Christianity 201

September 14, 2021

For Times of Suffering and Affliction

Elsie Montgomery is one of the longest-running and most-quoted devotional writers here at C201. I have great respect for what she produces at Practical Faith. Her writing will have a key-word focus and the word for today is affliction. Other recent studies have included accessible, adopts, and admonishes. Do you sense an alphabetical thing going on?

I strongly encourage you to read this at the link in the header below and then click the tab at the bottom that says “older posts” and then keep reading.

What about calamity?

My hubby was at a Christian men’s gathering and said something about God afflicting people to get their attention. One man responded with, “God would never do that!”

But God did do that. The first appearance of this word is in the first book of the Bible. Abraham and his wife went to Egypt because of a famine in their land. Since Sarah was so beautiful, he feared she’d be taken by an Egyptian and he would be killed so he told her to say she was his sister. She was taken into Pharaoh’s house and this leader treated Abraham well because of her . . .

Genesis 12:17. But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.

Isaiah 45:7 also says: “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.”

I know not to speculate but this story makes me wonder of our current pandemic is related to a current situation with God’s people, that as we live among those who do not know God we have fears for our own lives instead of trusting Him to take care of us? Being bold in a pagan land can lead to violent persecution and death. Consider daily news from places like Afghanistan and parts of Africa.

Today’s word is AFFLICTION, not the general hard stuff of life but the trials sent by God to humble His children and to bring us to repentance and contrition so we will trust Him instead of ourselves. The OT has several words for this. Some are translated affliction, particularly plague. Others are crush, or oppress or strike, hit, wound. Still others are more positive such as the challenges of fasting and prayer.

Leviticus 23:27. “Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the Lord.

Psalm 35:13. But I, when they were sick— I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest.

The psalmist is thankful for affliction, testifying that it leads to obedience. This is also noted in the NT.

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word . . . . It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes . . . . I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me” (Psalm 119:67;71;75).

“As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9–10).

While we tend to blame Satan for suffering, I need to see that God sometimes (not always) uses it to correct me. I must also remember that Jesus was afflicted by God. The prophet foretold what and why:

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted . . . . He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. . . . Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” (Isaiah 53:4; 7; 10).

This tells me that affliction can have a far greater purpose than just making me miserable. It can be used by God for reasons I may not realize at the time. Unlike Jesus, I am not always given that awareness.

GAZE INTO HIS GLORY. Deeply considering Jesus changes my understanding of suffering. I do not welcome it, yet Jesus did say that when persecuted (a similar NT word to affliction meaning put into a narrow place of trouble, affliction or distress), I should rejoice:

Matthew 5:10–12. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

James 1:2–4. 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.

The bottom line is God’s sovereignty. He can prevent affliction as well as make it happen. Do I trust Him to the point of being willing to accept the tough stuff and use it in His plan as He sees fit? If not, I need to keep gazing into His glory and realizing this is an incredible and true reality.

 

 

August 15, 2021

Job: More than the Poster-Boy for Patience

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. (Job 1:1)

[Job] said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (1:21-22)

“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face.” (13:25)

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.” (19:25)

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (42:2)

Today we return to the writing of Arnold Reimer, a retired pastor from a church we attended and where our oldest son now attends — Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto — and his blog, Finishing Well. This is the seventh time we’ve included him here and we invite you to read this on his site by clicking the one-word header which follows.

Job

Job’s name has become a cliche’, attached most commonly to his personification of patience. But Job has much more to teach us. We will never understand this important book of the Bible if we do not keep in mind who he was and all that was happening to him. Job was first and foremost an outstanding man of God. The sovereign Lord of the Universe, could say of him, he is “My servant”; and add: “For there is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” What a remarkable commendation to have from the Holy One!

What is even more remarkable is that it was said to Satan, the epitome of evil in every sense of the word. He is a murderer, a deceiving liar, a destroyer and, for now, “the god of this world”. Satan saw a challenge:

“Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.”*

Remarkably, God responds: “He is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.”

Satan then shows us everything we need to know about him, he destroys Job’s possessions, livelihood and even his precious family to the last person, other than his wife. It is a blow almost beyond our comprehension. Equally amazing is Job’s response:

“Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his beard, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord’.”

The Scriptures summarize all this in a sentence: “Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.”

This remarkable man, true to God after the most horrendous losses, has yet to become more remarkable still. And, Satan shows himself to be more evil still. He states to God and Job that self-preservation is ultimately more than all else. And the devil, though disallowed to kill him, wracks his body with boils from head to foot. With this pathetic situation even Job’s wife, pained as she would be, despises his integrity and tells him to “curse God and die.” Job responds, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” Job, severely troubled and full of questions and angry debate with his friends, lives to see again God’s faithfulness and His rich and wonderful blessing.

Where am I going with this? Theologians believe this book to be the first of Scripture written for our learning. May I suggest that today it may be preparing the followers of Christ Jesus for the last days of our journey on earth before Jesus comes. The Bible’s last book, the Revelation, describes God’s crushing judgments on a sin-cursed world. Satan, his angels and followers, make their last effort to destroy God’s kingdom on earth and His redeemed people. Instead he and his works are judged. It is an awful picture of destruction describing deceit, destitution, death and devouring beasts. The saints are not spared from death, persecution and fearsome trials. They endure but so as by fire. Matthew describes it as so bad that “unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short.” Will we curse God and die, or will we declare in faith, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him?”

Those times are called “the Great Tribulation.” Surely the Revelation, with its detailed description of the final throes of Satan, his cohorts and followers, is given to us both for our learning but also for our preparation for final things. As awful as those seven years will be, when it is over we shall meet our King in the air to join Him in glorious victory as He sets up his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Not until we are in heaven will we truly understand what it means that God loves all of us and wants us for His own, but He hates sin and every work of Satan to the point of hell for him, and ultimately for all who follow his ways in unbelief and without repentance.

Joining the redeemed of all the ages we, who have called upon the name of Jesus, thereby receiving saving grace, shall sing a new song with words like these:

“Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear, O Lord and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; for all the nations will come and worship before You, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

This will be sung by the saints in the middle of the devastation of the tribulation. What a testimony and an act of incredible faith!

