Christianity 201

January 27, 2020

These Predictions Were Spot On

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Once or twice each year I return to the devotional page at the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website. There are many great articles from a variety of writers. I wish more people would attempt to write devotional literature. The author of this piece is Dee Renaud. Click the title below to read it at their site.

Weather Predictions And More

Winter isn’t my favourite season. Although it’s very beautiful after a snowfall — a winter wonderland, as they say — I don’t like it when the wind blows and visibility becomes almost nil, especially if we have to travel somewhere.

We rely on the weather predictions to keep us informed about upcoming snow squall warnings, and then, we decide whether or not we will venture out to get where we need to go or stay home and be safe. Sometimes, the predictions are spot on, and sometimes they are totally wrong.

There are many predictions about Jesus’ life in the Bible as well, and they were always spot on!

We live in an imperfect world. The Bible tells us that we are all sinners and so we need a Saviour. Jesus is that person. God’s plan for each and every one of us from before the creation of the world was for Jesus to save us from our sins. His birth, death, and resurrection were all predicted (foretold) and fulfilled exactly.

■ The birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, in Bethlehem:

Micah 5:2The Lord says, “Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are one of the smallest towns in Judah, but out of you I will bring a ruler for Israel, whose family line goes back to ancient times.” (GNT)

■ Jesus’ death on the cross, to pay the penalty for our sins:

Psalm 22:14-16My strength has drained away like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart melts like wax; my strength has dried up like sun-baked clay; my tongue sticks to my mouth, for you have laid me in the dust of death. The enemy, this gang of evil men, circles me like a pack of dogs; they have pierced my hands and feet. (TLB)

Isaiah 53:5But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (NIV)

■ Jesus’ resurrection:

Psalm 16:9-10Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. (NIV)

Matthew 17:22-23When they came together in Galilee, [Jesus] said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” (NIV)

■ He was the perfect sacrifice — the One without sin, the only One who could pay the price for our sins.

1 Peter 1:18-20aFor you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world. (NIV)

As the predictions tell us, Jesus was born for us, He died on the cross for us, and He rose from the dead for us. When we acknowledge our sinfulness, confess our sins, and accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we fulfill God’s plan in our own lives.

Prayer: Father God, we are so grateful that You are in control and that You have had a plan from before the very beginning of time. Thank You for sending Your only Son, Jesus, into this world to be our Saviour. Thank You for Your Word that teaches us what we need to know to have eternal life. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

 

November 28, 2019

Asking Daniel: Should We Make Our Nation Christian Again?

This is the final in a series on The Book of Daniel called “Outnumbered. The Book of Daniel and Living As Christians In A Not-So-Christian Society.” The series begins here.

by Clarke Dixon

We have been considering how we might express our Christian faith in a society which has been pushing Christianity to the margins.

If you have been following along, you will wonder why we are ending half way through Daniel. This is a good place to shift gears, for the Book of Daniel itself shifts gears between chapter 6 and chapter 7, from being about the experiences of Daniel and his friends, to prophecies through, and to, Daniel.

Let us remind ourselves what we have learned thus far in Daniel chapters 1-6.

To summarize, in all these things Daniel was living out the words from Jeremiah:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:4-7 (NIV)

In other words; live as my people, but quietly among a very different people, making yourselves at home in a strange land. Reading between the lines, we might add; don’t form an army to try and fight your way back. Daniel quietly lived his life in devotion to God. He did not start a war. The early Christians followed a similar pattern as they lived as a minority group with very little influence on the governments of their day. They quietly lived Jesus focused lives and called others to join them in doing the same. They did not seek to start a war or fight for a privileged position.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NLT)

Is it time to declare war on our changing culture? Or is it time to settle in, to live as a different kind of people, but harmoniously among others? The Book of Daniel invites us to consider the concept of the separation of church and state. The Book of Daniel invites us to consider the value of religious freedom. The Book of Daniel invites us to reflect on good witness to God’s goodness which begins with a good relationship with God and is borne out through a good relationship with people. The Book of Daniel also invites us to consider that “God’s got it.” We have not spent time in chapters 7-12, but a recurring theme of the prophecies found there is that the future is in God’s hands. Our government may pass laws we don’t agree with. It is not the end of the world. The end of the world is God’s prerogative. God can be trusted with the future of the Church. Therefore our focus is not on rescuing the Church, or the privileged position of Christianity. Ours is not to rescue the Church, but to participate in God’s rescue of people.

In chapter 9 there is something else that is a crucial part of the experience of exile:

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes.
 I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:
“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands.  But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations.  We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land. Daniel 9:3-6 (NLT)

Daniel prayed a prayer of confession. He knew there needed to be a greater connection with God. Daniel’s prayer of confession is focused, of course, on Moses and the Mosaic law. Our prayers of confession will be focused on Jesus:

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 (NLT)

As we face a changing nation, as Christianity is pushed to the margins, is our focus on making it a Christian nation again? Or is our focus is to make the Church more Christian than it has ever been.

