Christianity 201

March 25, 2019

Everyone Had a Different Perspective on Joseph

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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“And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him.” – Acts 7:9

But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. – Genesis 37:4

The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. – Genesis 39: 2-5

By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. – Hebrews 11:22

Occasionally, I will read the name of a popular Christian author, and then check to see if they a blog from which could glean some material to highlight here. Today for the first time we’re featuring Darlene Sala, whose entire career has been built on writing devotional material, including the books: Encouraging Words for Women, Journey into Grace, You are Here, You Are His, You Are Blessed, You Are Loved and You Are Chosen. (Clearly the type of author our female readers here would want to get to know!)

She writes regularly at EncouragingWords.Today (love the blog’s domain name!) and you can read this there by clicking the header below.

How God Sees You

Bernard Kipsangut, a friend of mine in Kenya, is not only a pastor but also the chaplain of the Kitale Men’s Prison. He posted thoughts on his Facebook page that I found inspiring. I never was able to find the original author, so I will give credit to that famous writer, “Author Unknown.” Anyway, here it is–based on that Old Testament favorite, Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob.

Jacob looked at Joseph and saw a good son.
The ten brothers looked at Joseph and saw a useless dreamer.
The travelers looked at Joseph and saw a slave.
Potiphar looked at Joseph and saw a fine servant.
Potiphar’s wife looked at Joseph and saw a potential boyfriend.
The prison officers saw in Joseph a prisoner.
How wrong were all of them!
God looked at Joseph and saw a Prime Minister of Egypt in waiting!

Don’t be discouraged by what people see in you!! Be encouraged by what God sees in you!! Never underrate the person next to you because you never know what the Lord has deposited in that person. It doesn’t matter how people see us; it matters how God sees us.

How quick we are to evaluate ourselves and those around us! The apostle Paul wrote, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master than he stands or falls” (Romans 14:4). We are all servants of God. He is our master, and all that really matters is what He thinks of us.

Remember that the next time you feel like you have failed in living up to someone’s expectations, including your own. God sees our true potential. And He isn’t finished working on us yet. He wants to make us a blessing to those around us and use us to accomplish His purpose. Just you wait and see!

What has God recently told you, who you are because of His love?


This rather obscure classic CCM song, is a reminder that:

He sees us
Not as we are but as we shall be…

The song appeared on a live Noel Paul Stookey album, but this one is a solo by Karla Thibodeau.

It’s based on 1 John 3:2, which is rendered this way in the Passion Translation:

Beloved, we are God’s children right now; however, it is not yet apparent what we will become. But we do know that when it is finally made visible, we will be just like him, for we will see him as he truly is.


Today’s opening scripture selections all ESV

 

June 1, 2015

Recognizing God’s Voice (1)

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:45 pm
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This is from Rick Warren’s blog: (click the section headers to read at source)

The First Test

“Don’t believe everything you hear just because someone says it is a message from God; test it first to see if it really is!” 1 John 4:1 (LB)

When I get an idea in my mind, how do I know if it’s from God? How do I know it’s not my own desire or even a lie from Satan? The answer is clear in 1 John 4:1 – I must test it to find out.

This week I want to share with you the seven biblical ways to test an impression and find out whether it is from God or not. These seven tests form a filter and you need to make sure that the idea you are testing passes all seven of them. When it does, you can have absolute confidence that the idea is from God.

The first test is to ask the question, “Does it agree with the Bible?”

God will never contradict his written word. Luke 21:33 says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (NIV). God’s truth is consistent. He is not going to tell you one thing in the Bible and then tell you something different in an impression.

And as Proverbs 12:19 says, “Truth stands the test of time.” How does this apply as a filter? For example, the Bible tells us to pay our taxes when it says “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21 NIV). So if you feel God telling you not to pay your taxes this year, that thought isn’t from God. It would be a contradiction of his Word.

There are also many verses in Proverbs that say God will bless your business if you have integrity and if you are honest and fair in all your business dealings. So if you get an idea that you could make more money and increase your profits by being dishonest, that idea is not from God.

The vast majority of God’s will for your life is in God’s Word. So if anyone ever comes up to you and says you need the Bible plus another book to find truth, they are wrong. Galatians 1:8 says,

“Even if an angel comes from heaven and preaches any other message, let him be forever cursed” (NLT).

That may sound harsh, but God’s truth does not change. If you want to know God’s voice, the only book you need to read is the Bible. You need to memorize it, study it, and meditate on it.

When you know God’s Word you will not be fooled by lies. But you will always get into trouble when you doubt the Bible.

The Second Test:

“In your lives you must think and act like Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:5 (NCV)

God’s number one purpose in your life is to make you like Jesus. He is the standard for your life in how you think, act, feel and speak. That’s why the second test to determining whether an impression is from God or not is to ask this question: “Does it make me more like Christ?”

God is never going to tell you something in your mind that would cause you to do something that’s un-Christlike. If it is not like Jesus, believe me, you didn’t get the idea from God.