Perhaps the book of Job, tied to the Revelation, helps us to understand some of the works and ways of God, “ways past finding out.” He will cast the devil into a bottomless pit and bring to naught his destructive power. Jesus, the Victor, will reign over His kingdom and creation as King of kings and Lord of lords. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess Him to be the Sovereign Lord of the universe. He will take us to be with Himself, free at last from every evil device of Satan and weakness of the flesh. Eden will be reborn. What a day of rejoicing that will be! Prepare for it so we, like Job in the midst of severe testing, will be “blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.”


* Editor’s note: We put scripture verses in green because the scriptures have life! But because this time it was Satan being quoted, I just didn’t want to overly highlight it!

July 25, 2021

Utter Dependence on God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today once again we’re featuring the website Out Of The Ordinary. We’ve showcased writing here by Rebecca and Kim before, this time it’s the third member of the team who goes by Persis. She wrote this in May of 2020 when the global pandemic was just a few months in. How little did we realize for how long we would need to depend on God as our source of strength and comfort. She also (in the first paragraph) quotes a theologian whose name I have been hearing much in the past few weeks. Click the title below to read at source.

The Place of Dependence

We live in a strange world, a world which presents us with tremendous contrasts. The high and the low, the great and the small, the sublime and the ridiculous, the beautiful and the ugly, the tragic and the comic, the good and the evil, the truth and the lie, these all are heaped up in unfathomable interrelationship. The gravity and the vanity of life seize on us in turn. Now we are prompted to optimism, then to pessimism. Man weeping is constantly giving way to man laughing. The whole world stands in the sign of humor, which has been well described as a laugh in a tear.1

Herman Bavinck may have have written those sentences 111 years ago, but he could be describing the present. Life as we know it has changed drastically for the entire world. Every level of society has been impacted, and what we once knew may never return. I am more aware than I have ever been of the complex tangle of human lives, basic needs, information, and decisions that are “heaped up in unfathomable interrelationship.”

In March [2020], two pastors on Twitter asked if Christians would be willing to fast and pray for an hour on Friday afternoons regarding the coronavirus. I was gung-ho the first two weeks and eager to pray. The hour passed quickly as I prayed for everyone and everything I could think of. But as the weeks passed, the number of situations and people needing prayer seemed to grow exponentially. When the last prayer time rolled around, I began to think of government employees from national to local levels, medical staff and researchers, essential workers, the unemployed, the elderly, those with compromised health or mental illness, and the list went on and on.

All these people so dependent on each other.  Some have positions of authority with decision-making power over many. But there are others previously overlooked who we are literally depending upon for our daily bread. So many people. So many lives. Any attempt to untangle these interrelationships would inevitably result in harm to someone because this is a no-win situation. These thoughts were too overwhelming, so I had to give way to the tears and lament that had been building up inside. The only words left to pray were, “Lord, you know.”

In our inmost selves, we are immediately  — without benefit of reasoning, that is, and prior to all reasoning — conscious of ourselves as created, limited, dependent beings. We are dependent upon everything around us, upon the whole spiritual and material world. Man is a “dependent” of the universe. And further, he is dependent, together with other created things, and dependent this time in an absolute sense, on God who is the one, eternal, and real being.2

If our sole dependence rested on other fallible human beings, we would have good reason to fear. There is a limit to the best wisdom, knowledge, and skill any person can offer, and that “best” is still tainted with sin. But there is Someone greater, wiser, and more powerful under-girding our interrelationships and interdependence on each other. Someone on whom we truly depend. He is not the watchmaker god of the deists who winds the timepiece and observes what will happen from afar. Our God sees perfectly and judges righteously. His purpose will not waiver and neither will his love. He took on humanity that he might redeem us, purchasing pardon with his death and providing righteousness with his life.

As his children, we have an open invitation to the throne of grace. We are welcome to pour out our hearts in petition, but we are also free to come when we are too overwhelmed to even know what to pray.  We can come to the end of our rope and the end of ourselves in this place of dependence. A place where Christ accepts a feeble, “Lord, you know,” and gives us assurance that he does.

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb. 4:15-16 NASB


1. The Wonderful Works of God, Herman Bavinck, Westminster Seminary Press, 2019, pg. 29.
2. Ibid. pg. 27.

June 29, 2021

Unanswered Prayer for Healing and God’s Sovereignty

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”

Romans 11:33

Our daily search for good devotional studies takes us back to previously featured writers, and others who, as with today’s piece, we are discovering for the first time. Author and speaker Reagan K. Reynolds lives in North Carolina (USA) has been blogging at her eponymous site since April, 2015. As always, support these writers by reading their work at the source webpages; just click the header which follows.

Wrestling with The Sovereignty of God in Delayed Healing

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 

Romans 8:26-29

She sobbed into the phone, “It’s just so confusing. Does God heal people or not? Jesus healed everyone who asked him, so where is the healing I’m asking for?”

My heart ached for my friend, as she has found herself in a whirlwind of despair while also riding a fast train of newly devoted faith in Jesus.

“I feel like I’m on a roller coaster, and I just want to know how this all works.”

The issue of healing is confusing in the Bible Belt where main streets in every small town are dotted with Bible thumpers and prosperity preachers arguing about the rights and wrongs of healing faith. I know, I grew up here. I grew up confused.

As we talked, I prayed for wisdom. I’ve personally experienced very miraculous healing. I’ve also experienced long seasons of deep suffering. In some ways, I am still waiting on the Father. I sometimes catch myself observing that although Jesus has conquered sin and death, all things continue to die around me.

As I prayed I kept thinking about the Garden of Eden. Maybe you know the story, but maybe you don’t.

God creates a beautiful garden and then He places the first humans in that garden. We call those humans Adam and Eve. The Lord places two trees in the middle of the garden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil He deems off-limits––it is His one rule. He commands Adam (and Eve through Adam) not to eat of that tree with a warning that by doing so they will die. But a cunning serpent suggests to Eve that God is a liar and that if they eat from the fruit of the forbidden tree they will not die, but will be like God knowing both good and evil (Genesis 3:5). Eve disobeys God and takes the first step towards trusting her own understanding of what is good and what is evil by claiming the forbidden knowledge as her own. Adam also joins her and their eyes are opened to their nakedness. They feel shame for the first time. The Lord clothes them, curses them, and sends them out into the wilderness with a promise that the longer narrative would not end in tragedy.