November 27, 2019

Don’t Say What You’ll Never Do

Today’s article comes from a blog I’ve linked to at Thinking Out Loud, but not here. “Gospel Taboo is a contributor-based platform that provides articles as resources and biblical counseling opportunities.” The author of this piece is Rebekah Hannah. The header below is a link to the article at its original source.

Never Say Never

The older I get, the less I have to say. I find words and phrases get eliminated from my vocabulary over time. God slowly and kindly shrinks my words with his Spirit, wisdom and small bits of experience. Whether it’s particular, embarrassing things I’ve said that can’t be erased from memory or just my regular, daily idiotic thoughts, the Lord slowly morphs and renews my thinking. Recently, there’s a common phrase that’s been utterly and completely taken out of my lexicon.

I will never. 

There. I admit it. Only problem now is I’m saying, “I will never say ‘I will never.”

Right now, I’m living with two giant “I will nevers.” But God is using these “nevers” to change me in very specific ways. He’s showing me that my “nevers” are a form of boasting that I must repent over. In this process of transferring my “nevers” over to “Lord, help me trust you,” God is leveraging my old “nevers” for my now good.

When God changes our proclamations to supplications, he teaches us several things.

He teaches humility. 

When we’re corrected and have to go back on things we’ve said, humility grows. It teaches us that we don’t know everything. We can’t predict the future, but there’s One who can. He teaches meekness through our lack of control over our own futures. I can honestly and wholeheartedly mean “I will never” do this or that, but 10 years later I may indeed find myself doing that very thing. I’m unable to determine my future self’s ultimate well-being (Prov 16:9). I can’t know where I’m going to be 10 minutes from now, much less 10 days, 10 months or 10 years from now. But God can.

Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. Proverbs 27:1

He teaches human limits. 

Of course, humility is about me knowing my finite limits. I was not at the beginning of the world nor do I have control over the air I breathe. I rely solely on the One who created me, gave me air and knows the number of my days. How dare I declare “I will never.” To do so is to proclaim a foolish likeness to God in his timelessness. Of course, this is irrational. To know I have limits causes me to cast my eyes on the One who has none.

Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:14-15)

He teaches grace.

Saying “I will never” and later having to shove those words back into my mouth teaches me about the gaping hole only grace can fill. Because God shows me how little I know and control, there’s a deeper understanding of my need for grace. Grace says God gives me everything I need. He provides help for my small capacities and inabilities, my misunderstandings and shortcomings. This kindness is then available for me to give to others. If I know God leads, guides and allows us all to do and be different, how does this change how I react to others? It teaches me to withhold judgement on things I cannot know everything about, because I’m not God.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Heb 4:16

He teaches his preeminence. 

Anytime I’ve proclaimed, “I will never,” God was sitting on his throne. And guess what . . . he knew I absolutely would do whatever my never was. When we say I will never do this or I will never go there, we are displaying foolishness as God preeminently resides in greatness. He is infinite. He has no boundaries in knowledge. He is all-wise. He sees all things. He is the beginning and the end. To say, “I will never,” is to have a small reverence for a God who easily says, “Yes you will.”

God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. Psalm 47:8 

He teaches eternity. 

God teaching about eternity is his love on display for us. To teach an eternal perspective is to teach how to survive in a world that is not my forever home. It gives me something to cling to, to look forward to when things go haywire here. God knows that to persevere in our insufferable world, I must know and believe what he promises will come. Enter eternity. I can’t tell you where I’ll live, what I’ll be doing or what my life will look like, but I can acknowledge my certain hope in God’s eternal plan. Refraining from “will nevers” makes me look for what I can know. Eternal good with Jesus, my Savior, my Joy, my Hope is an absolute certainty (Heb 6:19).

. . . for the sake of the faith of God’s elect . . . in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began . . . Titus 1:1b-2

We have a good Father who loves to give good things (Matt 7:11). For me, he’s leveraged my “nevers” to teach me some of these good things. He gives me exactly what I need, puts me exactly where I need to be and plans my life better than I do. Our God is always faithful, even in our foolish “nevers.”

Questions for Reflection: 

1.    What have you said “never” about?

2.    How can you acknowledge your smallness before God so as to worship his greatness?

3.    What are some ways to give up your illusion of control in your life?

4.    Do you worry about today more than you think on eternity with Jesus?

5.    What are some practical ways you can spend more time thinking God for having control over your life?

October 18, 2019

We are Not Consumed

Six months ago we introduced you to Pastor MaryAnn Nguyen-Kwok and her blog, Searching for Treasures. It’s been six months, and we thought we’d drop in again. MaryAnn is currently working her way through key verses in Lamentations, a book often neglected. The two I have chosen are recent, but not consecutive, so I strongly urge you to visit the site, and even subscribe during this series. You may also click the headers for the articles which follow.

Lamentations 3

“Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed…” (Lamentations 3:22a).