What is Jesus like? James 3:14-17 gives us some specifics that are a good measure for testing an idea:

“If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition … such ‘wisdom’ is of the devil. The wisdom that comes from God is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, impartial and sincere” (NIV).

First of all, this passage tells us two things God’s wisdom is not. It will not be motivated by bitter envy or selfish ambition.

These verses instead give seven things to test if an idea that comes into your mind is from God:

  • Is it pure? If any thought is impure, God didn’t give it to you.
  • Is it peace-loving? If the idea is from God, it will promote harmony and reconciliation, not conflict.
  • Is it considerate? Any idea that would hurt or harm someone, even though it may benefit you, is not from God because he cares about the effect it might have on others.
  • Is it submissive? If you get an idea from God, you must be open to having it tested by other people, asking them what they think about it. If you are hesitant and don’t feel like letting other people test the idea, then it didn’t come from God because it isn’t leading you to submit to others’ feedback.
  • Is it full of mercy? An impression from God will make you more gracious and forgiving. It won’t make you judgmental or critical.
  • Is it impartial and sincere? When you get an idea that’s from God, you don’t use it to manipulate people to get your own way.

Any idea that encourages these seven qualities in your life is an idea that will make you more like Christ.

 

December 13, 2012

The Yoke’s On You

Back in June we introduced the blog ministry of Scott Daniels at The Rest That Works. Today’s post appeared there a few weeks ago under the title, Yoking around with Jesus

 You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
~ Bob Dylan

   
       Not to say that we’re a bunch of cattle, but the yoke thing is growing on me (a typical Jesus paradox).

        I knew the yoke was often used in the Bible to talk about servitude and oppression, but before researching for the rest that works, I wasn’t very familiar with it as a positive image other than when Jesus used it in Matthew 11:28-30:

“Come to me . . . Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me . . . For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Turns out, the image is common in rabbinic teaching, both from Jesus’ day and ever since. One popular teaching is: “Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of the Torah (The Judaic Law), they remove from him the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly concerns, and whoever breaks off the yoke of the Torah, they place on him the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly concerns” (Avot 3:5). According to this teaching, it’s one or the other—the ways of God or of the world, the yoke of fear or the yoke of Divine Love. As Bob Dylan says, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna serve somebody.

Jesus Teaching Yoke Is EasySo it’s very interesting that Jesus used the image to talk about rest — it’s such a contrast, even with much of Judaism. He was standing within Jewish tradition but saying that his work leads to relief from both the ways of the world and a burdensome experience of religious Law—and that’s exactly what I have experienced by aligning with him through the rest that works. Aligning with his “yoke” frees me to flow with Divine Love. It has the opposite effect of what one expects from the image (servitude and labor).

Jesus was saying many things in using the yoke image: First, he was saying, “Do what it takes to come into alignment with me and Divine Love. It will take some effort, but doing so will free you internally. You’ll learn to keep the conditional ways of the world where they belong—in the world. This will free you to work in a whole new way.” Second, he was saying that as we learn to settle into God’s love with him and work from there, we’ll finally experience a sense of relief inside that the ways of the world or dogmatic religion cannot give—peace that passes human understanding. There is a precious gift involved. There is a pearl of great price.

By definition, condition-based ways of doing things simply do not work to give what we really want—the inner peace and meaning found in being loved and loving unconditionally with God. When we align with and settle into unconditional love, we are freed to move freely and lightly in the world without being burdened inside with whether or not we “make the cut” or “are good enough.” We also become better able to free others from those conditions—- that’s love.

Almost everything in the world is conditional. That’s how things work in the world. It’s how society is organized. It’s how things are governed. Meet the conditions, and you’re in. Fail, and you’re out. Challenge them, and you’re threatened until you get back in line—back into the yoke of fear that governs most things in our world. It’s the cycle of how things work. We’re always moving in and out of the fears of that cycle, and until we come home to God’s unconditional love, those fears govern us inside. They govern our minds. They rule us. That’s just no fun. It’s a continual burden that wears our souls down.

It takes work to move into alignment with Divine Love, but it’s always worth it deep down inside. It feels so much better to feel an unconditionally loving spirit moving in us instead of fear, evaluations, accusations or threats. When those movements of spirit are dominant, we end up not liking or even respecting ourselves. We may be successful in the eyes of the world, but not our souls. We cannot be at peace inside when that is the case. We’re like the push-me-pull-you of Dr. Doolittle fame.

But there’s more at stake than just inner peace. We have so much more to offer others when we live in alignment with God’s love. The most loving thing we can do for others at any given time is to check our internal alignment and be moving with Divine Love. It’s for us, but not just for us. It’s for our world, starting with our families, friends, co-workers and neighbors—whoever we are with. For this is how the kingdom comes, heart to heart, one heart at a time.

