Christianity 201

December 3, 2022

When God Sifts Your Resources

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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“Be strong and courageous! Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria or his mighty army, for there is a power far greater on our side! He may have a great army, but they are merely men. We have the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles for us!” Hezekiah’s words greatly encouraged the people.” – 2 Chronicles 32:7-8 NLT

So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. – Zechariah 4:6 NIV

A year ago we introduced you to Joey Rudder who is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and occasionally shares a devotional blog post, like the one today, at JoeyRudder.com. Click the title below to read this where it first appeared.

A Miraculous Rescue

“The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’ So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained. But the Lord said to Gideon, ‘There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there.’ The Lord said to Gideon, ‘With the three hundred men that lapped I WILL SAVE YOU and give the Midianites into your hands.’”

Judges 7:2-4b, 7a NIV, emphasis my own.

God ultimately sifted Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300 men, and He brought them victory when it seemed impossible.

Sometimes God will sift your resources, finances, and solutions.

Your bank account gets so low you can’t use your debit card to get gas.

All the treatments the doctors recommended have failed you.

Everything you do to “fix” your situation backfires.

When things get so bad, and victory seems impossible, or when you’re out of answers and resources and nearly out of hope, Almighty God can step in and do what only HE can do – and He will receive ALL the glory.

When the miraculous happens, you can’t credit it to your salary, the medical experts, or your intelligence.

You’ll know the victory is from God and God alone.

Doubt will never tarnish it. The enemy won’t be able to hide it under a pile of lies. And the faithless will be silenced when it happens – even if they try to speak, their words will have no credibility as you bask in the glow of God’s unfailing love and faithful provision.

Of course, God can use the resources He’s provided to rescue you. He can increase your finances and wisdom. He can use doctors to bring about healing. But He jealously longs for you to know it’s HIS doing.

God will not share His glory with another.

Oh, precious soul. If God has sifted your resources and you’re holding onto mere fragments of what you once thought could save you, hit your knees and acknowledge that this is beyond you. Cry out to God, admit that you need Him and His miraculous rescue, and BELIEVE He still performs miracles today.

Because He does. ❤️

 

October 24, 2022

Prayer: Erring on the Side of Audacious Expectations

John 14 : 14 (NIV)  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 16 : 23 (NIV) In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

John 16: 24 (NIV) Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

John 16: 23-24 (The Message) “This is what I want you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I’ve revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he’ll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks!

It can be hard to find the balance. On the continuum between, at one end, half-hearted prayer that is more doubt than faith, and the other end, believing that as your day began God was like a genie ready to grant you your daily three wishes.

We are commanded to go to God with our needs — our prayer petitions — and leave them before him. But what are our expectations of what happens next?

There are many people who believe that God’s intervention in the affairs of humankind are an extreme rarity, if he intervenes at all. The world is simply what it is, and that is the answer to the question, “If God… why all the suffering in the world?” We live in a fallen world where there is bound to pain and sorrow; flood, fire and famine; doom, defeat and despair. (That wasn’t a cheery sentence; but it was rather alliterative.)

There are other people who believe that God certainly hears our prayer requests and that this is the end in itself: That God wants to be in communication (or fellowship) with us. This is the idea that just as a father behaves towards his children, God wants us to tell us when and where it hurts. He wants each situation to bring us back to him. He wants us to come to him when we are ‘burdened and heavy-laden.’ But it’s about keeping the channel of communication open, ‘without ceasing.’

Still others believe that while God’s intervention is rarity, miracles do exist; they just don’t happen every day. We’re talking about genuine miracles here, not things contrived for the glare of the television lights or the crowd in the arena. So God is indeed a miracle working God, it’s not (as with the first group) a complete rarity, but just don’t get your hopes up.

Further up the ‘hope’ ladder are those who would say, ‘God is positively disposed and favorably inclined to give us what we ask.’ Why this doesn’t happen may be related to the complexities of other situations we can’t see, or a lesson that we need to learn before the answer comes. But absent those factors, God’s default position would be to give us what we come to him asking. I wrote about that this time last year:

A former pastor of ours used the phrase, “God is positively disposed and favorably inclined” to hear and answer our prayers. Many are praying right now for the world to be set right (or as N.T. Wright phrases it, “set to rights.”) It might appear that God is not answering. I believe that’s why we’re told to be tenacious about our praying. Keep on asking. Keep on seeking. Keep on knocking. (Matthew 7:7 even spells out the acronym ASK!) But it doesn’t say that if we ask enough times we’ll get a ‘yes.’  Even as many are praying, we would appear to be living in what a songwriter called, “the mystery of unanswered prayer.”

And there are those who believe that God is constantly orchestrating more details in the lives of his people than anything we can possibly imagine; that there are constantly situations where God is even giving us ‘answers to requests we haven’t made;’ or that life consists of many seen and unseen coincidences, defined as, “Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.”  This view ranges — depending on the person — from the dramatic holding on to the hope of healing even when doctors say the situation is incurable; to the trivial belief of some that God is truly willing to intervene in life on Planet Earth so that you will get a parking space next to the big box store entrance.

…Parking spaces notwithstanding, I fall into the latter camp. I have to pray believing that my prayer is not only keeping the lines of communication open, not only making a difference in me, but making a difference also in the situation. Regardless of statistical odds or past prayer performance, I have to go to him with an ultimate faith that he is willing and able to execute deliverance from whatever situation is pressing in. This is the faith of children; what it means to ‘come as a child,’ and it’s a faith that is not double-minded, but believes without doubt (See James 1:8 and 1:6 and Mark 11:23) and without wrong motivation (see James 4:3).

(Deliverance might be a better way of defining the situation. If you are praying for money for a specific need you are praying for a deliverance from poverty with respect to that financial issue!)

…The greatest danger I see is in not asking at all. Not coming to God to bear our souls and cry out for help or mercy because the petitions we brought before him last month were not answered in the affirmative. I believe God will respect our tenacity in prayer; our willingness to go to him even in the absence (so far) of the answers we sought before.

He longs to see faith that is lived out in a concrete assurance of things not apparent (Hebrews 11:1).

Right now, we hear a lot about deconstruction or to say it slightly different, people deconstructing their faith. I think some of this has to do with is termed “the mystery of unanswered prayer.” (We wrote about that here in this 2020 devotional.)

Some of this may have to do with the ‘big one’ that God didn’t answer. Maybe the request was indeed to audacious, or our motives were wrong, or God clearly had another plan and granting the request would have been to our peril.

But I also think we need to consider what our general expectations are when we pray. Where do we fit in with respect to the above five categories of what we think God can do, is doing, or will do?

August 28, 2022

A Familiar Psalm as Poetry; As Drama

Four years ago 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.’”

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.

August 27, 2022

Either Way, It Was a Miracle

NIV.Luke.9.16 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people.