We are not consumed by grief. We are not consumed by sorrow. We are not consumed by loss. We are not consumed by anger. We are not consumed by brokenness. We are not consumed by addictions. We are not consumed by depression. We are not consumed by anxiety. We are not consumed by disappointments. We are not consumed by discouragement. We are not consumed by disillusionment. We are not consumed by hopelessness. We are not consumed by lies. We are not consumed by cynicism. We are not consumed by naysayers. We are not consumed by condemnation. We are not consumed by false accusations. We are not consumed by rejection. We are not consumed by loneliness. We are not consumed by abandonment.

“…for his compassions never fail.” (Lamentations 3:22b).

His unfailing love and mercy never fail. His steadfast love and loyalty never cease. His faithfulness continues and goes on and on, as sure as the sun will rise every morning.

Our hope is in him, so let us go to him (3:40).

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, that the darkness cannot consume the light. Thank you that the light will always overcome the darkness. Thank you that, no matter what, your mercy still continues on for me and for all your people. I cling to your never-failing, never-ending, everlasting love.

Lamentations 5

“Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old,” (Lamentations 5:21).

There was sin and brokenness all around Jerusalem, and the author enumerates them for us.  There was homelessness (5:2), broken families (5:3), thirst and drought ((5:4), persecution (5:5), exhaustion (5:5), famine (5:6), oppression (5:8), danger (5:9), hunger and starvation (5:10), abuse and violation (5:11), disrespect (5:12), hard labor (5:13), lack of true leadership (5:14), depression and mourning (5:15), disillusionment (5:17), emptiness (5:18), abandonment (5:20), and a loss of hope (5:22).

Such realities are familiar to us as well.  And because all this brokenness can feel so overwhelming, we are often tempted to bury it and deny its existence.  But that doesn’t get us anywhere.  The author of Lamentations teaches us to turn to God (5:1), acknowledge all the issues—all the grief and loss (5:2-22), and then confess also how we contribute to the systemic brokenness (5:7, 16).  And, while we do this, the author demonstrates to us that we can also admit our doubts about God’s love and faithfulness.  We can cry out to him that it definitely seems like he’s forgotten and abandoned his people (5:20).  We can say all these things, because God is big enough to hold all our emotions.  He knows about the pain and loss.  He understands the anger and heartache.  So, we can pray honestly.  And, in time, through this honest wrestling, we will be able to recognize his sovereign reign and his ability to lead us to restoration once again (5:19, 21).

Prayer:  Oh, God, the brokenness around me is too much.  I lament all that is damaged and all that is hurting all around me.  Come, Lord, forgive us and rescue us.  Restore us, redeem us, free us, and make us whole again.  We want to return to you with all our hearts, because we love you.  And we know that you love us.  Amen.

 

 

July 15, 2019

Communicating with God is Different

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

No Email Required

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

April 13, 2019

Worry and Anxiety Can Blind Us to God’s Sovereignty

This is from a book published in 2000, The Ways of God by Henry Blackaby and Roy Edgemon. (pp 67-68)

Sovereignty and Worry

God’s sovereign presence remains and is active in the midst of His people today. However, things that can blind us to God’s rule still surround us. Jesus declared the truth when He said,

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24).

You might think, Great! I know that money is not my master. But are you making important life decisions based on the presence or absence of money? Do you determine whether or not to obey God depending on practicalities, such as “overhead”? If you do not immediately think of “no!” as your answer, you may be ruled by money more than you thought.

Even if you were quickly able to rule out money as a barrier to your service to God, there are plenty of other “practical” candidates for the job of master. Even after ruling out the potential of kings and money, that still leaves another frontrunner – worry.

Sovereignty is clearly a way of God. Yet worry can be a sign of doubt, evidence that we are not trusting God as sovereign over everything. How well do we witness to His nature as sovereign Lord and Creator if we continue to worry? Jesus taught about the dilemma some find in trying to serve the Father by offering this advice,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:25, 33).

When believers worry, they actually may be trying to control a situation. They also may be revealing that they believe their situation is too difficult for God. But God has shown throughout Scripture that He has ultimate power over everything. He wants us to function under His lordship, trusting His sovereignty over this world.

God wants us to seek Him. The reward for seeking God, however, is His activity in and through our lives. When we serve our Sovereign, He will use us. Yet God never functions based on our will, but by His sovereign rule. God’s purpose in working through you is not to help you to be successful or even worry-free, but to use your life as a means by which He reveals Himself. He is not there to reveal you to a watching world. He is there to reveal Himself to a yearning, hurting and watching world.

February 15, 2019

Mercy in the Middle of Judgment

This is our second visit to the site, Life Walk With Marlene. Click the header below to read this at source.

Re-Discovering God’s Mercy

Exodus 9:31 (Now the flax and the barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud. 32 But the wheat and the spelt were not ruined, for they ripen late.)

I have read the 10 plagues more than 10 times and this reading is the first time that I noticed this verse. What does this verse imply?

I realise that even in God’s powerful sovereignty, there is still mercy. Even when the hail struck every man and beast and tree in the land (vv.24-25), the wheat and spelt were not destroyed. Spelt is an old kind of wheat with bearded ears and spikelets that each contain two narrow grains, not widely grown but favoured as a health food.