Jesus’ invitation to enter the rest that works is a sweeping one. It’s a big deal. Coming into alignment with him and working with him in his “yoke” delivers us from fears and veiled threats, inside and out. But it does more than that. The discipline involved takes us beyond pie-in-the-sky hippie thinking. It’s not just about rest, but also what works. In this sense, it is hard work—checking our internal alignment as we go takes a lot of spiritual discipline. But the rewards of moving with Divine Love so exceed the rewards of any other way of living, there’s no question it’s worth it. Divine Love means so much to us that there’s no comparison with anything else. When we’re in the zone—feeling Divine, Creative Energy flowing in and out—we laugh at ourselves for ever valuing anything more.

Jesus’ way and truth really does set us free from the burdens that wear us down in the most spiritually serious ways. We need to work in the world, and want to, because there’s work well worth doing with our Creator who is creating out of Divine Love. We want to create good things, we want to keep our families safe, we want to do what’s right, but not because of threats, not because someone will get us if we don’t. We want to do what Love beckons us to do with God because it’s our innermost desire, for ourselves and for others. When we’re working in that zone, we know that we’re fulfilling out purpose on the planet. It feels right deep down inside, even if there is hard work involved. It’s work worth doing. In fact, it’s worth everything and our souls know it.

And that’s no yoke.

More power to you in escaping the yoke of fear and settling into the unforced rhythms of Divine Love with Jesus. He will work with you if you’ll let him. He’s saved me in ways I can’t even begin to explain—especially from myself. Just ask him for help and guidance and pay attention. Look to align with Divine Love and look for leads, inside and out. He’ll work with you from there.

December 10, 2012

The Word of God Is Not Imprisoned

The Apostle Paul saw his imprisonment not as a problem, but an opportunity. We can learn so much from this. Today’s post appeared originally at the blog The Cripplegate. I encourage you to click through to read this, and then explore the rest of the blog which features a variety of authors. Today’s piece is by Los Angeles pastor Mike Riccardi.

Paul wrote his epistle to the Philippians against the backdrop of the church’s concern for Paul as he awaited his trial before Nero in his first Roman imprisonment. How was Paul holding up? Was this imprisonment discouraging him? Would he be released? Could he return to Philippi to help them with their lack of unity (cf. Phil 4:2) and to strengthen them amidst the threats of persecution and false teaching (cf. 1:28–30; 3:2)? Or would he die in Rome, and their sweet partnership in the ministry die with him? And perhaps most importantly of all: How has this loss of freedom affected the spread of the Gospel? Have Paul’s adverse circumstances in prison dealt a blow to his ministry of the Gospel to Gentiles?

After his customary thanksgiving (Phil 1:3–8), and prayer (Phil 1:9–11) Paul begins the body of his letter, in verses 12 to 18, by reassuring them—right off the bat—that far from being a hindrance to the Gospel, this opposition, this imprisonment, has actually served to advance the Gospel.

How? I’m glad you asked.

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.

The praetorian guard was a company of 9,000 elite soldiers that were particularly tasked to protect the emperor and his interests. And it seems that this subversive preacher Paul was a high priority case for Nero, because he was being guarded around the clock by the imperial elite. The “chain” he wore (cf. Acts 28:20; Eph 6:20) was an 18-inch long chain that attached at one end to a handcuff on Paul’s wrist and at the other end to a handcuff on the wrist of the Roman guard. There wasn’t an hour of the day when Paul wasn’t 18 inches away from a Roman soldier of the imperial guard.

linksBut it wasn’t the same guard all day every day. The soldiers took shifts of six hours at a time. That means that for nearly two years, Paul had come into contact with four different imperial soldiers each day, and had them at his disposal for six hours at a time. Talk about a captive audience!

So what do you think Paul talked about? Do you think he said things like,

  • “This isn’t fair!”
  • “What injustice!”
  • “I’ve been waiting two years!”
  • “This is not a quick and speedy trial!”
  • “I’m a Roman citizen!”

How would you have reacted? Would you have complained about the lack of privacy? Would you have blamed God for your unjust imprisonment? Paul didn’t do any of those things. Paul knew a captive audience when he saw one, and he saw this as an opportunity to preach the Gospel.

The Conversation

And that’s exactly what he did. You could imagine the guard would ask, “So what are you in for?” And Paul would respond: “I am in these chains because I serve the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the One, True and Living God—God made flesh in the person of a Jewish Carpenter. And in further humility and obedience to the will of God, He died for sinners on a Roman cross under Roman authority in Israel 30 years ago.

He was buried and laid in a tomb with Roman soldiers keeping it secure. But three days later He rose from that grave, demonstrating His triumph over death. After remaining with His disciples for 40 days, He ascended into Heaven right before their eyes and is, this very moment, enthroned in power at the right hand of God as the Lord of the whole world.