Almost two weeks ago we wrote about Jesus feeding the 5,000 and noted that that miracle is the only one in all four gospels? It’s in Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, and John 6.

Perhaps foreshadowing today’s post, we quoted John’s gospel:

John 6:14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

but nowhere else is there narrative of the multiplying of the loaves and fish expressly stated. Rather, it’s implied in the statement that everyone was fed and satisfied. We know that 12 baskets were left over. Did the baskets multiply, too? I would love to have had a front row seat on watching that multiplication take place. (Or maybe it would be better to have a back row seat!)

Which brings us to…

A lot of people are talking about a forthcoming title on the problem of homelessness; saying that this is the definitive book on the subject. I’d love to review the book on my other blog, or run an excerpt from it here, but the publisher doesn’t offer us either option. The book is Grace Can Lead us Home by Kevin Nye. I decided to see if Kevin had a website, and he does, and thought I would mention the book anyway, and then offer you an example of his writing from two years ago. You can read this where it first appeared by clicking the title which immediately follows. And look for the book when it comes out next month from Herald Press.

Why Worry About the Loaves and Fish

When I was younger, I remember my grandma telling me about the worst sermon she ever heard. It was on this passage, and the preacher had told the congregation that the miracle of this story is not Jesus multiplying the bread and fish, but that everyone actually had bread and fish but didn’t want to share it. So when the disciples set out the little that they had, everyone who was there chose to share what they had with one another, and the multiplication simply happened because there was already enough food, and they decided to share it in common. My grandma was really upset by this interpretation, because she said it diminished the miracle. In that version, Jesus wasn’t necessary, there was no real act of God, just a humanist sharing. I always remembered that because I was on my grandma’s side; how dare that pastor try to tell my grandma that Jesus didn’t have the power to make more food!

Fast forward a few years, and now I’m in Bible school and seminary and I’m beginning to read the Bible in new ways. I start to learn that it’s okay to not read every passage literally – in fact, it’s impossible to do that. Some books and passages have to be read the way they were meant to be read, not the way I want to read them, by picking up the Bible at a random page and projecting everything I want and believe onto what I’m reading. I think back to this story and passage and begin to wonder, maybe that pastor was right. The passage never says that the bread and fish multiplied, that the fish started separating into two fish and then four and then 16 until there was enough. Like any student who’s first learning something that challenges their earlier beliefs, I fell fully into it. It’s amazing that the historical Jesus inspired a crowd to share what they have. Is it a miracle? Who could explain that?

Years later, I find myself laughing at both extremes. My grandma was right; this was a miracle. The text wants us to know that. 5,000 men, only 5 loaves and 2 fish, and 12 baskets leftover? Everyone was fed? This is a miracle. Did the loaves separate? Did the crowd add some of their own food to the communal pile? I don’t know. Even if they did, is that less of a miracle? Do we not believe that every good gift comes from God? Maybe God multiplied their bread the day before, for them all to bring with them? Maybe God slowly and methodically blessed those in the crowd to have more than enough to bring to the gathering that day. Maybe it was both. Maybe it was neither. But everybody had enough, because of the blessing of Christ. When God blesses, there is enough.

A beautiful poem by Mary Oliver really helped me unlock this passage. Sometimes where Bible  scholars and historians and scientists fail, poets help us read scripture; so much of it, after all, was written by poets. Mary Oliver writes a poem called Logos, and it says this:

Why worry about the loaves and fishes? 
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
and the felt ferocity of that love
and the felt necessity of that love,
the fish explode into many.
Imagine him, speaking,
and don’t worry about what is reality,

or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it is all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
spoken with love.

Accept the miracle = it was all things, plain, mysterious. I understand why she calls the poem “logos,” because this intermingling of reality and mystery is most understood in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the word of God made flesh, fully God and fully human. Try formulating a thesis on that one. And so it is no surprise that this divine and yet fully historical, real and mystical Christ would deliver a miracle that feeds a crowd literally, and feeds us today spirituality. When God blesses, there is enough. There is more than enough.

There are leftovers. I’m reminded of when Jesus turns water into wine. There’s an extra detail that the wine Jesus made was better than the wine they had already, even though they didn’t need that. When God blesses, there is more than enough.

We can’t separate this miracle from the miracle in the Exodus desert. When the Israelites were stranded in the wilderness, God gave them enough to eat. They were not allowed to take more than they needed, or it would spoil and make them sick. God was blessing, and there was enough; and God was also teaching that to take more than you need is to make a community sick. To take more than you need, even when there is more than enough, is to violate the generosity of God. Again, we get this great detail in Exodus that the manna tasted like wafers made with honey. They didn’t need to be sweet in order to sustain their bodies, but you see the extra blessing of God in the sweetness of provision. When God blesses, there is more than enough – not just enough to sustain, but enough to bring joy. When God blesses, there is abundance.

And yet, we live in a world where many go hungry. Many do not have what they need. There are some who do not have enough bread to eat. There are many who I see every day who don’t make enough money to live, or to have shelter. We are told there is a shortage of affordable housing. We live in a world, even in a country, where there does not seem to be enough to go around. Is this passage wrong? Is God wrong? When God blesses, there is more than enough to go around, right? So why does it seem there is not enough to go around?

Where is the missing abundance? I think we all know the answer to that. There is, of course, enough. But like a game of telephone, it doesn’t seem to make it all the way around. 1/3 of the food we purchase in America is thrown out. The wealth gap between the rich and the poor is the worst it’s ever been in America, and is among the worst in the whole world. Units and rooms in houses and hotels and apartment buildings sit empty every night, while 50,000 people live on the streets or in their cars.

It is true that God has richly blessed America. Any time there is enough, any time there is an abundance, it is a miracle, just like my grandma said. But if there is more than enough, and yet all do not eat, or all are not filled, then we have not done what God has blessed us for. We have taken more than our daily bread. We have taken someone else’s bread. If there is more than enough, and not everyone is filled, we have cut others off from God’s blessing and hoarded it for ourselves.

When God blesses, there is more than enough. For some of us today, we are in search of enough, and the Gospel offers us comfort. It offers a mystery and a miracle, that the bread and fish will multiply. For those of us who have had our daily bread, or maybe a little more, the text beckons us with a challenge. Will we add what we have to the gathering? Will we accept that if God has multiplied our blessings, it is so there will be more than enough for everyone? As we move to the table and accept the bread and the cup, notice that for whoever you are, and however much you have, and however much good or wrong you have done, the same amount of Christ is offered to you, and it is more than enough.


Again, today’s article by Kevin Nye wasn’t, as far as we know, a book excerpt, but I want to mention the book again below because I think it’s an important publication.