As I read through the last 6 plagues, I wonder if anyone died in the first 9. Only in the last plague was recorded that people died. Amidst all the calamities that God sent to Egypt, He was merciful to them – giving chances again and again for Pharaoh to set the people free. Even when God knew that Pharaoh would go back on his word, God still stopped the plague each time Pharaoh asked Moses to intercede for them. We often thought but it was said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart – so how He could count it against Pharaoh? Did Pharaoh know that? Did he not have a choice? God knew his pride and hardened heart, yet and so God gave him 9 chances to change his mind. In all the 10 plagues, God’s purpose was to reveal himself – that you may know I am the Lord. (7:17, 9:16, 10:1-2)

I am reminded of what I learned in our Old Testament 1 class. We often let our familiarity of/with the Bible hinder us from new discoveries and lessons to learn. The 10 plagues in Exodus are so familiar that I can memorise all of them (though never tried to remember their particular order except the 1st and the last.) The professor said that when she was studying at a certain school, some of her classmates who were not as familiar with the Bible sometimes shared fresh and new perspectives from reading certain bible passages.

I have read through the entire Bible for the past few years and still there are new lessons to learn even for the same passages read many times. The Holy Spirit helps us to read and understand and apply what we read. We just need to persist and disciplined ourselves to read the Bible regularly with a desire to know God more and apply Biblical truths in our daily living. Sometimes I get lazy, I get complacent and I falter. I read for the sake of reading. Still I continue. It might be an up and down journey but God persists – He does not let me go. So dear friends, just keep reading the Bible.

When life is not easy and God is still merciful. There is something new in the old; a fresh truth to hold in the familiar trials of life. God’s mercies are new every morning.


After we’d formatted today’s devotional, we realized it was shorter than many we run, so we decided to give you a double feature from the same author. The title of this one may intrigue you. These were several days apart, but both are rooted in the book of Exodus.


Mr. Christian, A.T.L.C.

I’ve been reading from Exodus all the details of making the Tabernacle and all the things in it. Once from the instructions of the Lord for the Israelites what to give, what to do and how to do (Exo. 25-28) a second time – a narration of all the people did. (Exo. 36-40)

I wondered what is there for me to take away from all the details in the description and construction of this grand project. But one phrase kept coming up: ATLC

As the Lord commanded… as the Lord commanded Moses/him…

1) Moses was a good listener. He listened attentively and correctly to all of God’s instructions.
2) Moses was a good teacher. He passed on God’s instructions accurately for the people to execute.
3) The people were good followers. They did all that were needed as the Lord commanded.

Applications:
A good listener listens attentively but more importantly, listens with discernment and understanding from the One true source of knowledge and wisdom.

A good teacher teaches diligently making sure the instructions are carried out to the last detail. A good teacher sows not just knowledge but reaps actions and results from the application of the knowledge.

A good follower listens and does as instructed. He hears, he listens and he works with his hands.

Mr. XXX M.D.; Ms. YYY Ph.D.; Mr. ZZZ D.M.D. I always wonder what all the letters after the doctor’s name mean. I surmise that the more letters, the more degrees, the more expertise, the more accomplishments, the more prestigious.

What a different and more impactful Christian witness the world would have if Christians were to have ATLC at the end of their names… not just letters but the spirit of the letters that form the words As the Lord commanded!

How do we know then that ATLC is as what it should be?

Exodus 40
34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

In the Old Testament, the cloud represents God’s presence. The glory of the Lord refers to His presence – it signifies that God is living among them – right in their midst, in their company.

God’s presence
The cloud covered… A covering that encompassed and surrounded all of my being… The cloud settled… A settling – lasting and staying presence that continuously guides my doing…

Is God present in my life? Am I aware that He sees, He hears, He listens, He covers and He settles?

God’s glory
The glory of the Lord filled… A filling that leaves no space for anything else… a filling that overflows so that nothing else occupies… no vacuum… no emptiness

Does God’s glory shine through in my being and doing? Do my words and actions point people to God?

Let me ask myself… Ms. Christian ATLC… how are you doing?

Dear Holy Spirit, help me today to be and do as the Lord commands. Amen


Previously by the same author:

November 18, 2018

We Ask for What We Want; God Gives Us What We Need

This is our seventh time at the website Borrowed Light. This time around the author is Geoff Box.

Begging for Serpents

I’m in the process of preparing to preach through James. James is an intensely practical book. If you want to know how to live as a Christian, James will tell you. One of the overarching themes in James’ letter is that God is faithful to give what is needed to His people. To prove this point, we often quote James 1:17 which says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

One fascinating fact about the book of James is how heavily James relies on Jesus’ teachings in his letter. James 1:17 above is clearly connected in thought to Matthew 7:7-11 which says, “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!

These two passages of Scripture got me thinking. Why do we often feel like God is giving us stones and serpents? Scripture is clear that our Father is good and will not do such things, but often when I look at the gift in my hands, I don’t see what I was wanting.