Before they eat of the fruit, Adam and Eve live deferring to the God of Creation. When eating the fruit, they follow their own understanding of what is right and permissible for them. As a result, death and suffering enter the human story. The next generations recorded in the Old Testament prove that very real result of sin with a gradual, but drastic, decline in the life span of humanity.

And then another story from scripture came to my mind.

Job is a man who, although righteous before God, is allowed to endure great great suffering for a long time––great, great suffering. In his cries to the Lord he advocates for himself based on his righteousness (read: his faith) in the Lord.  He is desperate to understand why he is being forced to endure great despair. His friends suggest all sorts of things, including that he might be suffering as a result of sin––but he’s not. When God finally responds to Job’s myriad of questions and pleas and laments, He says, “Who is this who questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them,” and then He goes on to end in the most epic rap battle of all time showing Job a panoramic view of how great and mighty and sovereign He is. Summary: He is the Lord. Who are we to question His wisdom, even in our suffering?

In remembering this history, it occurs to me that the knowledge of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil’ belongs to the Lord, whether we have access to it or not. Living with Jesus as Lord means we follow His example and defer to the Father. The knowledge of what we should do and how the Lord should respond to us is His to determine completely––after all, He is infinitely greater in wisdom than our finite beings (Rom. 11:33).

Jesus understands this firsthand. He pleads, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). He goes forward and endures the greatest suffering known to man to free us from our sins. The perfect Son of Man responds in obedience and endures His unrighteous suffering, but we––in our weakness––sometimes demand results, and if not results––an explanation, in exchange for our allegiance.

God is not formulaic. God is not transactional. He is relational. And He is beholden to no one.

Yes, not even to you––dearly loved Christian.

Does your skin crawl a little bit and your soul get defensive when you read that? Does something inside you proclaim it is your right to know and determine what the ‘good’ outcome to your suffering should be?

When we demand a formulaic approach to miraculous healing, it’s as if we are holding the bitten forbidden fruit demanding the God of the Universe conform to our understanding of the knowledge He first forbade.

I gently and humbly suggest that if our faith is shaken when God doesn’t respond the way we think He ought to, then perhaps we’ve sized God to our own limited definition of ‘good’ and that perhaps in doing so, we are missing out on the larger blessings––the epic wins––as a result.

“Where is my healing?” is a permissible question to ask the Lord, He can handle all of our questions. But it just might not be the best one. I think the question I am hearing from the cry of the heart of my suffering friend (and so many others) is

“Can I trust Him in my suffering?”

One sure way I know to offer comfort to a believer is to remind them who the God of the Bible is…

He is sovereign. (Colossians 1:16-17)
He is good. (Mark 10:18)
He is righteous. (Psalm 11:7)
He is loving. (1 John 4:19)
He is merciful. (Deuteronomy 4:31_
He is miraculous. (Acts 3:16)
He is present. (Zephaniah 3:17)
He is active. (Romans 8:38-39)
He is powerful. (Job 26:14)
He is gentle. (Matthew 11:29)
He is humble. (Philippians 2:8)
He is a restorer. (Acts 3:21)
He is trustworthy. (Psalm 9:10)
He moves towards the broken. (Psalm 34:18)
He is our refuge. (Psalm 46:1-3)
He sees you. (Genesis 16:13)

He is the perfect embodiment of ‘love’ (1 John 4:7-8). He is the very definition of ‘good’ (Psalm 100:5). He created those words and ordained their original meaning (John 1:3).

Knowing what we know about our God, can we defer to Him in all the other unknowns?

My limited view values this life too much. My ego sometimes demands immediate relief from my suffering. But His view stretches beyond the scope of time, eternity, life, and death––and He holds for my life and His glory the perfect plan. And, yes, although everything in this life does die, (who can deny this?) I know that the God of all Creation has promised a new life with no suffering in the end (Revelation 21:1-4). And if you are living under the loving mercy of our mighty Savior, Jesus, then this knowledge is for you as well.

Friend, asking the Lord for healing is in no way undermined by our submission to His sovereignty in all things. We fear an all-powerful God who is out for our ultimate good. He has given a spirit that intercedes for us according to the will of God. Be encouraged that, even when it’s so very hard and none of it makes sense, we have a God that works all things together for our good (Romans 8:26-29)

May 12, 2021

Responses to Unanswered Prayer(s)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today a double feature from two authors who are new to us. Discover more by these writers by clicking the individual headers which follow.


Bruce Green writes at A Taste of Grace.

“God Answered Our Prayer!”

God answered our prayer!” we proclaim as someone who has been in our hearts, thoughts, and prayers is brought to better circumstances. We mean well by such a statement. We mean to bring glory to our Father and recognize what He has done. But the truth is, these words can be a poor way of expressing our joy.

Church bulletins, personal prayer lists, and social media catalog those in chronic need. Perhaps it’s an illness or disease, hardship, or simply the effects of living a long life that places people there. Whatever it is, people ask for our prayers and we remember them before our Father. Then someone on our list sees things change for the better and they are taken off the list. Should we thank God for that? Absolutely! Praise Him for what He has done? We’d better! Should we be discerning when going public with such news?  Ahhh . . . this is where we tend to have our problems.

In our eagerness to publicly celebrate what God’s done, we can crush the spirits of the others on our list.  Our “God has answered our prayers,” sounds like we’re saying that He hasn’t answered the prayers of the others (and we mean no such thing).  He has answered the prayers of everyone on the list (though it may not have been the answer they desired). But to deny them this recognition is to isolate them even further and add to their troubles. We should say something like, “God has given us what we asked for,” or similar words. Just as important, we should try to do it in a way that is sensitive to all.

But I suspect there’s a larger issue here.  I think our speech is the way it is because we haven’t fully accepted that God does answer our prayers in regard to the person who remains in chronic need. No one has any trouble understanding that God has answered the prayer of the person who is delivered from their circumstances. And, most will agree that God has delivered the person who didn’t get better and died. But what of the person who remains in difficult circumstances—has God really answered their prayer? For many of us, the answer seems to be “no.” What purpose could God have in a little boy suffering for years with leukemia? How could he be using the elderly woman who has been bedridden for a decade? From our finite human perspective, these are questions we have no answer for.