July 10, 2022

This Devotional is Going to be Different

Several years ago, I became quite captivated by the writing of the late Rob Lacey, who took the Bible and re-told it in the language of inner-city youth in Manchester, and London. The result was two books, The Street Bible and The Liberator, respectively a Bible overview, and a summary of the synoptic gospels. (We ran excerpts from these here and here.)

Nobody would question the need to translate the Bible into foreign languages, but sometimes variants of English such as a street language version written for British youth, or The Kiwi Bible written similarly for the New Zealand market strike some conservative Christians as disrespectful. That’s unfortunate. We find that most of the New Testament were actually written Koine Greek, which was the language of the marketplace, or the language of the street.

All that to say, I was thinking about this when today I came across the blog  KarlisAnn.com. The devotional I chose is mostly about Elisha, but there are two other blog posts linked in the opening paragraph and I considered those as well.  Today’s thoughts are based on 2 Kings 4. Clicking the title which appears next will take you to where this first appeared, and if you know someone who might appreciate this, copy the link below or the blog’s link above and send it to them.

It Cost Her Something

I believe when I was writing Two Things Can Be True, and maybe even It’s Gonna Cost You Something, I thought about the person I’m going to discuss. Cuz I definitely though about her today.

It’s good ol Elisha, a woman, and her son again. It’s in one of the Kings. 2 I believe. Happy hunting. Go verify my words.

She was married to a man who was a prophet affiliated with Elisha. She sent word that her husband was dead. She made sure she name checked. She called her husband Elisha’s servant.

She told him her husband’s creditors were coming and going to take her sons as slaves.

E was like what can I do to help? Watchu got in yo house girl?

Sis was like “I ain’t got nothing but a small pot of olive oil.” Ooooh I can’t wait to get where I’m going.

E was like “aight bet. Go to your neighbors and get all the vessels (pots) you can. Don’t skimp. Get a bunch of them thangs. Go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into them and set them aside as they get full.

I’m gonna go somewhere else I wasn’t going. When he prayed over the boy I talked about in Two Things Can Be True, he went in and shut the door.

He gave her instructions that included going in and shutting the door.

When Jesus got to the house of Jairus where his daughter lay dead, he put the people out and shut the door.

When Jesus was teaching the disciples about doing stuff for or with God (go find it chiiii) He told them to do it in secret and their Father would reward them openly.

Sometimes we got to go through the process alone and quietly. This is a word for me!

David was made king in the pasture. Where he was before and after he was anointed as the next king. I am probably repeating myself but oh well.

Joseph was made second in command of Egypt after being sold, ending up in Potiphar’s house as he serving in that position, and then falsely accused and imprisoned.

We need to get behind that door and let God make us into who He showed us we would be. Move in silence. And when it’s time, let Him put us on display in a place nobody can take because nobody put us there but Him.

So, sis is filling pots left and right. Old school assembly line I’m imagining. She ends up asking her sons for another pot. They’re like “dis it moms. Dats alluem (all of them).”

Sis is like “aight. Aye yo E. I filled the pots like you said. Now what?”

E tells her to sell the oil and pay the creditors.

Bruh. I just got something else. Okay.

Before Jesus died, Mary broke open her alabaster box filled with what? Oil. She anointed Jesus for His burial.

Before He was arrested, Jesus sat in the Garden of Gethsemane sweating blood and asking not to have to go to the cross if it was possible. If you read another blog you know where He was: on Mt. Olivet/Mt. of Olives surrounded by what it takes to make oil. As Christ. Which means the Anointed One.

My blogging, author person reminded me that King David was anointed three times. Maybe one for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Holy Spirit who are all one identified by the name of Jesus who is the King on the throne.

All this lady had was the symbol of anointing. That symbol multiplied and provided for her. This brings to mind the Scripture that says but my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory BY CHRIST Jesus.

Sometimes, all we have is the anointing and the Anointed One. Those are the best times. Cuz He shows us who He is. And we have enough because He is all, and everything, that we need.

Do what it takes to be anointed. It ain’t easy bein breezy. But it’s worth it.

Go be great. Someone is counting on you.

November 8, 2021

When You’re Running Out of Fuel

Today a search for something completely unrelated to what follows took us to At Water’s Edge a blog about “Finding peace, hope and contentment” written by North Carolina book author, devotional blogger and pastor Betsy Haas. After reading this, there’s a link to another article by her which was I think you will also appreciate. As usual, we urge you to not read this here, but click the header which follows.

Running on Empty

The classic rock song, ”Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne, was written as a result of his daily grind and daily commute to a music studio when he was recording his hit album The Pretender. According to an interview he gave to Rolling Stone magazine, he lived close enough to the studio that he never bothered to fill up his tank with gas. But then there were those days when that caught up with him, leaving him running on empty AND running behind:

Everyone I know, everywhere I go
People need some reason to believe
I don’t know about anyone, but me
If it takes all night, that’ll be all right
If I can get you to smile before I leave

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don’t know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
Look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes, I see them running too

Running on (running on empty)
Running on (running blind)
Running on (running into the sun)
But I’m running behind

We’ve all been there. If we don’t stop long enough to fill up our emotional and spiritual tanks, we can suddenly hit a wall and realize we’ve run out of ”gas.” This happens when caregiving, working late, the loss of a loved one, parenting, helping a friend through an emotional crisis, raising teenagers, etc. gets overwhelming and we don’t allow for enough rest and refill.

If that is you today, take a look at this wonderful story from the Old Testament about a widow who was running on empty in every sense of the word:

1 Kings 7 (Contemporary English Version)

The Lord told Elijah, “Go to the town of Zarephath in Sidon and live there. I’ve told a widow in that town to give you food.”

10 When Elijah came near the town gate of Zarephath, he saw a widow gathering sticks for a fire. “Would you please bring me a cup of water?” he asked. 11 As she left to get it, he asked, “Would you also please bring me a piece of bread?”

12 The widow answered, “In the name of the living Lord your God, I swear that I don’t have any bread. All I have is a handful of flour and a little olive oil. I’m on my way home now with these few sticks to cook what I have for my son and me. After that, we will starve to death.”

13 Elijah said, “Everything will be fine. Do what you said. Go home and fix something for you and your son. But first, please make a small piece of bread and bring it to me. 14 The Lord God of Israel has promised that your jar of flour won’t run out and your bottle of oil won’t dry up before he sends rain for the crops.”

15 The widow went home and did exactly what Elijah had told her. She and Elijah and her family had enough food for a long time. 16 The Lord kept the promise that his prophet Elijah had made, and she did not run out of flour or oil.

This story comes to us today as a reminder of God’s provision. There is one source where we can go to get everything refilled … our personal resources, our family’s needs, the things lacking in our communities, and especially our spiritual emptiness.

The problem is that we try to fill ourselves with things that only end up emptying us farther: drugs, alcohol, inappropriate relationships, over-eating, over-spending, temporary distractions … useless nonsense that the secular world offers in the absence of a meaningful relationship with God.