The problem is clearly not with God. I have a desire and perception problem. I don’t rightly know what I need, and often end up asking for stones and snakes, then when God gives me what I truly need, I get frustrated with Him. I look at the bread in my hand, and because of lack of faith, sin, or whatever reason, I see a stone. Instead of gratefully receiving the fish that I need to sustain me, I throw it away as if it is a snake that would harm me. And so I repeat the process of begging God for more serpents, receiving fish, then rejecting His provision and casting it aside.

What I really ought to be doing is as James suggests, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.James1:2-4 The bread and fish of trials and suffering are good for me. I need them to become more perfect and complete. I need them to become more like Jesus.

I also need to more clearly see the gifts that God gives me. When I reject the gifts God is giving, I am essentially saying that God doesn’t know what is best and is not a good Father. So, I need wisdom so that I will correctly perceive the gifts that I am given and so that that I will begin to ask for what I really need. Fortunately, James comes to the rescue again. James 1:5-6 tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

I desperately need wisdom. I need God’s help in seeing that what He gives me is indeed nourishing to my soul. I also need the wisdom to ask for better gifts. I need to stop begging for the serpents which are likely to bite me.

November 11, 2018

Thanks to God – Remembrance Day

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:11 am
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Today is Remembrance Day in Canada; our version of Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day all rolled into one. For that reason, I’m posting today’s column earlier than normal at 11:11 EST on 11/11.

Liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson

(based on Psalm 9)

We will thank Yahweh with all our heart;
We’ll be glad, and we’ll sing about and declare Your name, Most High.

Because when You uphold a just cause,
when the wicked retreat, stumbling and falling,
You are seated on Your throne as a righteous judge.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home!

You have rebuked the nations,
You have destroyed the wicked;
The enemy comes to eternal ruin,
But You, Lord, are enthroned forever.

Only You can judge the world rightly;
Only You can fairly execute judgment on the nations.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.

You are a refuge for the oppressed in times of trouble – You remember them.
You don’t forget the cry of the afflicted – You are their hope.
You lift us up from the gates of death.

Those who know Your name trust in You
because You haven’t abandoned the ones who seek You, Yahweh.

Time like an ever-rolling stream
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten as a dream
dies at the break of day.
.
Your word commands our flesh from dust,
Returns all sons of men;
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again.

The nations fall into the pit they made;
their foot is caught in their own hidden trap.
And the Lord has revealed Himself.

So, sing to the Lord who is with us; proclaim His deeds among the nations.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home!

Father, we thank you:

  • for freedom to read and speak and live Your words.
  • for the hands and the hearts, the feet and the minds that have worked and built, fought and healed, and always done their best.
  • for all who let fall their own dreams to do what had to be done.

We live in a nation not at war, but there are still battles that you call us to fight.
Battles that require courage, humility, wisdom, gentleness and a kind of love that we’re still learning.

Like the people we remember today, we have an opportunity to take a stand.

To stand with You –
To speak the truth,
To provide for the needing,
To defend the vulnerable,
To love with Christ’s love the ones who live on the fringes of society.
To share what we have and because we know what we know.

Jesus said:

Much will be required of everyone who has been given much.
And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more.

Out of around 200 countries in the world, we in Canada live in the 5th most prosperous.
If there were 8,000 people on earth, only 24 would be better off than we are.

We have been given more than almost anybody in the world.
What does He expect of us?

Text adapted from HCSB; link above is NIV

October 7, 2018

The Heavens Announce: “God’s Got This!”

This is the first time featuring the author of “A Contemplative Heart” who we think (maybe?) is from Canada!

Click the title below to read at source.

Of the sky and my gaze

I’m not always good with surprises. Gift surprises – great. Shifting plans surprises – much less great. My mind starts whirling. What could happen? What could go wrong? How come my mind never asks “What could go right?” At heart, am I really a pessimist with regards to my plans and change? 

The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory. Psalm 97:6 (NIV)

The heavens announce that he’ll set everything right, And everyone will see it happen – glorious! Psalm 97:6 (MSG)

 The author of Psalm 97 had a much better view than I usually do. His eyes weren’t on himself. If he was noticing the heavens, then his eyes were not fixed on the present. They weren’t fixed on circumstances – the rightness or wrongness of the moment. They weren’t fixed on how excited or nervous, joyful or angry he felt.

His eyes were focused upward. Gaze fixed on the heavens above him.

I wonder what he saw? Was it the morning and he had just gotten up and was wondering what the day had for him? He watched the sun make its way up over the horizon. The sky a wash of reds, oranges and yellows. Was it the middle of the day and he needed a break from his work? He looked up and the sky was clear. Majestic blue spreading out to the horizon. Or was the sky filled with clouds, the premonition of rain and a storm waiting to be unleashed. Was it evening and the meal’s residue was being cleared away and he happened to glance out the window? The sky speckled with millions of stars all twinkling down. Regardless of the kind of sky he saw, God’s glory was on display. It could not be missed.

Sometimes, I let the sky dictate my mood. Grey and overcast – somewhat grumpy and gloomy. Brilliant blue – joyful and fun. Stormy – uncertain and unsettled. Rain or snow – wanting to stay home with a cup of tea and a good book.

