Christianity 201

July 13, 2019

God’s Answers Arrive God’s Way

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Mark.11.24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Rom.4.17b …the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.


Is.55.9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.


Read the full story on which today’s devotional is based at this link, of which the following is an excerpt.

Acts.12.5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.


The site Awakened to Grace, is a relatively recent find for us. The author of today’s piece again is Joy Bollinger. Please read this content at the original source by clicking the header below.

Unexpected Answers

Have you prayed for an answer, but the answer has not yet arrived? Will you recognize the answer when it comes?

The story of Peter’s supernatural rescue from prison gives us a glimpse into the heart of God and how His ways and thoughts are so much higher than our ways and thoughts. He answers prayer, but not always according to our timing and expectations.

We learn in Acts 12 that Peter was arrested and delivered to four squads of soldiers. Typically, a squad included eight soldiers. So, it took thirty-two soldiers to guard one non-violent man. Meanwhile, the Church was earnestly praying for Peter’s release.

Peter was bound with two chains and asleep between two soldiers with sentries posted at the door of the prison. An angel of the Lord stood next to Peter, struck him on the side, and woke him saying, “Get up quickly.” His chains fell off and the angel ordered him to dress, wrap a cloak around himself, and follow him past the two guards. As they approached an iron gate, it opened of its own accord and they went out along a street, and the angel left.

Peter quickly went to the house of Mary, the mother of John where they were all gathered together praying for Peter. When he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. She recognized Peter’s voice and instead of opening the door ran to tell the others that Peter was at the door. They responded, “You are out of your mind.” Despite her insistence that Peter was at the door, they argued, “It is his angel!” Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking on the door. When they finally opened the door, they were shocked to see him standing before them.

How often do we pray and either we do not fully expect our prayer to be answered, or we have our own ideas of how that prayer should be answered? So, when the answer comes, we, like those who prayed for Peter, fail to recognize it.

We have the blessed assurance that if we abide in Him and His Words abide in us, we can ask whatever we wish, and it will be done for us (John 15:7). God tells us that before we even call to Him, He will answer. While we are yet speaking, He will hear us (Isaiah 65:24). And this is the confidence that we have toward 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 that we have asked of Him (I John 5:14-15).

Jesus said, “…whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  For God calls into existence the things that do not exist (Mark 11:24; Romans 4:17).

BELIEF is the key to faith. To believe means to be convinced, to trust, and have total confidence in God. Paul had such great confidence in God that he was able to sleep peacefully, in chains, between two soldiers!

Like Peter, are you caught in a prison of circumstances that you have no control over?

If you have been praying and waiting, yet you have not seen an answer, keep believing and trusting God, so that when the answer arrives, you will recognize its appearing.

PRAYER: FATHER, Jesus said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Help me to trust and focus on You and not my circumstances. Prepare me to recognize and receive Your answer. Thank you for Your unwavering love and the fulfillment of Your promises. In Jesus’ name, amen.

June 26, 2019

Heart Cries of Perplexity, Not Rebellion

This is our sixth time with Colin Sedgwick at the site, Welcome to Sedgonline. I hope you find this article challenging as I did. It originally appeared under the title and link below.

Talking back to God

The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and they did what they pleased to those who hated them. In the citadel of Susa, the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men. Esther 9:6

The Jewish festival of Purim (Esther 9:26) celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people in Persia, some 500 years before Christ, from the evil plans of Haman. I’ve never experienced it myself, but I read that in synagogues even today “every time Haman’s name is mentioned in the Purim liturgy congregations respond with loud banging, shouting and stamping of feet, and ‘Haman’s hats’ (triangular cakes) are eaten…”.

Great fun, I’m sure. And nothing wrong with that.

But the reality at the time was pretty grim. Esther 9:6 tells us of the deaths of five hundred men in Susa. And a few verses further on (9:16) we read that, outside Susa, some seventy-five thousand people were killed. Hmm… this was a big-scale massacre, and it’s hard to read about it without something of the gloss coming off the story.

Two questions come to my mind…

First, how is this kind of whole-scale vengeance compatible with the spirit of Jesus?

