Christianity 201

August 28, 2022

A Familiar Psalm as Poetry; As Drama

Four years ago I was composing a book review where I noted that while there has been much emphasis lately on the importance of respecting the various genres of scripture and reading each according to its unique style; the author of the book I was reviewing “suggests that they are all narrative, even to the point of labeling the poetic books as ‘wisdom stories,’ existing alongside ‘war stories,’ ‘deliverance stories,’ ‘gospel stories,’ ‘origin stories,’ and yes, in a category by themselves, ‘fish stories.’”

So when our son Aaron posted this to his blog earlier this week, I needed to read it twice to see the movement from micro-narrative to macro-narrative.

To make it easier for you to do, I’ve added a few sentences in italics below. It’s also helpful to ask yourself, “What is my present vantage point in this narrative?”

You can also click the title below to read the original.

Psalm 23 (CEV) 1 The Lord is my shepherd.
    I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
    he leads me to restful waters;
        he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
    for the sake of his good name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
    they protect me.

You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
    my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love
    will pursue me all the days of my life,
    and I will live in the Lord’s house
    as long as I live.

The Shadow of the Valley of Text

by Aaron Wilkinson

I’ve been reading about Hebrew poetry lately and I’ve realized that I may have been reading Psalm 23 all wrong.

Over-familiarity is our worst friend when we’re trying to develop a deep understanding of a text. I’ve heard the words “The Lord is my shepherd” and everything that comes after so many times that I’ve come to take it for granted. It becomes an absent-minded recitation. While I think all of us who grew up in the church have a grasp for the basic ethos of the poem, I’m discovering that Hebrew poetry demands that the reader slow down to really unpack the parallel images and words that characterize it.

I’ll assume you’ve read or heard or sung this poem before. Shepherd, Green Pastures, Quiet Waters. This part makes me feel nice. Although the line “I shall not want” feels more like a wish than an assertion. When I see my friends getting promoted or engaged, I definitely do want. I could say a lot about how profoundly rebellious this statement is against an ambitious and consumeristic culture, but that’s not my main point.

The tranquil tapestry of this mellow meadow ends with this.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

And then…

New paragraph. A gap in the formatting of the text! Now we’re going to talk about a new idea. If this were a film, we might put a scene transition here.

The camera pulls back from a tight close-up to a wider shot.

The tone is still optimistic but we’re no longer in that prior pastoral paradise.

But were we ever?

The way that the text is usually formatted suggests a shift that I’m not sure is meant to be there. Verse 3 and Verse 4 both use language of journeying. Being lead down the path and walking through the valley. Verses 1 and 2 show us images of stillness. Verses 3 and 4 get us moving. Unless the editors of the text are using the gap between the verses to symbolize a valley between hills, I think this break can be misleading.

Picture this: our scene opens on a young lamb, grazing on grass and sipping from a stream. We then see the lamb approached by a strong but gentle shepherd who signals to the lamb with his staff that it’s time to get moving. The lamb hops up and begins following the shepherd. As they go, they walk. They don’t run. They don’t hide. They walk.

The camera pulls back again.

Zoom out and we see that the two are, in fact, in a dark valley. Clouds thunder overhead and predators growl in the distance. Abandoned arrows, slash marks from swords, and spots of blood speak of some battle that was fought here recently. Warriors may still be crouching around the next bend. And there they walk, the sheep and the shepherd. Stopping for a break and a snack every now and then.

The green fields with quiet waters and the valley of the shadow of death aren’t two places. They are one. And Verses 5 and 6 will confirm this for us. How does the poem begin? Fields to graze in, water to drink, rest for the soul. Food, drink, rest. How does it end? A table in front of my enemies, an overflowing cup, goodness and mercy following me all the days of my life. Food, drink, rest – not in some idyllic ethereal otherworld, but in the very presence of enemies and threats. There are always the enemies, the shadow of death, but also the shepherd offers provision and comfort.

The camera pulls back one last time, this time showing a macro-image beyond imagination.

What’s more, we’ve zoomed out even further. We began in the sheep’s little world: the grass, the water, the shepherd. We zoomed out to see what the shepherd is protecting the sheep from: the valley. Now we are in “The house of the Lord, forever.” We end in the eternal transcendent House (surely this encompasses all creation) and the enemies and valleys are left sandwiched – surrounded – between the immediate local provision of the shepherd and the eternal promises of the future.