That’s not God’s intention for me. Instead, the sky is the canvas of reminders that God’s got this! He knows the sun that is needed for life to be sustained, plants to grow, people to thrive. He knows the rain needed for plants to bring forth their crop and the earth to be watered. He knows that snow provides the perfect carpet to cover the ground and give it a rest even as I anxiously await the melting of spring. He knows. He’s not surprised. He’s not mistaken or confused. The sky is another reminder of His beauty on display. A testament of His care for all He has made.

God, make me a sky watcher. I want my gaze fixed on You. I want to notice how you provide for each detail of my life. I want to be focused on You and what You are doing. Your plan is better and more wonderful than I can imagine. You are the one to “set everything right.” Thank you! Amen.


Behind the Scenes at Christianity 201

Hunting and gathering material for C201 is always interesting, especially on the days we seek out writers to highlight here for the first time; as often happens with the Sunday Worship feature.

This week we discovered the blog SamSword, written by Jori Sams; and the article Commentary: God-Inspired Music.

She had this paragraph:

In the Bible where we see music and song taking place, it is always full of the love and praise of God. Look at Deborah’s song in Judges. Or the songs sung in the book of Revelation. In 1 Chronicles 16. The New Testament reveals Jesus breaking into songs of praise with His disciples. In modern times we can look at songs like, “I Can Only Imagine,” for inspiration.

which got me wondering what she meant about “Jesus breaking into songs…”

The first search result took me to the article, Jesus Sings at the Desiring God website.

…In four places in Scripture we read that Jesus, the Son of God himself, raised his voice in worship.1

Which is immediately confusing on one level. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with singing, just that I imagine our Savior much better suited as the silent recipient of adoration and worship (Revelation 5:6–14). But he also sings. And the only way to understand why Jesus sings is to briefly walk through all four passages…

Two of the passages were parallel reference to the hymn at the end of The Last Supper; the other two require connection to the Old Testament passages alluded to. You can read the article yourself and decide how much can be inferred.

Personally, I believe that Jesus would have sung at the synagogue services he attended, but there are no explicit references beyond the Upper Room meal. Apparently the gospel writers didn’t attach a lot of importance to it.

 

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.

July 18, 2018

God’s Perfect Timing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We periodically visit the devotional website of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, which features a different writer each day. This devotional reminds us three “timing” passages in scripture and was written by Dee Renaud.

The Right Place At The Right Time

When my husband and I were asked to lead an Alpha small group at our church a few years ago, we were in the right place at the right time. Thus began many Bible studies and many special relationships with so many wonderful people in our congregation.

When Esther saved her people from certain death, she was in the right place at the right time.

Esther 4:14 – For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (NIV)

Have you ever looked back on your life and realized that God’s timing was perfect in one or more situations? We can always trust in God’s timing. We are impatient people, and we want everything now. Too often, we forget that God knows what is best for us and that He wants what is best for us. His timing is always perfect.

At exactly the right time, God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to earth.

Galatians 4:4 – But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law. (NIV)

Some may think that when Jesus was crucified on the cross, He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, His death was God’s plan for our salvation. We needed Jesus to be our Saviour, to save us from our sins. When He died on the cross, He took our sins upon Himself so that we could be forgiven. He was definitely in the right place at the right time.

Romans 5:6 – You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (NIV)

Many of us who have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour will remember when we were in the right place at the right time.

  • Maybe we were listening to a sermon.
  • Maybe a friend was telling us about Jesus.
  • Maybe we were reading the Bible and the Holy Spirit convicted us of our sins.

There will be times in our lives when we make bad choices. It’s never too late to repent and turn back to God. The price has been paid. The offer is there. Will you accept God’s offer of forgiveness and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour? Have you been waiting for such a time as this?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank You that every day is a new beginning with new opportunities to trust in You. There is a time for everything in life. Forgive us for the times when we have made bad choices and we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thank You for the times when we have been in the right place at the right time. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.


 

 

July 3, 2018

The Sovereignty of the Lord

by Russell Young

 Christ is Lord! He is sovereign! How many times have you heard these words and how many times have they passed by without a second thought? Peter spoke of the sovereign Lord (2 Peter 2:1) and of the destructive heresies that will deny his authority in the end times. Jude wrote of the godless men “who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only sovereign and Lord.” (Jude 1:4) Paul taught that, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23) If the Lord is sovereign, he must rule, and others must follow. These passages have no merit if Christ is not treated as sovereign. Grace cannot displace God’s sovereignty, it comes through the exercise of his sovereignty. Eternal life can only be achieved through the life of the sovereign Christ, our Lord.

The word “lord has been translated from the Greek kurios meaning “(supremacy); supreme in authority, i.e. (as noun) controller; by implication, Master (as a respectful title):— God, Lord, master, Sir.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #2962) More modern doctrinal teaching often presents the concept of the Lord’s supreme authority as assuring the security of an eternal hope for those who are willing to trust him, but not necessarily follow him. The Lord’s sovereignty is seldom presented or accepted to mean that the Lord is and must be sovereign over the lives of those who would seek his eternal kingdom. “Believers” are frequently told that God’s “sovereign grace” grounded in love has assured victory for those who would “trust” in him and that nothing can thwart their hope, not even disobedience. However, trust in Christ is revealed through obedient following whatever that might entail.