But our ability to understand God’s purposes isn’t the point. The issue is His sovereignty and power.  Is He able to use the situation and make good come of it?  Yes!  That’s exactly what Paul asserts when he writes, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28).  God can use us in death, in life, and anywhere in between!   We may not be able to fathom how He does this, we may struggle to accept it, or we may pray that it be different, but God is sovereign over all circumstances and situations and can use them all (not just the “good” ones)!  We need to believe this!

Paul follows this with the wonderful salvo of v. 31ff, “What, then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?”  He then enumerates the possible things we might face and boldly declares that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (v. 39).  What is He saying?  Among other things, he is telling us that we should never interpret the worst of life’s situations (trouble, hardship, sickness, etc.), as meaning that God has left us—He hasn’t!  He won’t!  While we may not understand His purpose in them, we can be absolutely assured that the One who used the death of His only Son to bring salvation to the world can and will bring good out of our darkest circumstances and these circumstances do not have the power to separate us from Him.

We have His word on it!


Kevin Carson is a pastor in Ozark, Missouri.

Grateful for Answered and Unanswered Prayer

Are You Grateful for Unanswered Prayer?

I saw this quote earlier:

I am profoundly grateful that God did not grant me certain things I asked for,
and that he shut certain doors in my face.
– Martyn Lloyd-Jones

It got me thinking… What unanswered prayers am I grateful for?

I have a few. For sake of privacy, I think I won’t mention them all on here. Along the way, I have asked God for certain things that I am for sure grateful He chose not to answer affirmatively. He protected me. Some are even embarrassing upon further reflection.

Then I think of this other category… What about those prayers that went unanswered as part of God’s providential protection for which I have no idea how devastating they would have been to me had they been answered?

I’m not sure how big this category even is! When you pray something, at least for me, I think I know the benefits of the prayer at the time – if God would say, “Yes”. For better or worse, I trust my wisdom in asking. Maybe at times I even ask someone else about a particular request before I ask God about it just to get an additional opinion. But at the end of the day, I typically do not know from what a “No” answer from God has actually spared me. I imagine this category is immense.

I think about some of my bigger prayer requests that went unanswered with a “Yes” and I wonder. What did God know that I didn’t know? I try to learn from this.

Are You Grateful for Answered Prayer?

Again, this actually is a trick question in my mind. Even in the answered prayer category there are multiple levels.

Many, many prayer requests I can say that I am grateful God answered. These include spiritual, familial, circumstantial, and various other requests. I rejoice in many of these answered requests like: My Grandad recently recovered from COVID, God allowing me to get a big buck, and there are many, many more. Protection of the family. On and on these could go.

Here’s the next level. Are there answers to prayer that you received in the affirmative and now regret you ever prayed them?

This category contains all kinds of difficult questions as a believer. God granted our request, but on further reflection, we realize that maybe it was not the wisest thing to ever pray about or for. The difficulty here involves the fact that God’s sovereignty includes both what is prayed for and what we received. At that point, we trust God’s providential care.

It Comes Down to the Heart

At the end of the day, it all comes down to our hears. Are we going to trust God? Will we trust what He specifically does? As well, will we trust what God does that we do not even known He is doing?

To be honest, for so many, trust can be very hard. Yet, we must. Trust. Even when hard – Trust.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6


“Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.” — Here’s a link to an article we ran in September, 2020 which was a recap of other pieces here which touched on this topic: Click here to read.

January 20, 2021

The Christian and Government

As I type this, on Wednesday morning, the inauguration of the 46th American President is playing out on a nearby television. As the citizen of another country — both literally and spiritually — I don’t always make a point of watching such things, but this year is very different.

Not even a month out of Christmas, the first scripture which came to mind was Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  (NIV)

Biblehub.com notes an interesting related reference, Isaiah 21:22-22

I will dress him in your royal robes and will give him your title and your authority. And he will be a father to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. I will give him the key to the house of David—the highest position in the royal court. When he opens doors, no one will be able to close them; when he closes doors, no one will be able to open them. (NLT)

The context (v15) is that these words are spoken to Shebna the palace administrator, concerning his successor. Two verses later the warning is dire:

“Beware, the LORD is about to take firm hold of you and hurl you away, you mighty man.”

and then just another two verses later,

“I will depose you from your office, and you will be ousted from your position.”

Perhaps that’s a bit tangential, but those last two verses seem so timely…

…The last phrase of verse 22 is reminiscent of Jesus speaking Matthew 16:19

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (ESV)

which also represents a transfer of power, so to speak, as Jesus, who Revelation 1:18 tells us holds the keys grants to Peter, and therefore the Church, and therefore you and I, this power of binding and loosing. (We’ve discussed possible meanings of this in full at this post.) The term is ecclesiastic however, not referencing human government

Still, all things, whether spiritual authority or civil author come from God’s hand and under his ultimate sovereignty. Psalm 75:6-7 states

For exaltation comes neither from the east
Nor from the west nor from the south.
But God is the Judge:
He puts down one,
And exalts another. (NKJV)

You may be thinking of other passages which discuss civil authority. Best known perhaps is Romans 13:1-7

1 Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.

Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority. (NLT)

The next one which comes to mind is 1 Peter 2:13-17

13 Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority 14 or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. 15 For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (CSB)

GotQuestions.org looks at this topic:

The Bible speaks very clearly about the relationship between the believer and the government. We are to obey governmental authorities, and the government is to treat us justly and fairly. Even when the government does not live up to its role, we are still to live up to ours. Finally, when the government asks us to do something that is in direct disobedience to God’s Word, we are to disobey the government in faithful confidence of the Lord’s power to protect us…

…The instructions to government “masters” are just as clear and just as numerous. Jesus modeled the behavior and attitude every leader or authority should take. “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (Matthew 20:25-28). A government or authority exists to serve those governed.

Many times, however, a government will stray from its purpose and become oppressive. When that happens, we are still to live in obedience. “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God” (1 Peter 2:18-19). Both Jesus and Paul used taxes as a way to illustrate this. The Roman government taxed the Jews unjustly and many of the tax collectors were thieves. When asked about this dilemma, Jesus took a coin and said, “‘Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then he said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’” (Matthew 22:20-21). Evidently, the believers in Rome were still asking the same question because Paul instructed them on the matter. “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing” (Romans 13:6).

click here to read the article in full

I want to end with the first part of 1 Corinthians 3:21. Paul is speaking about leadership in the church, but I believe we can read the verse more broadly for today:

So then, no one is to be boasting in people.  (NASB)
So don’t be proud of your allegiance to any human leader. (TPT)

We are to obey the government, but we do not place our ultimate faith or our ultimate hope in them.