But we know better.

If you are running on empty today, STOP RUNNING. Sit in the silence of your room and wait on the Lord. Rest in his grace, rest in his POWER, and fill yourself with his presence. Ask God to fill up your cup, and fill it up to overflowing.

The Lord keeps his promises! You can never run out of his grace.


Second Helping: I encourage you to read more by this author. Check out Beautiful Things.


(unrelated) – Spiritual Gifts: Recently I compiled an email containing some of the various approaches writers here have taken to the topic of Spiritual Gifts; an index of twenty links in total. Use the submissions and contact page if you’re interested in receiving it, but be sure to check your mail filters as emails containing 20 links don’t usually get through!

September 29, 2020

The Mystery of Unanswered Prayer

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.” – John 14:1

Every once in awhile, my mother speaks to me from the grave.

Before you change channels, let me explain.

In her later years — and even some not so later ones — she had a habit of writing fragments of hymn lyrics on scraps of paper. Her thing wasn’t Amazing Grace or How Great Thou Art, but those older, richer hymns that nobody bothers with anymore unless Chris Tomlin ‘discovers’ them.

The green piece of scrap paper read,

Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

It’s a line from “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart” (full lyrics below) and it somewhat captures one of the things I’ve been wrestling with since the pandemic began. I’m convinced that what keeps people from crossing the line of faith, and what causes others to wander from the fold, is not the allegiance of Evangelicals with a particular political party, the injustice of police interactions with people of color, or the tornadoes, floods and brush fires.

I think it’s more personal. I think it’s unanswered prayer. The time they reached out to God and God didn’t appear to come through for them in the desired time-frame. (Click the date-links in each to read in full.)

It’s been a recurring theme here at C201.

In December, 2011, we quoted from Steven Furtick’s book, Sun Stand Still:

…I’ve seen couples who had been labeled infertile give birth to healthy boys and girls. I’ve seen people lose their job, pray, and quickly land a new job that paid twice as much and required a fraction of the travel as the last job.

Sometimes—a lot of times—it goes that way. Faith works. Prayers produce. Praise God. There’s nothing better.

But sometimes—a lot of times, honestly—it goes the other way. Sometimes the sun doesn’t stand still. Sometimes the sun goes down.

Sometimes you pray your best, most honest, heartfelt prayers—and there is no answer. Or the answer is no. Sometimes, even though your motives are pure, your desire is good, and your need is urgent, the breakthrough doesn’t come. The turnaround moment doesn’t occur. The cancer spreads. The finances get tighter. The marriage feels more lonely. The kids grow more distant…

Also in December, 2011, we borrowed from Jon Swanson:

Jairus had a dying daughter. He went to Jesus. Jesus started coming to his house. Jesus was distracted by a different miracle. And then someone says, “never mind, she’s dead. Leave him alone.”

Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; just believe and she will be healed.” The next thing we read is that Jesus arrives at the house.

Between those sentences, between “she will be healed” and Jesus arriving was a very long walk for Jairus.

…“Just believe” was all that Jesus told Jarius to do. We often turn that into some kind of measure, and we think that if we believe enough amazing things will happen. If they don’t happen, it’s our fault, because we didn’t believe enough. In this case, believing was simple. It just meant walking with Jesus all the way home…

…Jairus walked home with Jesus, ignoring the apparent certainty of her death.

Not every child is raised. But every promise is kept.

In January, 2012, our guest author was Robert Moon:

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

There are many things that hinder answered prayer, one of which is praying prayers we shouldn’t pray. Some prayers involve other people, and we forget that GOD deals with each of us individually, and it is not our place to control other people. There are myriads of reasons for seemingly unanswered prayer, and one of the most difficult one is time, waiting until the time is right in GOD’S eyes and not ours.

It is good to have a scripture in mind with a promise of answered prayer before I pray, and yet the answer is not always apparent. When this happens I never allow this to affect my relationship with the Father for faith in HIM comes far ahead of faith for things. Learn this secret when praying whether successful or not, allow your faith to grow exceedingly in GOD for this is what James 1:3 was talking about “You know that such testing of your faith produces endurance” and that is truly important.

I have heard of mothers who prayed for their children for many years and some have died before their prayer was answered. It would have seemed to have been an ineffective prayer effort but in reality it was victory.

In March, 2012, some powerful thoughts from an anonymous writer:

“I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13, NKJV)

We all go through disappointments, setbacks and things that we don’t understand. Maybe you prayed for a loved one, but they didn’t get well. Or maybe you worked hard for a promotion, but you didn’t get it. You stood in faith for a relationship, but it didn’t work out. One of the best things you can do is release it. Let it go. Don’t dwell on it anymore. If you go around wondering why things didn’t work out, all that’s going to do is lead to bitterness, resentment and self-pity. Before long, you’ll be blaming others, blaming yourself, or even God. You may not have understood what happened. It may not have been fair. But when you release it, it’s an act of your faith. You’re saying, “God, I trust You. I know You’re in control. And even though it didn’t work out my way, You said, ‘All things are going to work together for my good.’ So I believe You still have something good in my future.”

Finally (for today) from August, 2012 from Kevin White:

…God can seem alien to us at times, even cruel. His understanding exceeds our own far more than a human father’s exceeds that of the youngest child. His ways are infinitely more unsearchable than that of a dad who holds his kid down to receive a shot. Indeed, we would know hardly a thing about God unless he revealed it to us.

So sometimes, it is hard to see the goodness in what Cowper described as “a frowning Providence.” And yet, a key part of God’s self-revelation is that he watches his people, neither slumbering nor sleeping. Like a nesting hen, sheltering the hatchlings. He is a loving Father who gives good gifts. And yet the world is full of snakes.

This difficulty is made worse when we just don’t understand what is happening. When friends and family suffer. When natural goods, rightly desired, are placed out of reach. When we see that one of the greatest impediments to our flourishing is staring at us in the mirror. It is hard to see how a loving Father can be watching over all of that.

Instead, it is easy to covet, easy to resent. It is easy to say that it is all wrong, and should not be happening. Not in the sense of, “it is a fallen world and I long for paradise,” but in the sense of “what kind of God could allow this?” Or to wonder if our concerns are too small for God to notice. For the Christian, that attitude is doubly false, since Jesus Christ himself, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” says that God pays mind even to the fall of a sparrow.

And yet, there is an odd thing about invoking God’s providence in difficult times. It is a classic piece of bad comforting to simply tell someone, “God is in control.” Even so, recognizing, resting in, and/or wrestling with God’s control over circumstances can be a powerful form of reassurance. Why the disconnect?

