Christianity 201

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.

March 4, 2019

The Greed/Worry Connection

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We’re back for a fifth time with Steven C. Mills at the website, Steve’s Bible Meditations. Click the header below to read at source and from there, browse other articles.

Worry is a Faith Matter – Luke 12:22-32

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing…. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:22-23, 32, NLT).

Jesus told a parable about greed to a crowd of people (vs. 12:13-21). Then, in stark contrast to the greed story, Jesus turned to His disciples and proceeded to tell them not to worry about their daily needs for life, specifically food and clothing, because God will provide everything they need.

Jesus said that ravens don’t plant or harvest crops yet they have enough food (vs. 24). He said King Solomon was never dressed as beautifully as a lily (vs. 27).

Jesus concluded that if God takes care of both the birds and flowers, how much more will He take care of human beings (vs. 28).

What’s interesting is after Jesus admonishes His disciples to quit worrying about their basic needs for life, He indicts them for a lack of faith.

Jesus links worry to faith! In other words, when you worry you are demonstrating a lack of faith.

So, worry is a faith matter! And, the best way to reduce or eliminate worry from your life is to build your faith in God.

And the way to build your faith in God is to seek His Kingdom more than you seek the necessities of life.

As a result of seeking God’s Kingdom first each day, your daily needs (and more!) will be supplied as a result or benefit of seeking His Kingdom (vs. 31).

When your main priority is seeking the Kingdom of God, the other work you undertake each day will serve to supplement your main vocation of building God’s Kingdom.

And then you won’t have to worry about all your other needs because you belong to God and He takes care of you by blessing what you do.


And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, NLT)

December 31, 2018

Starting Another Chapter

Col 4: 5 KJVWalk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

Eph 516 KJVRedeeming the time, because the days are evil.

The KJV uses the term “redeeming the time” in these two verses.   The second verse appears in the NASB as,

making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

The other verse appears in the NASB as

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

The question I ask myself is this:  Did I make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2018?   And then:  Will I endeavor to make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2019?

While some current Christian writers emphasize the importance of rest, others talk about the “stewardship of our time.”   Time management is considered enough in scripture that it is not a stretch to say that scripture introduces a “doctrine of time usage.”

But like everything else in scripture, there is a place for balance in doctrine.   Think of a pendulum swinging back and forth.   Only when it stops swinging does it find the place of balance in the middle. There are two aspects to the Bible’s teaching on time management; time stewardship.

There is a time for action — The one who knows to do something right and doesn’t do it; that’s a sin.   But there’s a time for restBe still and know that He is God.

Time management by Biblical standards involves more than a simple “resting” or “action” theory.   It requires skill and wisdom to find the balance.

So more questions:   Did I learn to rest in God in 2018?   Will I learn more about resting in God in 2019?

Nobody said this was easy.


Each of us is about to write another chapter of our lives. The turning of the pages of the calendar may be more significant to some people than it is to others, but the start of a new year is always a time to both look back and look forward. For that reason, I think Steve Green’s song is such a great way to end 2018.

This isn’t my all-time favorite song, or style, but when Steve Green or anyone else is taking their lyrics directly from scripture it creates something bigger than the song itself. When they were much younger I asked my kids if they can tell when, in the middle of devotional book we’re reading, the paragraph moves into a Bible quotation, and they both understood exactly where I was going with this question. There’s something about the power of God’s word that is so easily identified; it stands out from what the devotional writer is saying as though it was underlined, in bold face type, in giant print, or printed in bright orange.

The song’s key verse source is Philippians 1:6, but I’ll give you the verses that precede and follow for full context:

Phil 1:5(NIV) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.

I don’t what you or I are facing in 2019, but we are each, in God’s eyes, a work in progress. And he doesn’t abandon his projects.

All God’s best for the new year.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

December 30, 2018

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord

For He alone is worthy,
For He alone is worthy,
For He alone is worthy, Christ the Lord

by Ruth Wilkinson

He alone is Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

We find ourselves in this in-between week —
Between the fulfillment and the promises kept of Christmas,
and the better-or-worse, could-be-good-could-be-bad possibilities of the future.

The month of January is named after a character in mythology called Janus, who had two faces.
One on the front and one on the back.
One forever looking forward, and one forever looking behind.

And sometimes it seems that we can best move forward once we have, just for a moment, looked back.
To see where we’ve come from and how far we’ve travelled.

To know that we can grow, because we see how we’ve grown.
To know that we can learn, because we see what we’ve learned.
To know that we can become stronger, because we see that we’re stronger than we used to be.
To know that we can trust God, because we see that he’s proved himself trustworthy.

To be ready when, like the Psalm writer:

There are days when
my spirit is weak within me;
Days when
dismay overcomes my heart.
Days when
my spirit fails.
Days when
I feel I’m at the end of myself.

So I choose to I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all You have done;
I reflect on the work of Your hands.

I trust that
when I spread out my hands to You,
You will see that I’m parched.

I trust that you’ll answer me quickly.

Let me feel Your faithful love in the morning,
because I trust in You.
Let me understand the way I should go,
because I long for You.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
because I need your protection.
Teach me to do Your will,
because You are my God.

May Your gracious Spirit lead me on level ground.

Because of Your name, Yahweh,
let me live!
~Psalm 143



Subscribers: Yesterday’s post has been off, then on, then off, then on the blog. If you missed it, you should be able to locate it at this link. (If one or two of you could email me and let me know what you’ve been getting in your email, it would be interesting to know!)

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.

