world of MapQuest and GPS tracking.

These ‘strip maps’ are a closer representation as to how life presents itself to us. We’re given direction that is sufficient for the day, but don’t always know how the pieces of the journey are going to form an overall story. It’s not unlike walking across a stream using stepping stones, and stopping on each to determine where to put your feet next.

Chuck Smith says of our key verse: “How glorious to be led of the Spirit and having God say, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’ What is the way? The way of waiting upon God and trusting in Him.”

As C.S. Lewis once suggested, to understand how God sees time, draw a line with two ends in a blank sheet of paper, then look at the entire paper. We see the line as a progression, but God sees it as a whole. We live within time, but God is eternal and separate.

Another way to say this is that the difference between our perception of time and God’s might be compared to having a travel atlas where the journey across a country or a continent reveals the beginning and the end. This is the type of “big picture” that God has. Our perception would be more flipping through the strip map, getting the journey in small bite size pieces.

I’m told Lewis also compares our perception and God’s perception to the difference between sitting at a level crossing waiting for a long train to pass by. Each car passes sequentially, one after the other. But miles above, as seen from an airplane, the entire train is visible from beginning to end, and as it slowly snakes its way through the mountains and valleys, seems to almost be standing still.

The problem is, we want the big picture. We want to know where the story is going. But often information is supplied on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour and even minute-by-minute basis.

And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways; fools will never walk there. Isaiah 35:8 NLT


I heard a story once from someone who was unimpressed with the Christian bumper stickers which proclaimed, “God is my Co-Pilot.” He proposed this amendment: “If God is your Co-Pilot, you need to switch seats.”

If anyone can find a link to the Lewis/train story, or knows an equally good time analogy, feel free to add it in the comments.

June 5, 2017

Election and Eternal Salvation (Part 2)

by Russell Young

Romans 8 brings clarity to the issue of election. In verses 29─30 Paul wrote: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Earlier teaching in Romans 8 addresses the means of meeting God’s righteous requirements through living according to the Spirit (v 4), of being led by the Spirit to be a son (v 14), of suffering for victory over temptations (v 17), and of attaining the redemption of the body for adoption (v 23). Following these presentations, Paul addresses the intervention of the Father and the Spirit (v 26─27) which helps in bringing understanding to God’s “foreknowledge.” Clearly, God’s knowledge of a person is required before their particular need (weakness) can be addressed for the fulfilment of his plan with the destiny of glory.

The psalmist sheds some light on our understanding of knowledge. The psalmist wrote: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Ps 34:18 NIV) And, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken spirit and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps 51:17 NIV) It could be that knowledge of the heart is the “foreknowledge” upon which his selection is made…a heart that lacks pride but is humble and receptive to his sovereignty-a teachable or trainable heart. Both the psalmist and Jeremiah reveal that God searches the hearts of all people. “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” (Jer 17:10 NIV) Psalm 139 elaborates on God’s knowledge of an individual. He uses that knowledge, foreknowledge, before he intervenes in a person’s life.

The Father searches hearts and it is he who gives the Spirit. (Jn 15:26; Gal 4:6; Lk 11:13) According to his mercy and grace the Father chooses or elects those whom he will bless with the Spirit so that his plan might be accomplished. Following this, he works with the Spirit in the lives of those whom he has elected. “In the same way (waiting patiently for the redemption of our bodies), 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 (the Father) knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Rom 8:26─27)

It is in this process that further knowledge is gained. Although those to whom he has given the Spirit were chosen for it, not all will respond obediently. Jesus said, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk 6:46) Some will deny the Spirit, and others will quench or thwart the Spirit but those who are obedient, those who love him, who have been called according to hs purpose God knows and they are predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son because he is faithful and is committed to working with them. Without obedience a person cannot fulfil the plan of God and it is through its practice that the Lord said a person would remain in his love (Jn 15:10) and would find eternal salvation. (Heb 5:9) Those who live obediently to the Spirit will be known by God and will have been predestined through his plan to be justified and glorified. These will be the elect or selected.