 

 

 

 

December 30, 2020

In Good Times and Bad Times

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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“Pastor Michael Stancil of Fulton Bridge Baptist Church in Hamilton [Alabama] was 49 when he died after a six-week battle with the new coronavirus.” So begins an article in The Christian Post. This isn’t one of those stories. The pastor was extra-cautious and made sure his church did everything right in terms of respecting health guidelines.

What struck me was this from a parishioner:

…Lindsay Evans also remembered the late pastor as a compassionate man…

Evans also explained that even from his hospital bed, Stancil was a faithful witness…

“I text him and told him…. That so many were praying, and we loved him! He text me back this verse…’When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.’ – Ecclesiastes 7:14,” she wrote.

That seems so timely right now.

The full verse, in the NET Bible reads, “In times of prosperity be joyful, but in times of adversity consider this: God has made one as well as the other, so that no one can discover what the future holds.” The Voice renders it, “When times are good, enjoy them and be happy. When times are bad, think about this: God makes both good and bad times, so that no one really knows what is coming next.” Eugene Peterson presents it this way, ” On a good day, enjoy yourself; On a bad day, examine your conscience. God arranges for both kinds of days So that we won’t take anything for granted.”

First a word about the use of prosperity. Over 20 translations on Bible Gateway include this (everything from NLT to KJV; also the rigorous translation team at NASB) but expositors often point out that the Bible is often speaking of the prospering of the soul instead of our emphasis on material, financial prosperity. Three of the four I quoted above simply contrast good times with hard times.

Second, all of the verses above talk about God making or arranging those not-so-good days, and that sentiment is unanimous among translators on the larger list inked above. On a personal level, let me say that this is interesting considering the propensity of those who want to say, “Well, we live in a fallen world and these things just happen, it doesn’t mean God sends them.” Or those doing their best to convince me of the concept of open theology. I am partially persuaded that it’s worth giving this view a hearing, but then I hit a verse like this one. The translators felt that God is actively involved in orchestrating (the word I often prefer) these circumstances, situations and events.

What do you think this verse says to the idea that “God didn’t send the Coronavirus?”

The overarching message seems clear in the above verse: Don’t take anything for granted. No one really knows what’s coming next…

…I had originally planned today to talk about the duration of plagues, since Covid-19 has dragged on to the point where many of have Covid fatigue, and the outlook where I live is that there are still plenty more days of masks, quarantines and lockdowns ahead.

There will be violent earthquakes, and famines and plagues in various places, and there will be terrifying sights and great signs from heaven.
 – Luke 21:11 CSB

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
– Matthew 24:6,7 NIV

Most of the mentions of plagues in the Bible are either related to the ten plagues brought upon the Egyptians in the Book of Exodus, and the prophecies concerning plagues yet to be seen from the Book of Revelation. Leila Pitchford has done a good job of spelling those out in this article.

Rather, the scriptures speak of famines as being extremely relevant in a time before canned and packaged food, refrigeration, or freezers. Even using salt as a preservative, the best-before dates on the contents of your pantry would be very limited. Although many Westerners miss it, Jesus includes a famine as a catalyst for the wayward son’s return in his parable, and of course the famine managed by Joseph in Egypt would come to mind as Jesus teaches.

At the website, The Conversation, author Robyn J. Whittaker says “we want to blame someone.” She writes,

…Given the ubiquity of religion in most human communities throughout history, it is not surprising reflections on pandemics often begin with God. Plagues and diseases on such a scale feel “biblical” in the sense they are beyond the norm and therefore supernatural in some way. While modern science gives us insight into COVID-19, we still look for someone, anyone, to blame for its presence.

In antiquity, that someone was often God…

She continues,

…Throughout history, humans have sought explanations for things that are beyond our normal control or understanding. While God is often credited as the sender of plagues or pestilence – usually to teach some moral lesson – we tend to focus our wrath on human scapegoats. In the 1980s, the HIV-AIDS viral pandemic was blamed on the gay community or Haitians, revealing the racism and homophobia behind such views.

US President Donald Trump’s constant reference to COVID-19 as the “China virus” reflects a similar desire for a scapegoat. In its worst form, the blame game leads to widespread retribution against anyone identified with that group…

Writer Leah Hall introduces a compilation of verses about plagues with these words,

You might find yourself wondering if you are experiencing the types of plagues described in the Bible and unsure if this just happened because the world is imperfect. Or you might hear people saying that it’s a form of punishment and find yourself uncertain what to believe. The truth is, we don’t know why these tragic things happen. But we do know that while God allows them, He is a God of comfort, and the plagues found in the Bible are only a small piece of a larger story—a redemptive rescue mission that culminates with Jesus and the gospel.

Two of the verses she includes are:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

and

“God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.

So we will not fear when earthquakes come
and the mountains crumble into the sea.

Let the oceans roar and foam.
Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!” – Psalm 46

September 22, 2020

God is the Judge, But We Want to be the Jury

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we return to a devotional writer we first introduced five years ago. The site is Your Bible Quotes, and the writer is Sonya Richards. Although the page is no longer active, we visited recently and found this older article which we hope will resonate with you. There are links within the piece to other devotionals she has written.

God is The Judge But We Are Not The Jury

God is the Judge, but we are not the Jury

The Bible is a mirror, not a gavel with which you strike the bench to pass judgment on other believers. When you read the Bible are you humbly seeking to do God’s will or feverishly looking to see where others miss the mark? We all miss the mark on a daily basis, but the flesh wants to divide sins into categories and degrees of sin. Homosexuality is a sin and Christians are quick to judge that sin; however, if you bring home a pencil from work, you have stolen it and are just as culpable as a homosexual. All sin is sin and God is the judge of it all.

Because God is the judge, He is a just judge, giving not punishments that we deserve, but more grace for all who repent. We do not know what lies in the heart of another person, but we know God looks on the heart. Do not be tempted to play God.