Of course, God is sovereign, and nothing can alter that reality. He cannot be defeated, and his eternal plan cannot be foiled. Great comfort should be derived for believers from this fact. The aspect of his sovereignty that needs more complete recognition and appreciation is that he is sovereign over the life and actions of believers–they must relent to his rule, not merely pretend to honor him through voicing his God-given title of “Lord.” This truth has been revealed in many places in the Scriptures. He taught, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21) He admonished his listeners, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Lk 6:46) Failing to put his word into practice is like building a house without a foundation. The hope of a presence in the kingdom of heaven rests in the believer doing the will of God. His will must be known and followed with an obedient response. “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9)

Do you hear his calling or do your own wishes and desires guide you actions and claim your attention? It must not be misunderstood, there is both a life to be lived and a death to be lived. The life is the life of Christ in the believer and the death is the death of the believer to self-interest. Jesus said, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:25) Those who want to cling to their own lives and remain ‘captain of their own ship’ will lose all, despite any assurances to the contrary. Those who have abandoned all ownership of self and have submitted to the will of their sovereign and master will find eternal life. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Rom 8:14) Defiance and disobedience is sin and is rejection of Christ the Lord as Holy Spirit, and it is blasphemy. (Num 15:30)

Many have heard and have accepted that Christ is their righteousness. When he took their sin, they became righteous and avoided the death they had earned. Following confession of faith, he is the means of maintaining righteousness and of refining holiness (Rom 6:19, 22) for all who obey his commands—for believers. (Rom 8:4)

The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. Moses reminded the Israelites, “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 hearts, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut 8:2) Even today God will know what is in the hearts of humankind and of those who claim his name. Are you passing the test? There is no hope for those who deny his leadership and fail to humble themselves through denying his right to rule. He is the sovereign Lord and must be recognized to be so, both in title and in practice.


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

(All Scriptures are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)

June 7, 2018

Is God a Cosmic Tyrant?

by Clarke Dixon

Is God a cosmic tyrant?
Is God in control of absolutely everything?
Are natural disasters a matter of his choice for the world?
Are your personal disasters a result of his decisions for your life?
Are our own decisions merely illusion, that in fact, God has foreordained even what we think we have decided, even when we choose actions that are sinful and cause incredible harm to ourselves and others?

Or perhaps God is not in control at all and just set everything going? All that happens is a matter of our free choice and what happens naturally.

The Bible pushes us toward belief in the sovereignty of God. Consider, for example Psalm 139 especially the latter part of verse 16:

In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed. (Psalm 139:16 NRSV)

So then God is a cosmic tyrant? Our favourite prayer might become that of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: “yet not my will but yours” (Mark 14:36), prayed with a tone of resignation: “Whatever you come up with, Lord, I will put up with.”

There are problems with this line of thinking:

First; the Bible does not present the sovereignty of God as something to be resigned to, but something to be excited about and find encouragement in. If you were an actor tasked with portraying Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, how would you perform his prayer as he faces arrest and execution? Would it be with resignation, or with determination? Would you say the lines in a way that communicates “I think Your will is terrible, but I will if I must”, or “I know Your will is best, and yes, let’s do this”? Whatever the tone of Jesus as he prayed it, the hours that followed were not moments of resignation, but of determination and decisions that reflected his knowledge that good things were truly ahead. And good things did come! Jesus was raised from the dead and our sins were dealt with. Knowing that God’s will is good we can find encouragement that our future is not determined by chance, or even by our own poor choices, but by the good purposes of God:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NRSV)

“All things” includes things that happen naturally within Creation and human decision. We can be excited about how God is shaping things that would otherwise cause fear and panic.

Second; The sovereignty of God is not a cold philosophical proposition, but rather a comforting reality. Sometimes we take something written for our encouragement and imagine it is written for our theological curiosity. The Psalmist in Psalm 139 is not a professor trying to work out the details of life from the comfort of a Lazyboy in preparation for a lecture. The Psalmist is someone going through real life struggles. We might summarize the whole of Psalm 139 like this: “I can hide nothing from you, nor flee from your presence. See that I am innocent, and the person threatening my life is not. I need justice to prevail and for you to reward the innocent party (me), not the guilty (them).” Perhaps we can relate to this Psalm. Yes, we all sin, but sometimes there really is nothing we have done to deserve this cancer, or that Parkinson’s, or that ill treatment from someone we thought was a friend. We can relate to the Psalmist and say something very similar, “Lord, I am your child, yet I am under siege by people or circumstances”. In those moments, we don’t need a theology textbook. We need God and we need the outcome to be in His hands.

Third: The sovereignty of God is not something we can fully grasp. Sometimes we take something that is true and try to turn in into something that is understandable. No professor or Bible teacher, no matter how smart and knowledgeable, could ever really understand everything there is to know about God anyway.