“Not long after His ascension, while I was persecuting His followers for corrupting the Jewish religion—putting them into chains like these, and even approving of their murder—this resurrected Jesus Himself appeared to me in a blazing light! He knocked me to the ground and struck me blind, and told me that I was to be His messenger, to preach His Gospel and strengthen the church that I once tried to destroy! And since that day I have given every waking moment of my life to preaching the Good News that because of His life, death, and resurrection, those who simply turn from their own self-righteousness and trust in Him can be forgiven of their sins, can escape the punishment of God, and can be reconciled to Him. And one day soon, this same Jesus is going to break through the clouds, return to the earth, and set up His kingdom over all nations!”

And as they spoke with him, and heard this Gospel, and observed his character, they learned that he was not in prison as a criminal, but because he was faithfully preaching the Lordship of Jesus.

This is the word that spread throughout the whole guard. They would talk with each other, and wonder with each other, “This man hasn’t broken any laws. All he has to do to be released is to recant his teachings about this Jesus of Nazareth, and he’d be free to go. But he won’t do it! He’d rather lose his head than stop preaching this message!”

And as they heard this Gospel, and observed the virtue and consistent devotion of Paul’s life—that his behavior matched his message—they began to believe. God began to grant them repentance and faith in the Gospel, one by one. So much so that Paul could close the letter to the Philippians, chapter 4 verse 22, by saying: “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” Four different guards, six hours at a time, every day, for the last two years, all hearing the Gospel. The messenger might have been in chains, but the word of God is not imprisoned (2 Tim 2:9). And the result, by God’s sovereign, providential work, was that many in the household of Caesar himself were beciming more sincere followers of Jesus than they ever were of Nero.

What Can We Learn?

The Lord used circumstances that anyone would have supposed would have hindered Paul’s ministry to further it. And in such circumstances of adversity, his response was not to complain, to blame God, or to sink into discontentment and depression.

Instead, he rejoiced (Phi 1:18). In what? In pleasant circumstances, an easy life, or a good reputation? No. Paul’s joy was found in the advance of the Gospel. He could endure opposition from both friends and enemies, he could decrease into insignificance and obscurity, he could suffer hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2:3)—because his ministry wasn’t driven by a thirst for prominence, but by the advance of the Gospel.

We need to learn to receive life’s trials from the hand of God Himself—as opportunities sent directly from Him to advance the Gospel. We shouldn’t try to cut the legs out from under the sovereignty of God by suggesting that God just passively allows our trials, or makes the best out of a bad situation. When confronted with suffering, we should see that the Sovereign Lord is purposefully giving us an opportunity to make much of Him and His Gospel by responding in a way that makes plain that comfort, freedom from conflict, and an easy life are not what we love most, but that Christ is.

We also need to take advantage of our captive audiences. We may not be chained to a Roman soldier, but we each have our obligations that keep us “captive.” Maybe you’re chained to a desk in the workplace. Maybe you’re chained to a kitchen sink and a couple of young children. Maybe you’re chained to a hospital bed, unable to move about freely. You need to see each of these “chains” as an opportunity to proclaim Christ from exactly where you are. You can be a witness to your co-workers, to your kids, or to your nurse and doctors. The messenger might be in chains, but the word of God is not imprisoned (2 Tim 2:9).

September 12, 2012

Life is Short, Some Lives are Shorter

Psalm 90: 12 Teach us to realize how short our lives are.
    Then our hearts will become wise.  (NIrV)

The NIrV is a simplified NIV for children and people for whom English is a second language.

Luke 12:16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? (NIV)

ooo

Psalm 139:6b    … all the days ordained for me were written in your book  before one of them came to be.  (NIV)

About six weeks ago we attended a backyard party that was hosted by a woman whose life was greatly changed by the ongoing influence of a group of people who took the time to enter her world — at the time a dilapidated motel in a factory district — and offer her encouragement and friendship. She wanted to say thank you to the people who had helped steer her life in a better direction, and that included my wife, who with two other women co-founded what has now become a community organization that provides all manner of support to people living on the margins. It was so encouraging to see the upward movement in this woman’s life, and to know the efforts of so many of us combined together to make a difference.

Then, today, we attended her memorial service.

She had no idea when she hosted that party that she wouldn’t be around weeks later, and neither did we. Her health took a very sudden turn, and suddenly we no longer have her smile to look at. For my wife, it was a shock that is still hard to fathom.

This particular memorial was more inter-faith than Christian and did not contain prayers or hymns, though there was a reading of Psalm 23 from The Message. However, the presence of people I know to be true Christ-followers in the audience today was a reminder of how much God’s people have been involved in the birth of various social service initiatives and agencies, and how much God’s people are involved on a continuing basis in giving compassion and concern.

But you never properly attend a funeral or memorial unless you use it as an opportunity to look in the mirror, to look at your own life. Am I making each day count? Am I moving closer to the cross? Is my life bearing fruit? Am I becoming more of a person who reflects the grace of the gospel? How would my life be remembered?

I had an English teacher in my senior year of high school who never specified the length of written assignments.  We would ask, “How long does it need to be?” and he would answer, “As long as a piece of string.” 

Life is like that. It’s as long as a piece of string. Your life. My life.