I’m sure there are layers of this poem that I’m still missing. The Israelites were masters of poetry so I’m sure that there are layers that shine out much better in the original language. But this poem is dense even in English. It’s packed. The images are tied together brilliantly and even the subtle implications of a verb like “walk” are carefully selected to tell us something about the beautiful relationship that God has to his creation, and the relationship between his providence and our challenges.

I think we miss this when we treat the Psalms first as theology and as poetry second. When we slow down and read them as poetry, their theology becomes much more profound.

July 1, 2022

The Important Caveat of Faith-Filled Prayer

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In yesterday’s devotional, we were encouraged to entertain the idea of praying more boldly, praying specifically, and of exercising greater faith as we pray. We were told to be on the lookout for doubt, which can compromise our prayer life.

However, there are times when our audacious prayers seem to, as one described it, “bounce off the ceiling.” (That is as if to say, never reach the ears of God.) Are there some details we’re missing? Perhaps.

Bruce Cooper writes from Halifax, Canada where he lives right on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean; he served 35 years with the Canadian military; and these days on his blog, Reasoned Cases for Christ, focuses on the study of Christian apologetics. Clicking the title which follows will link you to where this first appeared, which is encouraged.

A Fig Tree

I was reading a post by Andy Brown this morning, where Jesus curses a fig tree, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, which you can view here.

These are the Scripture verses that Andy quoted in Matthew 21:18-22 NASB which read as follows: ”

Now in the early morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. And seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves alone; and He said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered.

Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, “How did the fig tree wither all at once?”And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive it all.”

This is one of the quotes from Jesus that I acknowledge I do not always thoroughly understand, as it applies to practical application and anticipated results and I would imagine that I am not alone.

Taken at it’s face value, the teaching that Jesus gave us is relatively clear. We are to act on our expressed faith and believe (not doubt) that we have received what we have asked for, and by doing so, we will indeed receive it.

The thing is, Jesus is a lot smarter than I am, and that being a given, He obviously knew that these words of His could be and would be, misunderstood, yet He said them anyway. And not only did He say them, but He preceded them by stating “Truly I say to you” or as the Kings James words it, “Verily I say to you”. Those preceding words are always a red flag to His revealing of an important truth that Jesus wants us to grasp. So this “truth” that Jesus is explaining to us, is of strong importance. This “flag” on this vital truth, should instill in all of us, a need to comprehend what is being taught and how it applies.

And just to further expand on this teaching Jesus gives us, He includes the metaphor of attributing a mountain to be moved, which can easily represent a major difficulty that we might be encountering. Adding that particular metaphor could easily open up this teaching to additional instances of misunderstanding. Yet, once again, knowing that this was a possibility, Jesus went ahead and said it anyway. And considering that Jesus tells us that He never speaks on His own but only gives us the words that His Father gives Him to speak, this instance of teaching, according to other Scriptures, could and should be taken as coming directly from God the Father.

This would be one of those “name it and claim it” verses in Scripture that we so often run into. And if we take these verses of Scripture in isolation, it would be difficult to discern any other teaching from these Scriptures, other than the face value directive Jesus gives us, that I have previously indicated.

The key words in the preceding paragraph are “in isolation“, because in Scripture, there is always a possibility and a danger of misunderstanding what we are being given, when we ignore or disregard other Scriptures that gives additional guidance on a given subject that we are looking at. That is why it is vitally important to search the Scriptures and form our understanding on a given subject via “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” as indicated in Isaiah 28:7-13.

The “kicker” in this instance of teaching, is that what we ask God to do, in order to be granted, must be in accordance with the will of God. How do I know that you ask? Because God’s Holy Word tells me so as recorded in 1 John 5:14-15 NASB which reads as follows: “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.” Emphasis is mine.

You will note that in Matthew 21:22 Jesus is indeed linking this teaching with us asking God in prayer to do something, as is John, so we are dealing with the exact same subject.

And this is the part that I do not always understand, whether what I am asking for, is in accordance with the will of God. God is sovereign when it comes to His will. That means it is His decision and will that takes precedence, not mine. And God’s will encompasses His purposes, not mine, and His glory, not mine. Our Father indeed, does know best.