All, except those whose hearts have been “hardened” for the achievement of a specific purpose have the same opportunity to obtain eternal salvation. The heavens declare his glory so “men are without excuse.” (Rom 1:20) “Whoever is thirsty, let him come.” (Rev 22:17) “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” (Titus 2:11) “God wants all men to be saved.” (1 Tim 2:4) All have opportunity to gain knowledge of him and of him and his majesty but not all will humble themselves and their pride will be their undoing.

 

June 4, 2017

Election and Eternal Salvation (Part 1)

by Russell Young

Election refers to the selection by God of a people for a specific purpose. Quite often it is accepted as the designation of a person to enjoy God’s eternal kingdom. Election has taken place from the earliest of times with Noah and Abraham. Some accept that all people who will dwell eternally with God had been elected his people from before the creation of the world and this often accepted as an act of God’s “sovereign grace.”

Whenever it takes place election or selection of an individual is God’s act of determination. In speaking of Jacob and Esau Paul wrote: “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad– in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls-she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’” (Rom 9:11-12 NIV)

God’s practice of “election” has a purpose, as in “God’s purpose in election.” This might be easier to understand stated as, “God’s purpose through election.” That is, God elects for a reason or to accomplish his ends. He has a plan and it can only be accomplished through his handiwork and through the expression of his sovereignty. Lacking either a plan or his sovereign authority, only anarchy and chaos would result. Election must be recognized as a means by which God fulfills his plan.

To the Ephesians Paul wrote: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” (Eph 1:11 NIV) According to Paul, God has a plan and is working it out. Those who will have been elected will have satisfied his plan since his plan was destined to accomplish his goal.

Election has two distinct applications so that “his will” might be accomplished. These might be seen from macro and micro perspectives. His hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is an example of election’s macro application. Concerning Pharaoh, the LORD said, “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’” (Rom 9:17 NIV) God’s purpose was to make a declaration for the benefit of his name and to all the earth. The selection or election of Israel as his special people is another example of a macro application.

Through Jacob’s election the Lord made clear his right of sovereignty over individual lives and human traditions. The traditional approach would have been to have God’s blessing rest on Rebekah’s elder son however, the LORD clarified that God’s purpose in the election of Jacob was so that his choosing would not, and could not, be based of the “work” of humankind but by determination of the one who calls…the LORD himself. The principle being revealed is that God is in charge! Later in Romans Paul recorded: “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden,” (Rom 9:18) but this mercy and hardening of hearts is according to his purpose in or through election.

Ephesians 1:4-6 is often used as support for the thought that God elected his children before the beginning of time. Paul wrote: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (NIV) However these passages present several ideas and are really a presentation of God’s plan as is revealed in verse 11. “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…” God’s plan was that those “in him” would be holy and blameless in his sight” and would “be adopted as sons.” His plan was devised before the creation of the world, specific individuals were not elected at that time. The revelation of the specifics of his plan comprises much of the New Testament. In this instance Paul was specifically addressing the “faithful,” those who were adhering to his plan.

…continued tomorrow…

February 12, 2017

“God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life”

by Russell Young

Consider the cliché: “God has a wonderful plan for your life.”  This pronouncement is often given by those trying to evangelize.   This cliché is easy to accept at first glance.  It is encouraging to the one going through one of life’s struggles; it offers promise.  Those who accept that there is a god would esteem him to know all things and to be all powerful. They also accept that he is all loving.  Consequently, the message is given and taken as if the person being addressed would only confess faith, his or her life would be wonderful, richly blessed and filled with joy. Although these descriptors are true, they are not true according to the world’s understanding.

What was “God’s wonderful plan” as experienced by the apostles? They all, but one, experienced horrible deaths. Think of God’s wonderful plan” as experienced by the many faithful today who are being martyred for their faith in Christ. What are people to think when they suffer through disease and poverty? How are they to interpret God’s “wonderful plan”?

God does have a plan for our lives. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ may be for the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1: 11─12 NIV)

The plan is not “for us” directed; it is “for the praise of [God’s] glory.” Later in that book Paul wrote, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10 NIV) This is also the declaration of a plan.