Later, I would learn the expression, “We should not talk in terms of long lives and short lives, but we should speak of small lives and big lives.” For kingdom people, for Christ-indwelt people, for Holy Spirit-led people, we should aim to live overflowing lives. Because life is short, and sometimes even shorter than that.

Eph 5:15 Look carefully then how you walk! Live purposefully and worthily and accurately, not as the unwise and witless, but as wise (sensible, intelligent people),

16 Making the very most of the time [buying up each opportunity], because the days are evil. (Amplified Bible)

(same passage)  Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days. (J. B. Phillips translation)

~PW

August 31, 2012

A Frowning Providence

Is it just me or is the body of Christ wrestling more deeply these days with the issues of hard times, suffering, disappointment, unanswered prayer, adverse circumstances? Here’s another perspective on the subject from Kevin White at the blog Mere Orthodoxy, where it appeared under the title,  A Loving Father and Difficult Gifts.  As always you’re encouraged to click the link and read at source; C201 readers will enjoy this particular blog.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” — Matthew 7:7-11

The power of this passage is the very perversity of the image it draws. How strangely cruel would a man have to be to give a destructive non sequitur instead of life-giving food? “Ha! That isn’t a rock-hard crust on that bread; it’s a ROCK!”

But I think Jesus means to press us into a corner here. He is encouraging us to pray, to seek from God what we need and to trust his provision. Trusting in the Father’s provision is one of Jesus’ great themes. It is why he has just called our attention to the birds and the lilies, and commands us not to worry about how our needs will be met. But this passage comes in the same discourse in which Jesus promises his followers great suffering and grief. Far from being an overlooked reality that undermines Jesus’ point in the passage, I suspect Jesus intends to push us into the tension between the promise of God’s goodness and the rocky and snakish things he sends our way.

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.

But short of blind, questionably pious, fideistic leaps, how can we trust that God does work all things for good, for those who love him? In part, because of that very apostolic word I have just paraphrased.

In larger part, because in the whole sweep of Scripture we see, again and again, God’s way of using bewildering events, evil deeds, and questionable human motives to advance his good and graceful plan for history. It is easier to name the major, storied heroes of the Bible who weren’t born to grieving, childless parents. God used wicked nations to chastise and purify his people. In short, we see the beginning and middle of God’s story of the world, with hints and previews of the story’s end and the glorious sequel to come.

But more fundamentally, we can trust the Father because the Father sent the Son. God is no longer simply a distant, alien presence, unsearchable and unknowable. God became one of us. The Son of God suffered scorn and loss and frustration. He even, at the critical moment, wrestled with the Father’s will. And submitted to death, a death he had the power to prevent and the love to endure. He stared down an unjust and horrible death, foreseeing it as God and quivering before it as a man, and said, “not my will, but Yours be done.” For his ultimate glorification, and to ransom us as his prize. To give us the gift of the Holy Spirit, who Jesus called an even greater comforter than himself! And on the last day, to raise us back to glorious life in a renewed world.

And so we can trust, because God claimed the worst portion. We can cry desperately like the Psalmists, we can wrestle like Jacob, we can weep like Jeremiah, but trust as Jesus did. Trust in a good Father, even if we cannot understand what gifts we are being given, or why.

Because God is a loving Father, and even his difficult gifts are perfect.

August 8, 2012

Listen and Obey

Today we make a return visit to the blog of Kalamazo, Michigan pastor Jeff Jones on hearing and obeying God’s voice.  Click here to view at Jeff’s blog.

“Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 28:1-2

Today’s text is both inspirational and instructional in nature. On the inspirational side, who wouldn’t want to have God set them on high and have His blessings overtake them? But, did you notice that God gives us some pretty clear instructions in terms of actually qualifying to receive those blessings? The key is found in just one word—a big one, “if”. If we will listen and if we will obey, the blessings come, if we don’t, they don’t. Pretty simple, huh? Our ability to receive these promised blessings from God requires our willingness to diligently obey the voice of the Lord. There are a lot of voices in our world that are daily trying to influence us. Advertisers have a voice, our friends and family’s have voices, and even popular opinion has a voice. But those voices are always changing. The voice of what’s in and what’s not, what’s today and what is so yesterday. Aren’t you glad that God’s Word never changes?

“Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.” Psalm 119:89 

While these voices may speak to us, we need to establish ourselves firmly on the ONE voice that will see our through our whole life—The Word of God. God’s voice should always have preeminence in our lives because His voice never changes. We can always take Him at His Word. His voice in our lives is not moved by current culture or by popular opinion. He is the Lord and He doesn’t change. Do you remember what He said in Malachi 3:6, “I am the Lord I change not…” God’s positions on life and social issues don’t evolve; they stay the same, because He stays the same. We can place our trust in Him.