And therein lies the dilemma, at least for me, because I sometimes do not know the will of God on a request that I am making to God.

My wife has dementia and in spite of many prayers asking for her healing, her situation is not getting better, so this is how I pray.

I ask God to heal her, if it is His will, and if it is not His will, for reasons that I do not personally understand, then I ask God to be with both of us, as we walk through this difficulty that He is allowing, and that in the end, whatever it might be, according to His purposes, that He be glorified. I do ask for and obtain God’s grace, when it comes to being patient with her and with regard to loving her. And God’s grace is given new every day, day by day. And no, it is not easy, in fact, some days it is very hard, but God has and does, sustain both of us, and this I do know, that it is His will to sustain us, and He does.

Not every one gets physically healed now. Not every mountain is moved. Not every request is responded to as we ask. And there can be many reasons why this is so. As the Scriptures tell us, sometimes it is because we don’t ask (James 4:2), sometimes we ask for the wrong reasons (James 4:3), and sometimes what we ask for is not in accordance with what God has determined for us (His will) (1 John 5:14-15). This is why it is so vitally important to seek the whole counsel of God’s Holy Word on a given subject and not build a theology on just isolated portions of Scripture. All of what we are given has to be considered, not just those portions that we build a stance on, at the expense and exclusion of others.

But if it is God’s will, there will be a physical healing now, that mountain will be moved and that request will be answered. But even there, where our request is answered, it is answered in accordance with God’s sovereign timing, and not ours. And ultimately, when we leave this world, all will be healed, all will have our desires met and we all will be satisfied. How do I know this? God’s Word tells us so in Psalm 17:15 NASB, which reads:

As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness;
I shall be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.

June 6, 2022

Name It and Claim It?

This is only our second (complete article) highlighting of Michael Battle and his site Rooted and Grounded in Christ. We’ve all heard of “name it and claim it” doctrine, but on what understanding of scripture is it based? He looks into that in this article from one month ago. Clicking the header below will let you read it where it first appeared.

Speaking Things Into Existence

There are many unbiblical doctrines that circulate among Christians, especially among American evangelicals. One of those is the claim that we have creative ability with the words of our mouth, thus we are to speak things into existence. Therefore, If we are struggling financially we speak prosperity into existence. If we are sick or have a disease we are to speak healing into existence.

This doctrine has become so prevalent that in some places public prayers are no longer heartfelt requests humbly petitioning God, but “preachy declarations” instead, because we must “declare and decree” and boldly speak them into existence.

How did we get here?

The speaking it into existence doctrine stems from teachings within the Word of Faith movement, which at one time (30 plus years ago) did have a more balanced approach to the teachings of scripture concerning the words that we speak.

The Bible has much to say about our speech, but never once does the Bible teach that we have creative power in our words as God does. The biblical emphasis concerning the importance of wholesome speech has to do with expressions of faith in God, edifying and encourage others, praise and thanksgiving towards God rather than murmuring and complaining, and wholesome speech which is becoming of godliness, purity and good sound doctrine.

Unfortunately, the importance of having wholesome speech has morphed into a belief that we have creative power and thus should speak into existence whatever it may be that we desire. Yet no one in scripture served God in this manner. If we can’t find an example in scripture of any servant of God who held to this practice, why would we think we could? And if we can plainly understand that God’s servants in the scriptures never practiced speaking things into existences, why would we think we could twist some of their writings to justify such practices?

The truth is, the idea of speaking things into existence appeals to our carnality, but wholesome speech which is becoming of godliness requires true spiritual growth and maturity, and therein lies the difference.

One very popular Word of Faith minister who has taught speaking things into existence, claimed that Psalm 119:72 speaks of “the law of the mouth.” He followed up by saying, “the Bible says the law of the mouth is better than silver and gold. Why? Cause that’s how we make it.”

Here is what Psalm 119:72 actually says: The law of THY mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.