God’s plan is “wonderful” but will not necessarily bring the worldly blessings that many infer. Paul wrote: “The Lord will reward everyone for the good he does whether slave or free.” (Eph 6:8 NIV) The rewards of God are not trivial nor are they necessarily temporal and their accomplishment requires suffering.  “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12 NIV) Despite the trials, persecution, pain, and poverty that true believers endure in this world, they will reap a harvest of blessings and eternal life, if they remain faithful to the end. (Mt 10:22)

The walk of truth and obedience brings glory to God and eternal rewards.  This is his wonderful plan.  It does not include ease, riches, and the pleasures of this world, and those who present clichés need to take care concerning the impressions that they leave others.  They can mislead and be destructive to furthering the gospel. Weak faith based on misrepresented truths can give way to disillusionment and destruction and the spreading of a false gospel. Should the one being evangelized know the truth about what is before him or her?  Absolutely!  They must count the cost if they are to become strong and useful. Perseverance to the end is the only way that God’s plan can become wonderful. True believers know this and have committed themselves to victory over all sorts of trials through the presence and power of Christ. It is for the fulfilment of God’s plan in one’s life that his people have been called for the praise of his glory and it is in that fulfilment that they bring him glory. His plan is to conform the faithful to the likeness of his Son and to assist in the building of his kingdom.

It should never be accepted that God has ordained a moment by moment strategy for the way a believer is to live, that his moments have been pre-destined and firmly established.  The manner in which believers are led will depend upon how well they listen and how closely they follow.  Paul wrote, “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 8:27 NIV) It is God who searches our hearts and from his search determines a strategy to affect the Spirit’s purpose.  Sometimes God will discipline, and at other times he will punish.  “Do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:5─6 NIV) God’s plan is wonderful because he has a personal interest in accomplishing those things in our lives that will give opportunity for transformation of heart and practice so that a person might become acceptable to him. (Rom 15:16)  It is wonderful because it leads to eternal life, but most of the ‘wonderfulness’ will come in glory, not as we walk this earth.


Russell Young has been a regular Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 for the past year and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

December 12, 2016

A Meal to Remember

This blog post came to our attention through an interesting series of rabbit trails. It’s the last thing posted to a blog which is no longer active, Believing and Serving In Christ.

Mostly Mealtimes…

Recently I asked a question on Facebook. My question was simple enough: How often do you think about a meal when you think about the last time you saw somebody? A lot of people responded that they did think of a meal when they last thought of someone…

I’m led then to believe that God does some things on purpose, directly because He knows people, and He knows we like to eat too. He knows we remember special occasions by the food we eat, so He gave the Children of Israel a collection of feasts to keep, each with their meaning, each occurring in their own time. The Jews celebrate Passover, and it’s that feast that I want to look at if only briefly.

What if you were alive, as an Israelite, captive in Egypt when Moses came to lead the people out of Pharaoh’s hand? What would you make of the commands to keep the Passover described in Exodus Chapter 12? First of all, it’s a meal that is designed to separate the People of God from the Foreigner. God tells the people:

43 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, 44 but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. 45 No foreigner or hired worker may eat of it. … 47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. 48 If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. 49 There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.” Exodus 12:43-45; 47-49.

God intends for this meal to be a meal where there is a clear distinction between God’s People, and those who are not God’s people. Ponder this for a moment as we listen to another one of God’s commands for this special meal: “10 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.” This meal has a special time, limited in duration. There are no leftovers from God’s Passover! The People of God are given clear instruction about the time that the Passover takes place. He tells them the month the feast is in, he tells them the day the feast starts, and then He tells them duration of the feast. Six days of unleavened bread, and then, one evening only, lamb with the bread, and bitter herbs. There’s no accidents here. All of this is for a reason. Ponder as if you were one of the Children of Israel, waiting to be delivered from Egypt. Now listen to this and consider what it could mean: 

They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts…11 In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover. Exodus 12:8, 9, 11 46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. Exodus 12:46

God commanded the People of God to eat the meal in a certain manner. None of this is by accident. There’s nothing here done by chance or haphazardly. God has a certain way for doing this, and it’s for a certain reason. He’s wanting these people to remember the meal. He’s going to use it for something special. He’s looking down the road 1500 years to a time when this meal will be celebrated in this manner for the last time before His Son dies.