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7(NLT)

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? James 4:11-12 (NIV)

Lawbreakers All

Our job is to keep the law, not administer it. God is the judge; we are his subjects. That is a powerful Biblical truth. Think of it this way, when we see someone breaking the law, should we arrest him? We do not have the authority to enforce the law; only policemen can do that. So instead of pulling your neighbor over and telling him he is speeding, pay attention to your own speed because the only person you can control is you. You might wish the police would catch your neighbor speeding, but you cannot even make the police pull him over. If you call the police station and tell them they should stop your neighbor for speeding, I think they would tell you that was not your concern. If you call the police station and tell them they should stop your neighbor from speeding I think they would tell you that was not your concern.

Judging another’s sin is a slippery slope because God is the judge, the Name above all names, and He says if you start pointing fingers you might call down a heavy judgment from Heaven upon yourself. There is no chance that anyone is not sinning; it’s the nature of the beast. The Bible says to forgive your enemies, and the Lord’s Prayer says “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors (Matthew 6:12). That means to forgive us in the same portion that we forgive others. I’m fairly certain we do not earnestly desire that.

Throw Out a Lifeline

As a matter of a fact, instead of contemplating the depth and frequency of another’s sin, we should be on our knees praying day and night that they would come to the knowledge of their errors so as to be forgiven, rescued from death, pass into eternal life and turn to God. We know that prayer changes things.

God didn’t save you so you can gloat; He saved you so you can spread the gospel. A Christian is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.

 

September 3, 2020

For Thine is the Kingdom… But Mine is the Driver’s Seat

by Clarke Dixon

Wouldn’t everything be better if we were in the driver’s seat? If we were in control and called the shots? This thought may cross our minds as we watch the news. Who thought it was a good idea to . . . ? Why don’t they . . . ? We might think it when we watch loved ones make foolish decisions, at least foolish in our eyes. What are they thinking?!

If only everyone would ask us, everything would run better. But we sit at the phone and world leaders never phone to ask our advice. Neither, it seems, do our friends and family members. We would love to be in the driver’s seat and make the all the important decisions but we don’t even feel like we are in the car.

And then we pray, and we might pray as if God has called us looking for our advice. Sometimes, perhaps often, we don’t just pray to God, we tell him how to answer our prayers. We want to be in the driver’s seat, even with God in the car.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, especially the last lines, we will be caused to consider and reconsider just who should be in the driver’s seat of our lives:

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen

The Lord’s Prayer (traditional)

The traditional ending to the Lord’s Prayer is not actually part of the prayer Jesus taught. But it is Biblical, the language being very similar to a prayer of David:

Thine, O Lord is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all.

1 Chronicles 29:11 KJV

David prayed this prayer while God’s people were experiencing their “glory days” as a nation. David was a good king, a loyal king, who though not perfect, had led the nation well. Under his leadership the twelve tribes gelled together into one nation, he led many military victories, built a grand palace for the royal family, and now was preparing for Solomon to take over as king including the provision of all Solomon would need to build a temple for the LORD. Solomon had already been declared king as well, so this was a time of transition from a great king to his son.

As we read about this time of transition, what might we expect from David? We might expect David to gloat, “look what I’ve done, look at my power, my victories, my majesty, my kingdom that I have built, and how I am exalted over it all. Look now at my son who is ready to take my place as your king.”

Does David gloat? No, David prays:

Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.

1 Chronicles 29:11 NRSV (emphasis added)

David was a great king, but God is preeminent, the true and greater king. David knew it. David knew that it was far better to be a servant of the true king than to be a king.

This focus of God as king is found throughout the chapter. Where we might expect the word for temple in the first verse, we find the word meaning palace or fortress instead, as in the LORD is not just God who will reside in a temple as gods do, but is also the king who will reside in a fortress as kings do.

Also within Chapter 29, which is focused on preparations for the building of the temple, Bible scholars see allusions to Moses and the building of the original tabernacle. In other words, though we now have a king instead of a prophet as leader, nothing has really changed. The LORD is still our God, our leader and protector, our true king.

David could gloat, and the people could praise him. The focus, however, is on God the true king. God is preeminent. David knew that it was better to be a servant of the king than to be a king. David knew that it was a privilege to serve the Lord as a passenger and not as the one in the driver’s seat.

When we pray, we may be tempted to take the driver’s seat, to tell God what should be done, and how it should be done. As we pray “thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever,” we are reminded that we are not in the driver’s seat. We will gladly take the passenger seat and let God take the wheel.

If David knew that God was preeminent, Peter, Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, James, and so many others we read of in the New Testament knew that Jesus is preeminent:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11 NIV

When we pray “thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever” we are not just thinking of and praying to some generic idea of God, a God that cannot be known. We are praying to God who has revealed himself to us supremely through Jesus Christ. We are speaking, not just to our king, but to the one who has given us the right to call upon him as our Heavenly Father.

The Lord’s Prayer begins “Our father.” May prayer be for us an experience of being a child of God. It ends with “thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.” May prayer be for us an experience of being his servant who seeks his glory. Being a child and servant of the one true king is far better than being a king. May prayer become for us an experience of letting God take the driver’s seat in our lives.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to pandemic precautions. The teaching segment alone can be seen here.

August 18, 2020

A Famine of God’s Word | Lordship of Christ | God Owns it All

As we did one year ago, today we are presenting a trio of shorter devotionals for you from The Bare Soul Daily Devotional by Rick Roeber (aka The Barefoot Runner). Rick’s story is one of defeating addiction and he has been a guest on The 700 Club.

Spiritual Famine

Amos 8:11 – “’Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘When I will send a famine on the land. Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord.'”

As it was in Amos’ day, so it is now. The context of the eighth chapter of Amos is one of great apostasy. The Nation of Israel had substituted greed for charity. They no longer sought the welfare of others, only what they could selfishly obtain. Therefore, the Lord told them He would send a famine of God’s word upon the land. No longer would there be dream or vision to instruct the nation in their wickedness. The silence of God would be their eventual downfall.

Today, we have silenced God by replacing Him with our selfish pursuits. Far be it from us to miss a weekend at the lake rather than serving God in our local church! Or, how about that weekly prayer meeting God has been prompting us for weeks to attend? The world is sleeping in the dark as the church sleeps and relaxes in God’s light. However, there is coming a day of reckoning when God will hold us accountable for how we have used our time. Beloved, the days are evil. Let us make the most of each day by including God in our plans. For a day is coming soon when our lives will be laid bare before His throne where we will all give an account.