I think it is because the trite statement is a shortcut. In some ways, it merely restates part of the presenting problem. How is this bread and not a stone? Too easily, it skips all the messy business of “rejoice with those who are rejoicing, mourn with those who are mourning.” It skips straight to the pithy takeaway and moves on.

Part of the answer is that we live in a sinful and fallen world. The restoration of all things is not here yet. All accounts will be settled, but we have at best a foretaste of that reality. Some of our suffering comes from our own bad decisions, or from our own weakness and limitation. And much more comes with living in a world that is systemically corrupted and distorted by sin and the curse that it brought…


Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find!

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heav’n-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

August 6, 2020

More than Our Daily Bread

by Clarke Dixon

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

Matthew 6:11 (NRSV)

Do we really need to pray for daily bread when so many of us have so much in our cupboards, fridges and freezers? It turns out that we do. Jesus is not just teaching us to pray for bread. In addition to praying for the necessities of life there are at least four other things we are praying for when we pray “give us this day our daily bread.” What are they?

Why pray for today’s bread when we have enough for the week ahead? Let us remember that not everyone is so fortunate. Let us also remember that in Biblical times, workers were often paid each day. In ancient times many people were just one day away from being without. Let us also remember a lesson God’s people learned in the wilderness following the exodus out of Egypt:

. . . in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’ ” The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.”

Exodus 16:13-19 (NRSV)

God provided daily “bread” to his people in the form of manna while they were in the wilderness. Apart from special instructions to allow for Sabbath each week, there were strict instructions to only gather enough for each day. Why? God would provide what was needed for the next day on the next day. It was a lesson in trust. When we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we are not just praying for food, we are praying for growth in trust.

If you are like me, you thank the Lord at the beginning of each meal, but not before a snack. Somehow saying grace before a snack seems a bit odd to me. I love Dairy Queen Blizzards, especially the Skor ones, especially the large ones, especially the ones with extra Skor bits added. The average adult needs 2000 calories a day. A large Skor Blizzard has 1150 calories before adding the extra bits. If we are being honest, we might be consuming more calories between meals than during meals! We thank the Lord at mealtimes for providing the food we need. Perhaps there is something unnatural about thanking the Lord for having too much to eat! This idea is reflected in a Proverb:

. . .give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that I need,
or I shall be full, and deny you,
and say, “Who is the Lord?”

Proverbs 30:8-9 (NRSV)

By teaching us to pray for daily bread, Jesus is not just teaching us to pray for enough, but also for not too much! When we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we are not just praying for food, we are praying for growth in contentment. 

As mentioned, a large Dairy Queen Skor Blizzard has 1150 calories. When we eat one, we are potentially consuming more calories in one snack than some people do in a week. Lack of food has been a problem throughout history. Actually, lack of food is not the problem. The problem is with uneven distribution of food. Where you and I can go to Dairy Queen for an unnecessary treat then chase it down with water, others do not even have access to the water.

Have you noticed that Jesus did not tell us to pray “give me this day my daily bread?”, but “give us this day our daily bread.” Provision is a community thing. It is not just about me being able to eat, it is about my family, my people, ultimately all people being provided for. Provision for everyone without discrimination is baked right into the Old Testament law:

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.

Deuteronomy 24:19-21 (NRSV)

Following the law might hurt the financial bottom-line of the land owner, but it made life possible for many others.

There is a striking lyric in a U2 song called “Crumbs From Your Table”: ”Where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die.” Sadly, for many it does, because where you lives affects your access to food, water, health care, rights and freedoms, work, pensions, education and more.

When we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we are not just praying for food, we are praying for growth in our practical love for everyone.

When we pray for daily bread, it is not really about bread, and bread only. The bread represents all that is necessary for life. I cannot help but think about the Lord’s Table when Jesus,

on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

1 Corinthians 11:23-24 (NRSV)

God has provided everything we need for life. God has also provided everything we need for eternal life. When we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we are are not just praying for food, we are praying for grace. God has answered that prayer through Jesus.

Jesus said “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” 

John 6:35 (NRSV)


Clarke Dixon @clarkdixon is a pastor in south-central Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can also watch the reflection alone here.

May 17, 2020

God: “Do you doubt Me? Just watch—you’ll see!”

This is our first time with Steve at the blog Journey in the Word. This is part of Israel’s “Manna” saga some of you might not remember. As I was posting this, I realized there was a song written about this passage by Michael Blanchard, originally recorded by Noel Paul Stookey, but then (below) found a more recent recording of it.

As always, please support the various writers we borrow from by reading their material at their sites. Click the header which follows.

Give me the Bread, Jesus!

“Normal”, “the way it was”, so many want it “the way it used to be!” I don’t blame people for that desire, so many things that I would like to be opened up, during this COVID-19 time of life. I MISS spending time with people in person. Miss our church and small group, with be physically in the same location. Technology, and zooming is great, but not the same. I can’t forget that no matter what happens, God is still with me, nothing can be more important.

Reading in Numbers 11 this morning, it was not one of the Israelite’s best days. Crying, whining, griping, weeping, were some of the words used in different translations. Why, they wanted things back to “normal”, “the way it was”, “the way it used to be,” back in Egypt, back in bondage as slaves. Wilderness life was no “piece of cake” (Well, actually they were making “cakes” out of manna, the “bread” from heaven.), they didn’t like the uncertainty of things, didn’t like not having fish, cucumbers, melons,……. They weren’t fans of needing to depend on God who didn’t work on the same time frame and agenda that they were accustomed to. Needless to say, but more than a few died that day, and then they got more quail meat than they bargained for. Read Numbers 11 for the full account.

We didn’t see the best of Moses that day, either. To the LORD, he says, “Why are you so hard on me? I am your devoted servant. Why don’t You look on me with affection?”

I don’t want to write down all the whining, but right before God replied to him he said this, “If You care about me at all, put me out of my misery so I do not have to live out this distress.” – The Voice

The LORD goes on to provide help for Moses with 70 other leaders, and then tells Moses how he is going to feed the people with meat. Yes, Moses is no different than many of us, yes, he questions how God can feed that many people. No lightning didn’t strike His servant, Moses. The Eternal One says, “Do you doubt Me? Do you question My power, that I can do what I’ve said? Just watch—you’ll see what will happen.” – The Voice

I love how some other versions put what God said, “Is the arm of the LORD too short?” The obvious answer is, NO!

Leaders had the Spirit laid on them, they prophesied, and then the quail began to fall, and fall, and fall. The rest is not a pretty sight, God’s judgment came down on many for their unbelief.

What did God impress upon me?

1. His presence is more important than anything! Give me Jesus! Leave bondage behind (that is, what anything without Jesus is!). Give me Jesus, keep your normal.