We know that on the night Jesus was betrayed he was keeping the Passover meal. We also know that he gave a meal to remember him by on that night. I always try to consider what it must have been like for the disciples on that night. Like the Israelites that first night, they were probably a little confused by Jesus’ new instructions. He takes the bread, and offers it to them, calling it his body. Then he lifts a glass, and calls it the blood of the new covenant. Just like the first Passover, though, this meal also has certain rules. Just like it was with the Israelites and the Passover: The Lord’s Supper is only valid for certain people. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:29 “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” Our meal is for those who recognize that this bread and cup are given to us as the body and blood of Jesus. Also, like Passover: Our meal has a time. From early in its history, the Church has gathered on the first day of the week to celebrate the Lord in this manner. We gather for the same reason the early disciples gather: to devote ourselves to the Apostle’s teachings, for fellowship, to break this bread together and for prayer. Thirdly, God has commanded us to eat this meal together in a certain manner. We’re commanded to examine ourselves, to not use this as a time for overindulgence, and to recognize the body of the Lord. 

There’s a lot of things about the Passover that can be studied in the Light of the identity of Jesus, and the salvation he offered to us. One thing that’s worthy of another lesson is the direct symbolism between Jesus and the Passover lamb. There’s a reason why the Passover lamb had to be unblemished. There’s a reason why we call Jesus the Lamb of God, and why his bones weren’t broken on the cross, even though the other two who were crucified with him had their legs broken. Most importantly, however, there’s a reason why [the church gathers to partake of the Lord’s Supper.] It’s to eat a meal, and think about the Last Time Jesus was here, and to also think about the time when we’ll see him in person!

October 3, 2016

Serving with Determination and Perseverance

This devotional came recommended to us, and is from Seeds of the Kingdom the devotional page of  Ellel Ministries*, an organization with branches on many continents.

Keep On Keeping On

by Denise Cross

Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not loss heartGalatians 6:9, NIV

Many years ago, when I was a young Christian, I was taught that believers should expect that doing God’s work would always be challenging and difficult. Indeed, this very fact of contention, they believed, proved that the work was a ‘good’ work.

However, later I discovered that other believers had a different expectation. They believed that, if something was a God-ordained plan, it would all fall into place with no struggles, because God Himself had gone ahead and prepared the way.

After a good few years of being involved in Ellel Ministries, it seems to me that neither of these extremes is true. There may be times when things go easily, and we feel the path ahead is easy, but there may also be battles, and discouragement along the way.

I can only think that Paul himself might have been feeling a little weary and discouraged when he wrote this letter to his friends in Galatia. They were obviously showing signs of being tired and discouraged, and needed to remember that perseverance and determination were what was needed. They had, perhaps, started with enthusiasm and excitement, but they’d hit difficulties of some kind, and their energy seemed to be running out. Paul is saying “Don’t give up. It will be worth it in the end. Keep your eye on the finishing line. What you’re seeking to achieve will come to fruition, and you’ll see the completion, and feel rewarded”.

I wonder if you’re feeling weary today, or losing heart about something you’re doing. Have you started something which you feel sure God’s laid on your heart, but it’s all taking longer, or proving much more difficult, than you first expected? Are you wondering when, or if ever, you’ll see the harvest of your efforts?

We may just need to ‘keep on keeping on’, because it’s just a matter of time until the ‘due season’ arrives, or maybe we need some rest to catch our breath, so we can re-focus on the goal, and push onward with renewed determination. Perhaps we need some extra support in prayer, or practical help, before we can totally reap the reward

If you’re feeling tired of doing good, you can ask God to refresh you, to refocus you and to give you a new determination to complete the work He’s put before you. Then you will, in the fullness of His perfect timing, see the end results of your efforts, and have the delight of hearing His ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.