Jesus’ Lordship

Psalm 16:2 – “I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good besides You.’”

When we come to the place of David, confessing Christ’s Lordship and really believing it, then great things begin to happen. We recognize how His righteousness is the only thing that can ever be “good” in our lives. Religion is replaced by relationship and romance toward the Lover of our souls. Like David, our hearts will rise in praise and thanksgiving when we truly recognize He is Lord and Master of our surrendered hearts.

The Savior tells us in the Gospel of Matthew that many will say “Lord, Lord” on that final day. Jesus further explains how He will disown those who have practiced lawlessness (Matthew 7:21-23). Christ is not talking necessarily about just the Ten Commandments. He is speaking about a love for living the character of God which is embodied in the law. The law of liberty has set us free from the bondage of the law, beloved (James 1:25). Jesus is truly our Lord when we instinctively live His commandments. This is true freedom that demonstrates itself in love for God and mankind.

God’s Ownership

Job 41:11 – “Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.”

God Almighty, the one and true God, has never sought repayment for sending His Son the Lord Jesus Christ to die for the sin of mankind. This is what makes Him unique among all other religions. Every other belief in God, other than Christianity, demands repayment of some kind. These faiths conclude that we must be like God, so therefore we must work to attain to His character. Or, that we strive to recompense Him in some way for all of His benefits toward us.

Truly, the only thing we can give back to God is ourselves, which He already owns. One of the truest expressions of this is giving Him our time in worship. Devotion takes on many forms, but it should never be looked at as something that makes God like or love us more. It is impossible for Him to love us more than He already does, which is infinitely. All we can truly do as believers is accept His great gift and say thank you. When we expend time in this manner, we acknowledge we can do nothing further in the grand plan of redemption.

May 29, 2020

Ask and You Shall Receive?

Readers: This week Clarke provided an extra article which we ran yesterday and this one, which picks up where we were last Thursday in Matthew 7.

by Clarke Dixon

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Matthew 7:7-8 (NIV)

Does it ever seem like Jesus is telling us a big fib here? We ask for something, and it is not given to us. We are not talking about asking for something obviously foolish, like a million dollars suddenly appearing in our bank accounts. Nor are we thinking of something that would be selfish. We could be asking for something good, something that will benefit everyone, like, say, a a quick end to this pandemic. Or we can pray for years for something that would have a really good impact on a loved one. But nothing changes. Was Jesus telling a fib? Is our faith misplaced? Is our faith too weak?

When we dig into the teaching of Jesus here, we will discover that the truth is better than we think and God is greater than we conceive.

If we are being honest, we often conceive of God as being like a computer. It may be subconscious, but we can often relate to God as if He were a computer, especially when Jesus tells us to ask, seek, and knock.

Ask a computer to do something, it does it. Do a search on Google, you start finding stuff. Enter the right password, you will get in. Ask, seek, knock. When our computers are functioning and the internet is up to speed, we are used to these things happening, and quickly.

This speaks to the kind of relationship we have with a computer. We don’t have one. Well perhaps some of us do. The computer I am typing this on is now eight years old and is showing its age in sometimes not keeping up. I do speak to it when it bogs down saying “okay computer, let’s go.” But that is hardly a relationship.

If we can speak of having a relationship with a computer, it is one of the computer serving and being obedient to us, the operators. A relationship which makes God obedient to us is not the kind of relationship Jesus has in mind when we tells us to ask, seek, and knock. It is a good thing it is not!

Computers are so good at being obedient to us, that they are very good at messing things up at our command. I can delete very important files with a few clicks of the mouse. I have the power to make a big mess! The computer gives me that amount of control.

If God always answered our prayers the way we want Him to, when we want Him to, we could create a big mess. God is God. We are not. We do not comprehend the good things God is accomplishing in our lives, the lives of others, and in our world. We do not see how God is shaping everything in His providence even now, even despite our freewill, to deliver a desired future. When we pray, we might be asking God to delete his good laws of nature, or the work he is doing in people’s lives, or even our own lives without even knowing it. God is not a computer. He gives us freedom, but will not give us that amount of control. Job said “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted” Job 42:2 (NIV). When God says ‘no’ to us, it is because God is good.

God is not obedient to us, like a computer. However, God is good to us, like a good, good Father. Jesus goes on to teach us about that:

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Matthew 7:9-11 (NIV)

When Jesus tells us to ask, seek, and knock, Jesus is speaking to us about the father/child relationship we can have with God. So when our foolishness starts getting us into trouble, let us ask, and we shall receive a good father’s wisdom. When we lose our way, going down the paths of apathy and hatred instead of the path of love, let us seek, and we shall find the better path, for our Father will shine a light on it. When we have wandered far from home, and sheepishly come home, let us knock, and the door will be opened.

When Jesus tells us to ask, seek, and knock, he is not telling us that God will answer every prayer the way we want, no matter how good we think that prayer may be. He is telling us to trust God as a good father, having confidence in Him and His provision. God is not obedient to us, but He is good to us.

God is not obedient to us, but He is good to us.

God may seem to be unpredictable. God may seem to let us endure more trouble than we think He should. God may hold back from intervening in our day to day lives more than we would like. Good fathers are actually like that. God is unpredictable, yet faithful. God is unpredictable as good fathers are, letting us endure through difficult circumstances for our growth and maturity. Yet God is faithful, in walking with us. I would not enjoy motorcycling now if at some point my Dad did not let go of the bicycle. God sometimes lets go of the bike. We learn to ride. God pushes us out of our comfort zones, yet keeps us safe.

Good fathers rescue their children when they face grave danger. God rescues us from the consequence and power of sin through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. God will let go of the bike as we learn to ride. We may fall down. God also stands between us and a cliff.

When Jesus says “ask, seek, knock . . .” he is not inviting us to manipulate God, to have control over God, to expect God’s obedience to us. He is inviting us to enter more fully into a father/child relationship with God Who is a good, good Father. Do you need to ask, seek, or knock?