“God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” Numbers 23:19 

Finally it’s important to note, that we’re required to do more than just hear the word of God, we are to obey it. In other words, we’re not to debate it, massage it, manipulate it, nor are we to try to adjust it to fit the times. We’re to obey it, period! We don’t ask God to adjust His Word to fit us; we adjust our lives to fit His Word. We don’t have an option, either we build our lives upon the truth of God’s word or we don’t. There is no middle ground, no room to compromise, only obedience. But because we’ve chosen to listen and obey, our faith is now under attack. Because of our love for God and His Word we are called haters, bigots, intolerant, or even simply minded. So let’s make our stand upon the Word of God. Let’s stay strong in our trust in the truth we find within its pages. Let’s continue to diligently obey the voice of the Lord our God.

March 20, 2012

Trusting in God’s Plan

Microblogging consists of posting very short thoughts and quotations and usually many, many  pictures.  There are a number of Christian microbloggers who use the Tumblr blog platform. Today’s thoughts and graphics are from Spiritual Inspiration. I encourage you to bookmark the blog for when you need a quick spiritual lift. Each one of the graphics and text that follows is independent of the others, but these seemed to form a common theme.

“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.”

There is power in letting go of the past and the frustration of trying to figure everything out. When you release your questions, you are saying, “God, You are in control. I trust You.” And when you put your hope in God, that’s when He can heal your heart and lead you forward into His path of blessing.

“Then the LORD said: ‘I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you’ ” (Exodus 34:10, NIV)
If you’re going to reach your highest potential in the natural, you will need to have supernatural doors open for you that you cannot open on your own. You’re going to need promotion, good breaks, divine connections and God’s favor greater than what you’ve seen in the past.

God said in Exodus, “I will perform great wonders that I have not done anywhere before in all the world. People will see what great things I can do because of the awesome things I’m about to do for you.” Think about that for a moment and let it take root in your spirit. God is saying, “I’m going to do something awesome in your life.” “Awesome” means “astounding, remarkable, overwhelming, breathtaking.” The key is found in the very next verse; it says, “Obey what I have commanded.” God’s ready to do His part, and we have to do ours. When we do things God’s way, we get God’s results. When we follow His Word, He promises to bless us with life, health, peace and joy. He promises to do what has never been done before!

“With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” (2 Chronicles 32:8, NKJ)
In scripture, the enemy was coming against Hezekiah, causing him all kinds of trouble, trying to keep him from his destiny. But Hezekiah didn’t get all upset. He just kept abiding, being faithful and putting God first. In Second Kings 19, God said, “Hezekiah, I myself will come against this enemy. He will receive word that he is needed at home, and I will cause him to want to return and he will be defeated.”

Notice that when you abide in Him, the Creator of the universe says, “I myself will come against your enemies. I myself will come against that sickness. I myself will come against those who oppose you.” It says God is the one who caused Hezekiah’s enemy to turn around. That means God can cause that unfair boss to take an early retirement. God can cause that neighbor that’s giving you so much trouble to decide to pack up and move. God can cause that classmate to be transferred to another school.

Today, no matter what’s coming against you, keep pressing into God. Put His Word first place in your life. Honor Him in all that you do. Let Him fight your battles and bring you into the land of victory He has prepared for you!

all pictures and text:  Spiritual Inspiration

February 28, 2012

Success of Significance?

I’ve always said I would rather be effective than be successful. But I’ve never heard anyone else express this sentiment until I came across Counting My Blessings, the blog of Deb Wolf, where this appeared just a few days ago as Would You Rather Be Successful or Significant?

Successful is defined as – having attained wealth, position, honors, or the like.

Significant is defined as – important or of consequence.

So, would you rather be successful or significant? 

This question came to mind as I read Ecclesiastes 4:4 –

Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind.

I used to think the Book of Ecclesiastes was majorly depressing. Solomon stating again and again that, “it’s all meaningless – like chasing the wind.”

But then I read the end of the book, Ecclesiastes 12:13 –

 After all this, there is only one thing to say: Have reverence for God, and obey His commands, because this is all that we were created for.

Accomplishing that for which we were created is success. Certainly not the world’s definition of success, not even the dictionary’s definition but I believe the best definition.

What are God’s commands? When Jesus was asked to name the most important commandments He replied:

 “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:27-29

Loving God. Loving others. Success and Significance. 

Not what is normally thought of as success or significance, but for those of who follow Christ the best definition of both.

That’s what I’m thinking about. What do you think?

~Deb Wolf

January 18, 2012

Confessions of a Recovering Legalist: Ten Things Jesus Never Said

Ever heard of “Christian karma?”  Some people think God works that way; that some things that come into our life journey are ‘payback’ for choices we made, and things we did in the past.

Yesterday we dug up a classic interview clip from 100 Huntley Street, Canada’s daily Christian talk show, produced by Crossroads Christian Communications.  Can you handle a video clip two days in a row?  We decided to see who Moira Brown has been interviewing lately, and we found this one, with author with Will Davis, Jr., author of Pray Big and the new Ten Things Jesus Never Said.

Note: The link takes you (sometimes)  to the 2:30 mark in the video where the discussion of this book begins; you can go back to watch the intro if you wish.  If it doesn’t you can jump to 2:30.  You can also look at ALL the interviews from the television program at this link.