While we often might long for the “patience of Job”, the Book of Job is really about humility in the face of deep questions. After so many words were spilled on trying to make sense of Job’s suffering, God finally speaks near the end of the book. But in speaking he does not give answers. He only asks questions. And what was Job supposed to learn from that? That he, Job himself, is not God, neither are his friends, and that God’s ways may be beyond understanding.

We are not always going to have the answers. We learn to live with the questions. We learn to trust God despite our lack of understanding. God has the future in His hands, even if we cannot understand how.

So what do we mean by saying that God is sovereign? Has he already decided what all our decisions will be? I am reminded of the expression, “when I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you”. Or, does God in his sovereignty allow things to unfold, naturally, and as consequences of our decisions, but only according to his purposes. Let us consider Psalm 139:16 again:

In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed. (Psalm 139:16 NRSV)

This verse does not tell us if what is written is prescriptive or descriptive, or somehow, both. Is God’s “book” a to do list as God unfolds history? Or, is it a book in which God writes down how history unfolds as he foresees it, as a historian might, but before the events rather than after?  Or does God in his omniscience and omnipotence see what unfolds, but makes the necessary adjustments to ensure the story turns out well?

We can think of a manager of a hockey team who might like the ability to see ahead of time which players will excel in the future, then being able to adjust the rosters based on that foreknowledge. The team could be massaged into a Stanley Cup win.

Perhaps sometimes we think of God as a thing to be studied and understood, rather than a Father, to be in relationship with and enjoyed. As parents, we sometimes allow our boys to experience the consequences of their own decisions. And sometimes we make the decisions that will help them flourish. None of this is done according to a formula, and our boys may never understand us. It is done in relationship, it is a matter of love.

So is God a tyrant? No, God is a loving Heavenly Father. But what if I cannot figure out how the Bible’s teaching on God’s sovereignty squares with my experience of free-will? You can trust God in real life circumstances much sooner than you will be able to fully comprehend Him in a classroom. That is much better anyway!


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (35 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

May 6, 2018

We Love in Return

This was one of those ‘how-did-we-not-know-about-this-before?’ types of discovery. Melody has been writing devotions at In Pleasant Places since January, 2013. Her blog started somewhat organically from correspondence she was sharing with a friend, as she explains in her story. To read this at her blog, click the title below.

Worshipping Our Uncontained God

You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar,
and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it,
for I am the LORD your God.”

Leviticus 26:1

This command obviously has application to us not worshipping a different god. But there is also application to our worship of the true God. To worship Him, not an image made to “represent” Him.

I think we often like to have things in front of us that we can see. Things we can visibly draw near to. But with this command, I wonder if perhaps God intentionally did not want to appear bound by our perceptions or defined by our understanding.

When we look at how these other (false) gods are portrayed in Scripture, they are encapsulated and defined within those man-made images. Our God, the true and living one, vibrant with life and energy, mighty in power, actively and creatively at work in all things – He is not like these. He will not be brought down to a man-made definition, created by our hands alongside items of common purpose.

He is holy. Sovereign. He is Creator. Even the most brilliant elements known to man cannot convey His glory.

God instructed His people to build not an image of Him, but an Ark to hold the stone tablets on which He carved His covenant. An ark containing tangible elements of His faithfulness and the holiness of His law, covered with the mercy seat upon which His presence would rest when He came to meet with them.

It was a meeting place.

But our God of the universe was not contained there. He is greater than that. An image cannot hold the One who upholds the universe by the word of His power and calls out each star by name, ensuring not one is lost.

So while we might look upon paintings and other artwork depicting various accounts in Scripture, our Christ at different points in His life and death, and while God might use these to stir our hearts to greater understanding of Him, we do not worship those things. And let us not assume any visual depiction can capture His fullness. The universe declares the glory of our God. The skies proclaim His majesty. That is His handiwork, spoken into existence in all its magnificent wonder – and our God surpasses it all.

May our view of Him remain expansive. Mindful that He is far beyond anything we have seen or known. Seeing Him as He reveals Himself in Scripture, seeing Him as He is perhaps conveyed through artists’ eyes (though we must be careful here – they could portray Him wrongly), and seeing Him as displayed in creation around us. Worshipping always this God who is greater and bigger than our eyes can currently behold and our minds can currently conceive. Our everlasting light, salvation, and glory.

“There is none like you, O LORD;
you are great, and your name is great in might…
Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish,
and gold from Uphaz.
They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith;
their clothing is violet and purple;
they are all the work of skilled men.
But the LORD is the true God;
he is the living God and the everlasting King.
At his wrath the earth quakes,
and the nations cannot endure his indignation…
It is he who made the earth by his power,
who established the world by his wisdom,
and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.
When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightning for the rain,
and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses…
Every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
for his images are false,
and there is no breath in them.
They are worthless, a work of delusion;
at the time of their punishment they shall perish.
Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob,
for he is the one who formed all things,
and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance;
the LORD of hosts is his name.”
Jeremiah 10:6,9-16

 


Deciding on a devotional from In Pleasant Places wasn’t easy. I think we’ll return to this one again soon. For more, check out this one, To Love Him.

 

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