Pastor Clarke Dixon loves music, motorcycles and ministry, though not necessarily in that order. His wife and three teenage boys are currently social distancing about an hour east of Toronto. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

April 18, 2020

Finding Hope in Spring Rebirth

The Cove is a multi-site church in Mooresville, NC (Greater Charlotte) which posts weekday devotions on their website. The ones for this week were by Jenna Worsham. This was the Monday devotional in a series on the subject of new birth. I’ve also added an image below.

He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”’ Revelation 21:5 (NIV)

I’ve seen a number of pictures like this, where new life springs out of old. This one was in my files. These pictures are usually accompanied by verses such as Isaiah 43:19;
“Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.”
or Revelation 21:5a
“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”

The Bible contains many prophesies. The ones about Jesus’ life as a Man on earth were fulfilled in the details of His birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection. We know God keeps His promises and the prophesies are fulfilled because we can see it in His Word.

The Israelites and Jesus’ disciples lived in specific cultures and times. Because of their perspective, they may not have been able to understand all the ways prophesy was coming true during their lives. However, they were able to see some things. Jesus was born in the line of David, in Bethlehem. He fulfilled all of the prophesy in the Old Testament, and the disciples would have seen and understood some of those fulfillments.

Earlier in history, God had delivered the Israelites from Egypt, fed them manna, taken them through the desert, and eventually gave them the Promised Land. Limited perspective didn’t leave either the disciples or the Israelites without hope. We read that they saw God’s character and how He had been faithful before. They chose to remember and trust His promises. They chose to live with hope and belief that what God promised would one day come to pass.

We haven’t yet seen all of the prophesy in the Bible come true. At the end of the Bible, the book of Revelation shows us some things that will happen. Sometimes we shy away from the Revelation because we don’t understand it all, or we don’t want to misinterpret it. Yet, God’s promises are for our good. They give us hope. Even if we don’t understand every detail, we know Him and how He has moved on behalf of His people in the past. We can trust that prophesy will come true and it will be for us, not against us. “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Revelation 21:5, NIV).

We live in a culture and time where this prophesy hasn’t come to pass yet, not entirely, but things are definitely changing. The Man seated on the throne is in charge of the new heaven and new earth. He is making it new in that moment! There is no more death, pain, crying, or mourning anymore! We know that Jesus’ body rose from the dead and was made brand new.

Every spring, we see dead things come back to life. This is that season. We are seeing those flowers, buds, and births now! In seasons of pain, suffering, isolation, and fear, we are not without hope. We have promises. This prophesy will be complete in the future. In a way, it has already started coming true. God is already in the business of making things new. He shows us how birth, coming alive, renewing, reviving, awakening, and remaking are His specialties.

God’s actions in my life, the rebirth I’ve seen in my friends and family, the new life in nature–all point to the truth. Our God is “making everything new.” His words are always “trustworthy and true.” We have hope now because God is in the redemption business. We have hope for the day when this verse in Revelation is absolutely, completely fulfilled.

Read: Revelation 21:1-5;  Exodus 6:7, 12:51;  Luke 4:16-21


…Later on in the week (on Thursday), Jenna posted something I want to share a brief excerpt from:

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:21-22, ESV).

The earth is like a pregnant woman. She is capable of so much more than she can accomplish right now. Her limitations are temporary. The life she carries brings much joy now and will bring more joy soon. Nearer to the time when Jesus returns, the earth will suffer; it will be like labor for her and all who live on her. It will be hard. It will seem like it may never end. But when labor is over, Jesus will make everything new.

March 23, 2020

Missing Each Other

Yesterday at The Meeting House family of churches in Ontario, Canada, pastor Bruxy Cavey began with this passage in I Thess. 2:

17 Dear brothers and sisters, after we were separated from you for a little while (though our hearts never left you), we tried very hard to come back because of our intense longing to see you again. 18 We wanted very much to come to you, and I, Paul, tried again and again…

In the opening scriptures, they couldn’t resist adding the first part of John 16:32

“A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home…”

I guess it helps to keep a sense of humor.

The verse that follows that one (verse 33) is instructive for us however,

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

In the sermon, Bruxy turned next to Judges 6. Gideon is speaking is verse 13:

“…if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about”

Gideon then references the dramatic deliverance from Egypt. But in the next verse, God replies.

Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”

God entrusts Gideon and his people to enact a similar deliverance but not with the dramatic intervention Israel experienced from Egypt, but rather, “with the strength you have.”

There was then a reference to Esther 4:14. You know this story. You know this verse. This is Esther’s uncle Mordecai speaking:

If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”

Bruxy said, “When God wants to do something, people are always his ‘Plan A.”

…On a recent podcast, Brant Hansen quoted the full text of The Serenity Prayer which includes these words:

…Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His will…

Again, “trusting that He will make all things right.”

Brant and co-host Sherri-Lynn also asked the question that needs to be asked of anyone out there who feels they have a belief system or a philosophy of life that is different from ours; that question is, “How does your faith stand up to a pandemic?”

Let’s take that question and make it more personal. Most people reading here at C201 are believers, right? So, how does your faith stand up to a pandemic?

When I met my wife she was a traveling soloist who did music ministry in a variety of churches in various parts of our province. One of the songs she did is by Twila Paris, titled The Warrior is a Child. This song epitomizes the feelings we have as Christ-followers where one minute we are on the mountain, but the next minute we are in the valley; one moment we feel great spiritual triumph and victory, and the next moment we feel great defeat.

Lately I’ve been winning battles left and right
But even winners can get wounded in the fight
People say that I’m amazing
Strong beyond my years
But they don’t see inside of me
I’m hiding all the tears

They don’t know that I go running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
‘Cause deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child

Unafraid because His armor is the best
But even soldiers need a quiet place to rest
People say that I’m amazing
Never face retreat
But they don’t see the enemies
That lay me at His feet

They don’t know that I go running home when I fall down…

Sometimes I think we have more fight in us when we together than we are alone. This alone time really shakes us and also causes us to look inside and see our weaknesses; uncover our spiritual vulnerabilities.

Perhaps in times past you’ve been living on Victory Street, but are finding the events of the past few weeks crushing you mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. That happens. Be honest. Confess that to our Father.

We’re separated from one another as local churches. We may not see the Egypt-style dramatic deliverance from this we’d like.

Take the message Gideon received, “Go in the strength you have.”


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.

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