January 7, 2012

The Fable of the Vase

Jeremiah 18
New Living Translation (NLT)

The Potter and the Clay
1 The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, 2 “Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.” 3 So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. 4 But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.

5 Then the Lord gave me this message: 6 “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. 7 If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, 8 but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. 9 And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, 10 but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would.

11 “Therefore, Jeremiah, go and warn all Judah and Jerusalem. Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.’”

12 But the people replied, “Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires.”

13a So this is what the Lord says:

“Has anyone ever heard of such a thing,
even among the pagan nations? …

The illustration below is one of a number of Truth Bytes from Charles Price, pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada and host of the Living Truth radio and television series.

December 31, 2011

The Story of Your Life Continues…

Years ago, a musician I stayed with in California played an original song to gospel legend Andrae Crouch to see how we would evaluate it.  Crouch like the song, but said there were too many musical and lyrical ideas in it, telling the young writer, “You’ve actually got enough there for three songs.”

Yesterday, I was tempted to add a video clip to Lee Grady’s thoughts, but I decided to hold it for today, partly in light of Crouch’s warnings to avoid packing too much into a single song (or blog post!) and partly because Steve Green’s song is such a great way to end 2011.

This isn’t my all-time favorite song, or style, but when Green or anyone else is taking their lyrics directly from scripture it creates something bigger than the song itself.  Last night 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 verse in question 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 2012, 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, 2011

God Finishes His Projects

J. Lee Grady is one of my favorite writers.  This appeared at his blog, Fire in My Bones where this appeared as: A Word to the Weary – God Will Finish What He Started.

Here’s a trivia question: Which building project took the longest to complete?·

A. The construction of the Pentagon.
B. The carving of Mount Rushmore.
C. The digging of the Panama Canal.
D. The building of the Empire State Building.
E. The carving and assembling of the Statue of Liberty.

The answer is C. It took 31 years to dig the Panama Canal, mainly because that superhuman task was started and stopped several times due to floods, mudslides, unexpected costs (the total bill for the United States was $375 million in 1914) and a horrific death toll (20,000 French workers and 6,000 Americans died on the job site.) The moral of that story: Expect delays when you cut a 50-mile-long canal to connect two oceans.

I’m not attempting to move millions of tons of earth to make room for cargo ships. My ministry assignment is different. But I still feel overwhelmed at times by the task. God calls each of us to join Him in His work, but accomplishing anything spiritual (such as building a church, winning the lost, or influencing culture for Christ) is impossible in human terms. We can’t accomplish anything for God without supernatural faith.

“God does not tell you to begin something and then leave you halfway through it. He is a wise builder and an expert craftsman. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He finishes what He starts.”

God gives us a promise—that’s the easy part. Then He reveals His strategies, works miracles and sends provision. Working with God is exhilarating when these things happen. But faith is also warfare. The devil hurls doubts and obstacles in our direction. There are battles and, sometimes, casualties. These are the times we are tempted to quit.

Zerubbabel and Joshua, the two men commissioned to rebuild Solomon’s temple, struggled with intense discouragement as they looked at the ruins of Jerusalem. The task was overwhelming, the cost was prohibitive, the workers were dismayed and their enemies were fierce. They started the work in earnest, but they heard a familiar voice that whispered: “You’ll never finish this. God is going to abandon you in the middle of this project.”

Fortunately, just when Zerubbabel and Joshua were about to throw in the towel, the prophet Haggai showed up with a refreshing announcement. He told them: “’But now take courage … and work; for I am with you,’ declares the Lord” (Hag. 2:4, NASB). The Lord also promised He would see the building project to completion. He said: “The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former … and in this place I will give peace” (v. 9).

Those powerful prophetic promises propelled Zerubbabel and Joshua forward. The words invigorated their weary faith and steeled their determination. Their passion was refueled. They returned to the work, even though it seemed impossible. In the end, God’s glorious house arose from an ash heap.

This is God’s promise to all who are called to labor with Him. He does not tell you to begin something and then leave you halfway through it. God is a wise builder and an expert craftsman. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He finishes what He starts.

The apostle Paul knew this when he wrote: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). The Message Bible says it this way: “There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.”

Many of God’s servants today are weary. Budgets have been tight, resistance is strong and trends are negative. The devil is busy trying to abort God’s promises. You may have been tempted even this week to resign from your assignment. But I want to encourage you with the words of Haggai: “Take courage! The Lord is with you!” Regardless of what you lack, the Lord’s mighty presence is all you need to finish the task. Hang on to Him and keep believing.

J. Lee Grady is the former editor of Charisma. You can follow him on Twitter at leegrady. His most recent book is 10 Lies Men Believe (Charisma House).

Note: In case you are curious about the other projects mentioned in the trivia question, here are the answers: A. The Pentagon, the world’s largest office building, was built in 16 months. B. Mount Rushmore was carved in 14 years. D. The Empire State Building was completed in 1 year and 45 days. E. The Statue of Liberty was carved and assembled over a 10-year period.