Prayer: Father God, You’ve called me, and trusted me to do good works, Kingdom works for You, in ways You’ve planned for me. Thank You that, if, and when, I grow weary, I can turn to You for refreshing, re-inspiring and re-energizing to continue with those good works. Please speak Your encouragement to me today. I ask it in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.


* What does Ellel mean?

Ellel Ministries takes its name from its first building in England, Ellel Grange, which is near the village of Ellel, in Lancashire.

In old English, the name Ellel means ‘All hail’ which means ‘All glory to God’
In Hebrew, Ellel means ‘towards God’
In Mandarin Chinese, it means ‘love flowing outwards (愛流).

So Ellel could be said to mean ‘All hail, Jesus, All glory to Him’ and be expressed as ‘Love flowing outwards’ into a fallen and broken world, where we are helping people move ‘towards God’. It is all for His glory.

February 15, 2016

The Purpose of Blessing

 

Today another new author: Robin Patchen lives in Edmond, Oklahoma and is the author of three books and blogs at Quid Pro Quills. Following today’s post is a link to a second part. Or you can click the link below to read this at source, and then come back here to find the link to part two.

Why God Wants to Bless You

I was in church a few weeks ago when the Lord whispered to my soul words I never thought I’d hear from God. “I don’t want to bless you.”

I immediately tuned out the pastor. “What was that, Lord?” Surely I’d heard him wrong.

Another minute or two passed while I waited. Finally, probably when God had my full attention, he continued: “I don’t want to bless you . . . for your sake alone.”

Oh. Phew.

Wait, what?

Then he brought to my mind a passage of scripture I’d memorized many years before. Psalm 1:1-3:

Olive TreeBlessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

I’d first memorized those words when I was a young Christian. One of the reasons I loved it was that last line—“In all that he does, he prospers.” I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I thought of that in financial terms. Oh, I knew the verse didn’t necessarily promise me riches, but I figured my chances were much better to get rich if I followed God, and with all our financial woes at the time, prosperity sounded pretty good.

Through the years, I came to understand that the tree flourished because of its deep roots—a strong connection to God. It flourished because the river flowed near it—like the living waters of Christ that fill us and bless us. So the prosperity spoken of in verse 3 has everything to do with the blessings of being connected to Christ.

That Sunday in church, the Lord spoke again to my heart. “What does the tree do?” he asked.

I closed my eyes and imagined a tree like the Psalmist might’ve been looking at, one standing in the arid Israeli soil, maybe even a tree in an oasis in the desert. I had to dig pretty deep to some old science lessons, but I came up with a list.

A tree:

*Provides shade
*Acts as a wind barrier
*Provides shelter in a storm
*Absorbs rain that would otherwise runoff or evaporate
*Converts carbon dioxide to oxygen
*Becomes a home for birds, animals, and insects
*Provides fruit, which becomes food, then seeds to reproduce itself

There was more, though. Picture that tree in the midst of a desert, standing high above the sand. It shows people where the water is. A tree would be a welcome sight to a weary, thirsty traveler.

So if I live my life the way I should (see verse 1) and delight myself in God’s word (verse 2) he will make me like this tree. And what does this flourishing tree do?

*It provides shade from the world—protection from penetrating rays of judgment.
*It acts as a barrier as the enemy hurls his accusations like a strong wind.
*It provides shelter from the many storms of life.
*It absorbs nourishment, so others can grow nearby.
*It illustrates how God can convert the ugly output of our lives into blessing.
*It offers a shelter to anyone who seeks it.
*It feeds the hungry and, through its work, reproduces itself.
*It acts as a beacon, drawing weary travelers to the life-giving water of Jesus Christ.

And think about this: which of those blessings benefit the tree? None of them. God makes that tree flourish to provide his living creatures with what they need. In the same way, God blesses us so that we can love the souls he puts in our lives. He makes us to stand tall, so more of his weary children will find their way home.