2. God’s arm is still not too short! He is more than able to provide.

3. Yes, that means He can use you and me. (He placed His Spirit on more than just Moses, He intends to use all of us, not just “pastors”, or “elders”,…)

4. I am not going to ask for meat! I guess that isn’t on my mind since I am eating solely “plant based” now. So, I guess I choose not to whine, cry, gripe, weep, when something is missing from my life that I used to have, but rather thank Him for His presence, and choose to love others with the bread I will always have, the Bread of Life, Jesus.

5. What “bondage” do I hang on to, keep turning back to? Is there repentance needed?

We all need to take inventory in our life, not looking so much at the things we have lost, but what is eternal that we possess. Thank God for the Eternal One within when we are in Christ.

So thankful His Arm and Hands reached me! Ephesians 2:1-10

I pray that you know His touch, His provision of life. John 3:16, Romans 5:8-10, Titus 3:5-6

Will we be like Peter, and desire that before we die (virus or no virus), make sure others remember these truths?

2 Peter 1:15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. – NIV

Who needs to hear words of truth and comfort?

Will we speak the truth in love?


Read more: Here’s another recent article from Journey in the Word, also from the Book of Numbers: Cloud Watching.


Song: Then the Quail Came – Peter Campbell

 

April 9, 2020

Jesus the Leader; The Good Leader

by Clarke Dixon

Click here to watch a 7-minute video of today’s devotional.

We have been seeing world leaders, from Prime Ministers and Presidents, to mayors and health officials, take to tv to lead us in our response to the COVID-19 crisis. As they take centre stage, we see what kind of leaders they are.

These leaders have reminded me of my own leadership journey which began with an excruciatingly shy and extremely quiet boy. Loving airplanes as I did I joined Air Cadets as a young teen. One year in, and having achieved the lowest rank of “leading Air Cadet,” we moved to a new town, which meant joining a new squadron. This was a brand new squadron, with a very successful launch, meaning many new recruits. Despite my one year of experience, and despite being the lowest rank possible, I suddenly found myself as one of the most experienced and highest ranking! I was placed over my own “flight” of cadets and immediately had to start training and teaching these new recruits. This excruciatingly shy, inexperienced and low raking cadet was instantly identified as a leader! And lead I did! I have often said that I would not be a pastor today, if it were not for Air Cadets. However, my quietness and shyness would forever colour the kind of leader I am, sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

When Jesus rides into Jerusalem, he does so in a way that indicates he is a leader. In fact, he is the leader!

This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

Matthew 21:4-5 (NLT)

In entering Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus indicates that he is not just a teacher and miracle worker, he is the king! Pontius Pilate seemed to be in charge, but in fact Jesus is the rightful king.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem in a way which also indicates what kind of king he is. Many leaders throughout history have thought that leadership is about power, and brute force. Where I come from we have an expression, “brute force and ignorance.” Some leaders lead with that! Jesus rides on a donkey and not a war horse. He brings peace, not war. He does not need brute force. There is a gentleness to Jesus, a humility, an approachability. He is a ruler who really cares for the people, as anyone who experienced his teaching and miracles could tell you.

Speaking of miracles, Jesus gives another hint to the kind of king he is:

Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”
But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”
“How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”
Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass.

Mark 6:35-39 (NLT emphasis added)

Does that miracle remind you of another Bible passage?

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures

Psalm 23:2 (KJV)

We are reminded of Psalm 23. In saying “The Lord is my shepherd” king David is saying “God is my king. I might be the leader of the people, but God is my leader.”

David knows what kind of a sovereign God is. God is a great king, a leader that cares for him. The kind of king who . . .

  • provides for my needs (verse 1)
  • makes me lie down in green pastures (verse 2)
  • restores my soul (verse 3)
  • leads me in paths of righteousness (verse 3)
  • is with me, capable of dealing with any enemy (verse 4)
  • cares for me in the face of adversity (verse 5)
  • promises his presence forever (verse 6)

Jesus goes on to say that he, himself is the good shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep in John 10:11. Jesus is later described as the shepherd who even leads beyond death into eternal life in the Book of Revelation:

They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
For the Lamb on the throne
will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 7:16-17 (NLT)

What kind of leader is Jesus? The leader with authority, even over life and death, yet the leader who is humble enough to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. The kind of leader you can approach. The kind of king who is not just kind and generous to his subjects, but who desires to adopt them into his royal family. The kind of leader willing to forgive.

David said “the Lord is my shepherd” Is the Lord your shepherd?


This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced our regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. The full worship expression can be seen here. For now, all Clarke’s sermons are “shrunk sermons”! For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here.

February 14, 2020

Moses’ Reasons Why He Was the Wrong Choice

NIV.Exodus.3.11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Today we’re introducing you to Chris Miller at the blog Get Encouraged. There are some other articles here we considered, so take the time to look around the site. Click the header below to read at source.

3 Responses to Procrastination

I don’t know about you, but I procrastinate sometimes, particularly when I need to do something I am dreading. It seems our natural response to dreaded life change is procrastinating if possible.

This may be especially true when we believe the Lord is calling us to a life change, we do not understand or a project for which we feel ill-equipped. The good news is we are not alone. Moses shared in this experience.

“The good news is we are not alone. Moses shared in this experience.”

Moses was tending sheep one day when a nearby bush was ablaze but not consumed by the flames. Moses’ curiosity got the best of him, so he walked over to see what was happening. Moses walked over to see a burning bush but had an encounter with the Lord. The Lord revealed his plan, and Moses made every attempt to tell the Lord why it would not work.

When I arrive at my “burning bush,” I often procrastinate by telling the Lord I am not the right person. What about you?

Moses tried to convince the Lord he was not the right person, but for every reason Moses offered, God provided a response. It seems we offer the same reasons, and God offers the same responses. Here are 3.

No one’s listening.

Moses said no one would listen to him. They would just accuse him of being in the sun too long. God dismisses this reason by obvious work in Moses’ life.

Do you ever feel like you are talking, and no one is listening, so you just stop talking? Maybe you ask yourself, “Why do I even say anything? It is like talking to a brick wall.” Like Moses, the Lord’s work in our lives is obvious. And, while it may seem no one is listening, it turns out they are paying attention.

Reimaging Faith Formation for the 21st Century cites studies showing our family members are listening. For those of you who are grandparents, you are the second most influential person in your grandkids’ life. You follow only their parents, and in some cases, you are in the number one slot. You sit in a position to speak a lot of wisdom into their lives as they witness the Lord’s obvious work in your life. Just when you think no one is listening, it turns out they pay much attention.

The work the Lord is doing in our lives is obvious. It stands as a testimony to the words we say.

I can’t.

Moses tells the Lord he is not a good speaker, so how can he stand before Pharaoh and say anything. God responds by saying, “I gave you the abilities you have, so go, and I will help you.”

We may feel we are inadequate for God’s calling. We know we should do something, but we try to convince ourselves and the Lord we are not capable. We identify a barrier that could cause us to fail, and instead of jumping it, we hide behind it.