October 24, 2017

Holding, Embracing, Living in God’s Promise to Be With Us

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Seeds of the Kingdom the devotional page of  Ellel Ministries*, an organization with locations on many continents. Click the title below to read at source.

When Pressures Build

by Ron Scurfield

A great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  Mark 4:37-39, ESV

What do we do when the pressures of life build up and obscure the presence of Jesus – when we seem to be heading down a tunnel that gets narrower and darker? We may tell ourselves, “God is with me. He will never leave me nor forsake me.” We may hold on in faith, aware that God knows our problems and He won’t let us down.

But the effort in maintaining control takes its toll. We’re pushed into a corner and the walls are closing in. We can’t see a way out and we know the enemy is gaining the upper hand. Our resistance fades. Do we examine our conscience and look for ways where the devil may have found a foothold?

We search the Scriptures for words of encouragement. But we can see where we’re heading, and the pressure increases. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). God will never forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He turned away from His Son because Jesus was carrying the sins of the world on His shoulders, ‘… that they may have life …’ (John 10:10).

We need to hold on. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:32). We may argue that we do know the truth, but He still seems so far away. The truth is in His Word, and His promises are trustworthy.

Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10). To know God is more than just a mental assertion that He exists. It’s an intimate relationship. God is all-loving, all-merciful and all-faithful. We need to embrace this truth and know that He will never let us down. When our faith begins to waver and doubt takes hold, the enemy creeps in as he did in the garden when he said to Eve, Did God really say …? (Genesis 3:1).

Habakkuk writes: My heart pounded, my lips quivered … decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

The intimate relationship He has with us is such that He will see us through our troubles. He will provide for our every need. He will never leave us. He is with us continually. David said. ‘‘though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me (Psalm 23:4). We need to know the truth. Hold on to it, embrace it, live in it. Jesus said, ‘I am the truth’ (John 14:6). He will never fail us. Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, please forgive me when I allow the trials of life to become greater than my faith in You. You are Lord of all, even my troubles. Help me to rest in Your peace when the storm rages, and know that You are God. Amen.


* What does Ellel mean?

September 4, 2017

God Explains Judgment and Punishment to Ezekiel

As we did last year at this time, we’re returning to the devotional page of the Southern Baptist Convention. Their devotionals don’t have titles, just a description of the passage under consideration and there are no links. Take in the truths of today’s reading, but also note the format; this is how to organize a thorough Bible study.

Highlights:

God warns leaders to repent (14:1-11). Each person clearly accountable for their own choice to be saved (14:12-23). A breathtaking, tragic account of the love and faithfulness of God to Judah and her callous attitude (chap. 13). Guard against spiritual adultery.

Ezekiel 14 to Ezekiel 16

Even so, there will be survivors left in it, sons and daughters who will be brought out. Indeed, they will come out to you, and you will observe their conduct and actions. Then you will be consoled about the devastation I have brought on Jerusalem, about all I have brought on it. 23 They will bring you consolation when you see their conduct and actions, and you will know that it was not without cause that I have done what I did to it.”  This is the declaration of the Lord God. (Ezek. 14:22-23).

The Lord had sent punishment to Israel because of her idolatrous ways. The nation had turned away from the Lord and chosen to walk in the ways of their heathen neighbors. The people had followed their own desires for their lives instead of the perfect desires of the Lord. We have also read how the prophets themselves had gone against the will of the Lord.

The Lord is not some strict taskmaster who imputes His will on people just for His satisfaction. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are the children of God. The Spirit itself testifies together with our spirit, that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16).

God treats us the way any good father treats his children. The Lord gives us the Word of God as a guide to live our lives. These guidelines will direct us to the most fulfilling and abundant life available to us. God’s rules are not simply made for Him. They are made to protect us and to provide us with a way to live a godly life, rather than just a good life.

What happens when the inevitable time comes that God’s child strays from His Word? How should God respond? Should He just hope for the best and wait to see? Should He just mark them off and hope for better luck with the next human? We all know the answer to these questions is a resounding “no.”

The Lord responds just as any loving father would. He corrects His children by sending punishment our way. The goal of the punishment is to open our eyes to allow us to see where we went wrong and thereby to correct our paths. Once redirected, we should be able to get back on life’s correct track, the track of following the Lord.For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness (Heb. 12:10).

This process worked with Israel at times. They would rebel, so God would send a judgment against them. As a result they would return and fall back into line with the Law of God.

In these verses, God is explaining all this to Ezekiel. There is always a plan when the Lord sends judgment upon His people. The Lord is desiring to bring them back to the proper path.

If we live outside the will of God, we will find life is not so easy. He has said that His four worst punishments are war, famine, wild animals and diseases. The Word of God is given to us to make sure that we live under the provision and protection of the Lord. Our best case scenario will always be not to stray. But if we do, we need to let His correction get us back in line with His Word.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine,  for reproof,  for correction,  for instruction in righteousness (II Tim. 3:16).

Thought for Today:

At the end of the day, will the Lord say, Well done good and faithful servant (Matt. 25:23)?

Christ Revealed:

In the everlasting Covenant (Ezek. 16:60). He is the Mediator of a better Covenant (Agreement) (Heb. 8:6).

Word Study:

16:8 I spread My skirt over thee = symbolic of a covenant of marriage (Ruth 3:9; Deut. 22:30); 16:25 opened thy feet = offered yourself as a harlot; 16:30 imperious whorish oman = shameless prostitute; 16:31 eminent place = prominent public location; thou scornest hire = you refuse a fee; 16:43 fretted me = provoked me to anger.

Memory Verse:

John 15:1-5

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.

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