God doesn’t want to bless you for your sake alone. He wants to bless the world through you. Soak in God’s truth, my friends. There are travelers seeking the living water, and you may be the only tree in their desert.


continue reading the follow-up article A Planting of the Lord

December 23, 2015

When Christmas Goes Off the Rails

•••by Clarke Dixon

Christmas always seems so picture perfect in the cards we give and receive, yet Christmas can go off the rails so quickly becoming more like Christmess. What are we to do when it seems the devil has his horrid hands in our lives during this most wonderful time of the year? Perhaps your Christmas is not shaping up to be the picture perfect scene worthy of a Christmas card.

Christmas is found in the book of Revelation and it has something to teach us about Christmas in the midst of a mess:

1 A great portent appeared in heaven:a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. 3 Then another portent appeared in heaven:a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days (Revelation 12:1-6 emphasis mine)

Granted it is only one verse, but there it is, the birth of Jesus, Christmas in Revelation. Did you notice anything about this Christmas? Looking at the verses before and after, this first Christmas is a messy one, with the evil one lurking and looking to destroy.

It will help us to consider what is happening in these verses and we can begin by considering the identity of the woman about to give birth. Notice that within a few verses we have a) a woman, b) agony in childbirth, and c) a serpent. Do you remember the last time we found these three things together in scripture? Yes, in Genesis 3 at the Fall. The Serpent tempts Eve and comes under a curse including this prophecy:

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel (Genesis 3:15)

Eve succumbs to the temptation and also is cursed:

16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, . . .” (Genesis 3:16)

What we have in Genesis 12:1-4 is the history of the world from Eve great with potential to Mary great with child. In fact in chapter 12 of Revelation we have a snapshot of the history of the world from Eve to the situation today with a break to consider the victory of Jesus in verses 7-12. But how would this history lesson help the original readers of the book of Revelation who were facing great persecution in their day? And how can this history lesson help us today? It helped them, and helps us now, by taking us out from our troubles to see the big picture. And in looking at the big picture there are certain things we can learn:

First, the devil and his schemes are real, so expect a mess. According to Revelation 12 we should expect evil to be alive and well and we should expect to suffer the effects:

But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, . . . . Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:12,17)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? Do not be surprised, this is normal in a Fallen world.

Second, the devil’s nasty work is temporary. Thanks to the baby mentioned in verse 5, the evil one’s days are numbered. He has a “best before date,” or in this case a “worst before date”:

But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short. (Revelation 12:12 emphasis mine)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? This too shall pass.

Third, the devil’s schemes cannot ruin the purposes and plans of God. In Revelation 12 we see an allusion to Herod’s plan to destroy the infant Jesus. We know that did not happen and the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus all happened according to plan. Additionally, many verses in chapter 12 point to God’s protection of His people:

. . . and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished (Revelation 12:6) . . .the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished (Revelation 12:14) . . . the earth came to the help of the woman (Revelation 12:16). . .

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? God has a plan. We ought not assume His plan does not include our own death at some point. God’s plans go way bigger than that.

Fourth, the devil is already defeated. The devil is a deceiver, but he is also known in the Bible as an accuser. Indeed this is what the very term Satan means. Satan is spoken of in the Old Testament as standing in the court of God, ready to accuse. We might think of the first chapter of Job where Satan accuses Job of loving God only because life was good. Satan is portrayed as the one who can stand before God and say “look at this guy, or look at that woman, they are deserving of destruction.” And Satan could stand before God and say of you and I, “look what they did, look how undeserving they are.” And we give him plenty to talk about don’t we? Except he cannot do that, for he is not there. He has been thrown down:

7 And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,

“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God. (Revelation 12:7-10)

Far from winning a hearing in the presence of God, Satan has been conquered. While the passage speaks of the angel Michael leading the fight, it is really speaking about Jesus and trust in Him:

11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. (Revelation 12:11)

Keeping all this in mind let us think of the Apostle Paul’s words:

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? There is good news of great joy, for God has made possible a rescue from the greatest misery possible, eternal separation from God. In Jesus we have eternal life ahead with no dragons.

When the Christmas train goes off the rails, when it seems Satan has his evil hands all over your life, look at the big picture and remember that the final destination is Christ and His arms of love. Need a hug this Christmas? You are already in His embrace.

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

 

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