Moses identified a barrier of speech. What is your barrier? It could be any number of things. No matter the barrier, the Lord’s response is the same. “I gave your abilities and I will help you, so go.”

Not me, please.

After other reasoning failed, Moses simply asks the Lord to send somebody else. The Lord tells Moses to stop procrastinating. He has already put provisions for him in place. Moses is the one God called for this purpose, and the Lord will help Moses accomplish it. He began a good work in Moses, and he will bring it to completion.

Can you relate to Moses? “Lord, I just don’t want to,” you say. Perhaps we can all relate to Moses. The Lord’s response is always the same; he has called us each to a unique spot in his plan. Therefore, he will help us accomplish the purpose. He, who began a good work in our lives, is bringing it to completion.

Moses was in a special place in time to perform a special task for the Lord. His biography records Moses leading God’s people out of Egyptian bondage and guiding them to the border of the Promised Land. He may have felt inadequate, but God used him in a mighty way. God completed a good work in Moses’ life.

Acting

We are in a special place in time to perform a special task for the Lord. Each of our biographies will record how we served in the Kingdom. What is the Lord calling you to do? You may feel inadequate, but the action step you can take is growing in the Lord. Paul tells the Philippians to grow.

  • Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).
  • Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…. I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

Continue to walk with the Lord and fulfilling your purpose. Again, what is the Lord calling you to do? How have you responded to your “burning bush?” Share in the comments below, and remember, he, who has begun a good work in you, will bring it through to completion.

 

January 4, 2020

Living in a New A Year One Day at a Time

As I mentioned a year ago, it’s rare that I get to use the writing of people who I know personally. Eric Wright is the author of both fiction and non-fiction Christian books, and is also a former missionary to Pakistan and former local church pastor. This appeared on his blog Country Inspiration. Learn more about his books at this link. Click the header below to read at source. (You’ll see a reference to this being part two of another article which I was unable to locate.)

Rediscovering God’s Love and Grace

How can we learn to live joyfully, one day at a time without worry about tomorrow? Moses has some advice for us. Yes, that Moses who led Israel from Egypt through 40 years of wilderness wandering and rebellion. Can we imagine a more worrying job?

In ten verses of Psalm 90, he relates some of the hard facts of life. We came from dust and are destined to return to dust. Between these two extremes, our lives are full of trouble and sorrow, much of it caused by our own secret sins. [See Psalm 90:3-11.] He sounds very pessimistic! Moses would not have been invited to host a motivational show.

But then he tells us his secret. “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). What a way to beat pessimism!

He urges us to pray that the LORD might help us to begin our days with a settled sense of His unfailing love. That we KNOW with certainty that whatever a day may bring, the love God has for us will not disappear or change. If we have been saved by God’s grace through Christ, we can know God’s love will surround us today.

How much love does God have for us? Paul prays that the Ephesians, and all Christians, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…being rooted and established in love, …may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (See Eph. 3:16-19). In other words we need to let the sense of God’s indescribable, unfathomable, infinite love permeate our souls.

How much am I loved? A hymn writer exults,

The love of God is greater far,
Than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell.…

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;

To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

But what if we fail, which we will? What if we sin? What if the day is a mess? What if, like Moses, we are vilified or deserted or stretched beyond our capacity to endure? Will God love us still? Will his arms surround us? Will he still be our rock?

I’ve recently concluded that our temperaments are so attuned to try and please God by our works, that we need to relearn grace almost every day. We keep thinking we have to earn His love. We have our jobs…until we retire. If we do a good, honest job, won’t God be pleased? Yes, but His love will not increase or diminish depending on what we do.

After retirement, we have our to-do-lists. If we complete our daily devotions won’t God be pleased? If we call on the sick, or attend church or pray, won’t God be pleased? Probably, but His love will not increase or decrease depending on our accomplishments or lack of them. His love is showered upon us as an act of divine grace—His undeserved, unearned loving forgiveness for our sins and reception of us as His children does not vary. “It is by grace you are saved and that not of yourselves.” And it is by grace that we are kept.

Moses tells us that the more we are satisfied in the morning with God’s love the more we will sing for joy and be glad all our days. But our emotions fluctuate from cheerfulness to discouragement and outright despair depending on the circumstances of our day. Reading Moses’ history, I doubt if he sang through every day. Some days he was angry and in despair over Israel. Probably, living a joyful life uplifted by a focus on God’s love is a work in progress. Something we must grow into. However we feel, we can know that God’s love for us does not change with the weather.

Wade Robinson writes, “Loved with everlasting love, led by grace that love to know. Spirit breathing from above. Thou hast taught me it is so!…In a love which cannot cease, I am His and He is mine.”

December 7, 2019

No Bible Verse is Trivial

This article really resonated in ways I wasn’t expecting. It’s from a site we’ve visited before, The Christian Courier. The author is Wayne Jackson. Click the header below to read at source and then check out the other articles.

Why Is King David’s “Grocery List” in the Bible?

Louis Gaussen (1790-1863) was a Swiss scholar who served as professor of systematic theology in Geneva, Switzerland. He produced a classic volume, Theopneustia — The Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.

In this work, he responded to several criticisms often made against the concept of the Bible’s verbal inspiration.

One of these is “the apparent insignificance of certain details,” that allegedly tend to nullify the lofty purpose claimed for the Scriptures (1840, 306ff).

On such example is a passage having to do with an incident in the life of David that is quite intriguing.

The Bible student is informed that when king David came to Mahanaim, three men, Shobi an Ammonite, Machir of Lode bar, and Barzillai of Gilead:

… brought beds, and basins, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and meal, and parched grain, and beans, and lentils, and parched pulse, and honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of the herd, for David and for the people that were with him (2 Sam. 17:28-29).

The critic is prone to ask: “Do we really need an entire ‘grocery list,’ in this book that purports to be a spiritual document that guides one from earth to heaven?”

But the possible background of the passage could shed a floodlight of meaning upon this seemingly trivial list.

David’s beloved son, Absalom, was a rebel at heart. He was envious of his father’s success and wanted acclaim for himself.

So he carefully plotted to wrest the allegiance of David’s subjects from him, and transfer the same to himself.

And he was significantly successful. He “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (2 Sam. 15:6).

Eventually, a full-blown rebellion was ignited.

David, with his remaining loyalists, fled Jerusalem. The king, with head covered, barefooted, and weeping, abandoned his palace for the sheltering seclusion of the forests east of Jordan (2 Sam. 15:30; 17:22ff).

Absalom hotly pursued his father, doubtless with the intention of assassinating the king. Such wretchedness!

David and his people were hungry, exhausted, and without adequate provisions.

What were they to do? Was there no assistance? Where was God?