July 6, 2011

Inspiring Ideas on Worship from Matt Redman

Matt Redman is the author of over 200 worship songs including Heart of Worship, Once Again, I Will Offer Up My Life, Blessed Be The Name; and coauthored the song Our God which is being widely used in churches across North America.  (It’s the song that begins, “Water you turned into wine, opened the eyes of the blind, there’s no one like you…”)

His book Mirror Ball is releasing later this month from David C. Cook.  It’s 84 pages of text rich in depth and elements of Christian tradition that also includes a 52-page study guide.  While its target audience is adults, many teens and twenty-somethings know his music and I believe this book has a huge secondary audience awaiting in that demographic.  Here’s a sample:

The life of worship for Christians is … a life of wandering and wondering — journeying from scene to scene and taking time to explore the magnificence of God.  With the eyes of our hearts fixed upon Jesus we will always be amazed by the things we see. Literally, always.  We will find his splendor, power and love inexhaustibly captivating. 

Archbishop William Temple once described worship as

The quickening of conscience by His holiness
The nourishment of mind with His truth
The purifying of imagination by His beauty
The opening of the heart to His love
The surrender of the will to His purpose —
And all of this gathered up in adoration.

William Temple’s words here sum up so well the rhythm of revelation and response that we find in our worship of God.  He names three ways we receive revelation of God in worship: consciences quickened, minds nourished and imaginations purified, and then he names three ways in which we bring a response to all that God reveals: opening our hearts, surrendering our wills and engaging in the adoration permeating all.  We see, and we sing.  We explore the ways of God and we express our responses to Him.  We wander out into the vastness of His glory and we wonder how One so high and holy could involve himself with the likes of us.  Every step of the way we find another reason to declare his praise.  We have never met One nearly as loving and we have never encountered another remotely so glorious.  In Jesus Christ we find majesty fusing with mercy and kindness with flowing with Kingship.  We see generosity streaming with humility and grandeur infused with grace.  Time after time we find ourselves making a joyful surrender of our hearts and offering up serious-minded adoration in his honor. 

One of the qualities I most admire in a person or indeed in a church congregation is a readiness to worship.  The writer of Psalm 65 declares that, “Praise awaits You, O God;” (verse 1) and that is a fantastic posture of the heart for us to adopt when it comes to bringing devotion to the living God.  In our worship of Him, ideally, we should need warming up or any amount of coaxing.  We should be there, ready and waiting, mindful of the many, many reasons there are to praise Him.

~Matt Redman

May 25, 2011

You Are Part of God’s Plan, But You’re Not The Plan

If you want to be challenged daily by a pastor who consistently blogs thought-provoking writing, may I again recommend Elevation Church pastor Steven Furtick.  This one is simple enough on the surface, but try to read it with someone else and then discuss it after and you’ll see the underlying complexities.  We’ve been taught that we are instruments God uses to bring about his will here on earth, but that “we” refers to the Body in general, and if “I” don’t do what I’m supposed to, God will easily find someone else.  This appeared under the title, Purpose Over Personality.

But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
Numbers 20:12

Everyone is replaceable.

A lot of times we try to motivate people to embrace their calling by saying that if you don’t  ______, no one else can. You’re the person God has appointed to do this, and no one else can do it.

It sounds good. Very motivating.
But it simply isn’t true.

To the Israelites, it probably seemed like Moses was the only one who could lead them into the Promised Land. But he wasn’t. And so when he wasn’t willing to trust God enough to do what he had been commanded to do, the responsibility and privilege was handed over to someone else.

There’s a scary truth that we all must accept:
Like Moses, you and I are replaceable.

Do we really think that if we don’t use our profession as our pulpit, God won’t raise someone else up to do it?
Do we really think God can’t raise up another church to have the impact He wants ours to have if we don’t do what He’s calling us to do?
Do we really think God’s purpose depends solely on us?

God is not hamstrung by our disobedience. Or by our unwillingness to join in on what He wants to do in this world. In God’s economy, He values His purpose over the personality He uses to accomplish it. If you won’t do what God is calling you to do, He will simply find somebody else to do it.

Don’t get me wrong, God doesn’t just replace us on a whim or at the first sign of resistance on our part. He chases and pursues us. He is more patient than we can possibly imagine.

But the Creator of the Universe’s purpose is greater than any one person.
You are a part of the plan. But you are not the plan.
You’re special. Valuable. You’re one of a kind.
But you’re not irreplaceable.

This isn’t easy to accept, but it’s absolutely essential that we do it. It communicates urgency to us. Not in the sense that God is urgent for us to do something for Him. But urgency in the sense that the window of our opportunity to do something with God isn’t open indefinitely. It has to be seized now.

Believe it or not, there are countless people in this world who would do anything to take your spot in how God wants to use you. Don’t give them the opportunity. Whatever God is calling you to do, do it. And do it now.

~Pastor Steven Furtick

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