This text is not referring to some spiritual law that we put into motion with our words. It is referring to God’s law that came from the mouth of God, and the Psalmist is declaring his desire for God’s law rather than the wealth and riches of this world. In fact, much of Psalm 119 is dedicated to praising God and glorifying his law. Psalm 119 begins by saying, Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. ~ v.1

Consider also these verses from Psalm 119:

Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. ~ v.18

Remove from me the way of lying: and grant me thy law graciously. ~ v.29

Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. ~ v. 34

The proud have had me greatly in derision: yet have I not declined from thy law.~ v. 51

I have remembered thy name, O Lord, in the night, and have kept thy law. ~ v. 55

Verses 61, 70, 72, 77, 85, 92, 97, 109, 113,126, 136, 142, 150, 153, 163,165, and 174 all make reference to God’s law as Thy law”. Now consider verses 43-45:

And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments. So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever. And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.

Speaking God’s word (God’s law, precepts, commands, and instructions) was a practice encouraged in the Old Testament as an expression of love, dedication, and service towards God. It had absolutely nothing to do with speaking things into existence because of having “god-like” creative power.

In Psalm 119, the Psalmist prays, Remove from me the way of lying”. If the Psalmist had believed he had creative power in his words, why wouldn’t he have just removed the way of lying from himself?

And again, therein lies another problem with the speak it into existence doctrine. It plants the idea in the minds and hearts of people that they are somewhat self-sufficient with God-like creative abilities in their words. Yet the Psalmist declares “I am poor and needy” in his seeking after God (Ps 40:17; 70:5).

In the book of the Revelation Jesus rebukes the church of the Laodiceans for saying “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” Jesus then tells them that they do not know that they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. ~ Revelation 3:17

If there were a “law of the mouth” by which we could create with our words as the minister mentioned above has suggested, what then was the problem with the Laodiceans claim to being rich, and why would Jesus give them such a rebuke?

And again, here lies another problem with the speaking it into existence doctrine. It deceives people into thinking they are spiritual when they are not. It deceives them from acknowledging their true spiritual condition before God. It leads them into a false sense of spirituality and gives futile ground to pride, but God hears the desire of the humble (Ps 10:17).

There is so much more I could write on this topic but this will suffice for now. The Bible does have much to say about the importance of our words, but never once does it teach us that we have creative power like God. This belief is not scriptural and is actually akin to sorcery and witchcraft.

December 27, 2021

Who’s Running the Show?

Toronto area Bible teacher Gordon Rumford has been featured here eleven times previously and today we’re pleased to highlight his devotional website and make it an even dozen. Click the header below to read this where we sourced it, and then take some time to look around at other articles.

Who Is In Charge Anyway?

The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases.
Proverbs 21:1 (NLT)

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree
that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him 
and was expecting a child…”
Luke 2:1-5 (NIV)

“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 (NIV)

There is a special attraction to people who argue over the idea of the sovereignty of God. Just how much of life is under God’s control and how much is under our control is a fertile source of debate among Christians. Of course we are happy to leave the big things like the control of the universe, stars, galaxies, etc. all up to the Lord. But, when it comes to our personal lives, we want into the driver’s seat.

Does Scripture address the issues of our choices in life? One remarkable example on the personal level is the Pharaoh in the book of Exodus. Scripture tells us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 9:12). Other Scripture says Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15). Are you confused? Well so are many people.

Our Scripture today talks about Caesar calling for a census to be held just when Mary was pregnant with Jesus. Joseph had to register in Bethlehem because he was in the lineage of David. So, the couple travelled from their hometown of Nazareth south to Bethlehem because that was David’s hometown. Also, it was prophesied that Messiah would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). So, for two important reasons, Mary and Joseph needed to be in Bethlehem before our Lord was born.

What inspired Caesar to call for the census precisely when he did? Was he acting on his own will? Or was God moving him to call for the census when he did? Proverbs 21:1 gives an answer. The Lord inspired Caesar to do what he did. Yet Caesar acted freely. He felt no compulsion.

When you find your life is out of control and you see no way to recover, it is then that the sovereignty of God is a precious refuge. Whether it is a financial reversal, the untimely death of a loved one, loss of health, or other disaster, we flee into the presence of our loving, sovereign Father and sense His powerful arms around us. We may not see how our Father will sort out our issue. But that is His problem not ours.

Christian, take comfort in the promise that our Father in heaven works everything for good to those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding ev’ry hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain

– William Cowper

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.

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