Rather than acting directly, as in the case of dropping food from heaven for the Israelites (cf. Ex. 16:4), the Lord providentially intervened through indirect means that appeared altogether natural.

Jehovah sustained this man “after [his] own heart” in his time of distress.

Some scholars believe that Psalm 23 might well have been written to celebrate the answer to David’s prayers during this time of intense danger — especially verses 5-6 (see: Johnson 1981, 225; Kirkpatrick 1906, 124).

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil.
My cup overflows.

If there is no specific historical connection between the song and this episode in David’s life, the events certainly illustrate one example of how David was cared for by his Shepherd in the face of his adversaries.

The sneered-at “grocery list” becomes a prime example of one’s “cup running over” — even in the looming shadow of a deadly enemy!

June 8, 2019

Falling Prey to the Lies that Lead to Failure to Trust

Today we’re making a return visit with Ted Gosard who blogs at Jesus Community.

leaving (instead of living) the lie

Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers
who rule this people in Jerusalem.
You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death,
with the realm of the dead we have made an agreement.
When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
it cannot touch us,
for we have made a lie our refuge
and falsehood our hiding place.”

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.
I will make justice the measuring line
and righteousness the plumb line;
hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie,
and water will overflow your hiding place.
Your covenant with death will be annulled;
your agreement with the realm of the dead will not stand.
When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
you will be beaten down by it.
As often as it comes it will carry you away;
morning after morning, by day and by night,
it will sweep through.”

Isaiah 28:14-19

I think it’s far more common than we imagine, just how we live in lies. And I’m thinking of Christians, too. Specifically I’m thinking of myself, included. Part of what got me thinking this way were two posts quoting Dallas Willard who says it quite eloquently in the details spelled out in Scripture (here and here).

We live lies in a multitude of ways. Essentially living in the truth is “truth in Jesus” and an important aspect of that is living in the Father’s care, so that we’re free to seek his kingdom and righteousness, not encumbered with any of the cares common to humanity, or part of our culture. That is so much more easier said than done.

When one is weighed down, maybe nearly stricken with panic, that’s a sure sign one is not living in the Father’s provision, or as it’s been called, his providential care. We’re failing to trust in God, at least not to the extent needed. We need to take our hands off so to speak, but through prayer, find our way into that peace that frees us up to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.

Patterns in our lives will have to be broken, and that can be hard. It will require effort by us, but an effort essentially to let go, and let God take over. We need to find his peace. Part of this is not just to be freed up to put first things first, but with the prior commitment to that.

As the text above tells us, life simply doesn’t work well when we make a lie our refuge. And God won’t let it work well for those who name his name, who profess faith in him.

This is something we need to strive to enter and remain, come what may. God has us, as we seek first of all to live in his care and love and will. Part and parcel of being followers of Jesus in and through him.

May 7, 2019

Fix Your Eyes on the Goal

by Russell Young

It is often said that without a compass, people in a forest would often travel in circles. Without focus on an end-point, journey toward a goal becomes confused. Certainly, without clear focus and committed determination, objectives can become lost or altered.

With limited understanding and purpose choice-making is often based on the immediate. This truth is evident from the Israelites while on the Exodus. They had experienced slavery in Egypt with its cruelty, but as they traveled the wilderness, they had lost motivation and the reality of slavery, and at times even desired to return to it. They became focused on the immediate not on the purpose or promise of their journey.

Would you have been like them? They walked, walked, and walked. Day followed day. The rocky crag before them was no different than the one they had just passed. There was nothing on their horizon to stimulate hope. Month followed month. They often became thirsty through lack of water. They complained and grumbled. The wilderness provided no source of food and they lived on the Lord’s provision of manna for forty years. Would you have grumbled at the monotony of diet over such a long time, or would you have rejoiced that your needs had been provided? Would you have remembered the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, garlic, and fish that supplemented your diet in Egypt? After time slavery had become a distant memory; however, eating was an ever-present occurrence. Have you every groused about having the same dinner two days in a row?

The Lord was not pleased with those he had brought out of bondage. They did not appreciate him or his accommodation. He hadn’t provided enough. They wanted more and expected more. “They despised the pleasant land; they did not believe his promise. They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the LORD. So he swore to them with uplifted hand that he would make them fall in the desert.” (Ps 106:24−26)

God does not like grumbling; it demonstrates a lack of faith in him, a lack of trust. The Israelites felt and experienced trials, pressures, and discomfort. Their eyes were consumed with the present and they could not envision “the pleasant land.” To many of them the trials and travel had no purpose. They had surrendered their expectations and had become doubtful of those leading, both God and Moses.

The land to which they were headed and to which believers are headed is not for all; it is for the faithful, for those whose hope is fixed and whose eyes are on the goal. The land is reserved for those who trust enough to feel secure in God when trials come and when wants are not fulfilled, for those who can see beyond the everyday and rest confidently in his promises. Those in him do not need to know the solution for their challenges. They do not need to know where water can be found in the wilderness of life because they are sure that their Lord knows. He knows the need and has a plan; he is to lead, and they are to follow with thanksgiving. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” (Jn 10:27−28) When following is abandoned, so is hope.

Those who will dwell with their Lord are not called to an easy and pleasant journey through life; in fact, they have been reminded of the need to persevere through the mundane, through difficulties, and even through the threat of death itself. “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what you have promised. For in just a little while, ‘He who is coming will come and not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith.’” (Heb 10:36−38) The righteous will obediently follow their Lord with thanksgiving.

During trials, the passage of time tends to dim hope, but the test of faith and of their hearts was the very purpose of Israel’s journey. Focus must be set on the goal, not on the interruptions to it. At every age believers have had to journey through the wasteland. Their faith will be tested and must be proven. “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut 8:2) God is still testing hearts (1 Thess 2:4; Jas 1:12) to identify those who recognize his sovereignty and to find those who obey his authority. (Heb 5:9) Paul admonished the Philippians, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of god without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars.” (Phil 2:14−15)

Many teachers have neglected to convey the purpose of testing and the need for obedience. Regardless of one’s situation the response during testing must always be to trust and obey. The situation may not be understood but God is always in control and his provision is for his child’s eternal good. “[I]n all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)

The gospel is not to become person-centered or offering the promise of the abundant life today, but needs to be God-centered and for the achievement of his goals while giving the believer an eternal hope. Concern for life in the immediate reflects the attitudes of the Israelites who had lost sight of their goal and of God and had allowed the day to rule their lives.

All believers are assured to have wilderness experiences where life is “parched” and where there is no water in sight and no visible solution. Answers are promised, but in the challenges, focus needs to be set on the coming glory. The day should not callous hearts since the Lord journeys with each one committed to him. The faithful are only called to obediently follow and to trust his leadership. Like the Israelites, those who grumble and complain or go their own way, will not find relief from the wilderness nor a place in the Promised Land.



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.

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