The simple answer is: it isn’t. Jesus, the “prince of peace”, told his followers to “love your enemies”, and prayed “Father, forgive them” for the people who crucified him. So from a Christian perspective, the aftermath of the Haman plot leaves a slightly nasty taste in one’s mouth.

It’s true, of course, that if this hadn’t happened, the bulk of God’s Old Testament people would have been wiped out: it was a dog-eat-dog world, and even God’s chosen people couldn’t help but be a part of it. The coming of Jesus was still a long way off. But still…

It’s not for us to judge or condemn the Jews of Esther’s day – we must bow to the justice of God, trusting that he knows what he is doing throughout history, and be thankful that we live in the days since the earthly life of Jesus.

Thanks be to God, though, for the clear-cut command, Do not take revenge… but leave room for God’s wrath… (Romans 12:19).

(Is that text a direct word to someone reading this?)

How radically and wonderfully Jesus changes everything!

The second question puts a rather different slant on the Esther story: if God could raise up an Esther to influence King Xerxes, why not another “Esther” to influence Hitler and his people?

That question rattles around in my mind because I have recently been reading various books about the Nazi horror – and there’s no doubt that the more you learn the worse it gets.

There are those who would say that we shouldn’t even ask the question. You may be one of them – and, indeed, there’s a large part of me that feels the same way. Paul’s challenge haunts me: “Who are you, a human being, to talk back to God…?” (Romans 9:20). Who indeed?

And yet there is an honorable Bible record of people who did “talk back to God”. The “Why?” question crops up repeatedly in the psalms – for example, 10:1, 22:1 and 88:14. The remarkable book of Job is full of it. So is the little book of Habakkuk: “Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” (1:3); “Why do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (1:13).

Supremely, of course, we have Jesus himself, who cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

It seems that God respects and honors those who, out of genuine anguish of heart, cry out to him in this way – always assuming, of course, that our hearts are humble and that our questioning reflects honest perplexity rather than rebellion.

We need to accept, too, that we’re not likely to receive an answer in any theoretical, intellectual sense. No, God does not offer to satisfy our curiosity, however genuine.

But the great thing is this: the honest questioner may very well get something far, far better than that – a whole new experience of the glory of God. Just contrast the endings of Job and Habakkuk with their beginnings! – in both cases a journey is made from confusion, frustration – even anger? – to radiant faith. Above all, contrast the glory of resurrection morning with the darkness of the crucifixion!

No, I don’t know why God acts in one way at one time, and in another way at another. I don’t know why he seems, from our perspective, to stand by while terrible things happen. But I do know this: that his ultimate purpose is to banish all evil from this beautiful world that he has made.

And when that day comes I suspect we will all want to say with Job: “I am unworthy. How can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth” (40:4).

Not a bad place for it, I think.

Lord God, your ways are shrouded in mystery, and the question “Why?” is often on our lips. Help me to be humble even if indignant, and submissive even if angry. And so bring me to that day when all my questionings will fade on my lips. Amen.

November 30, 2018

Delighting in the Way God Works

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Back in May we introduced you to the writing of Melody who has been writing devotions at In Pleasant Places for almost six years. Her blog started from correspondence she was sharing with a friend, as she explained in her story. To read today’s article at her blog, click the title below.

To See More of Our God – Psalm 119:16

“I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.”

Psalm 119:16

This verse compelled a specific prayer of my heart: Lord, may I delight in Your statutes.

Not just obeying them because I know I’m supposed to – although we are to exercise discipline to obey even when we don’t “feel” like it – but seeking to delight in them.

Including the very difficult ones. Those we don’t understand. Those that seem impossible. Those that quite honestly can hurt to follow.

Like forgiving someone who appears unapologetic and unrepentant, with no indication of turning. Who has cut so deeply. May I delight to forgive, even under these circumstances.

Delight not because it is fun or easy, and not because of pride or self-righteousness (which would be sin on my part) – but because it shows me more of the Lord.

Delight because as I feel the deep hurt and wrestle with the decision to forgive, to love, I gain a deeper understanding of my God’s character.

Because this is who our God is. And isn’t that amazing? This is what the Living God, Creator and Ruler of all things – this is what He does. This is what He chooses.

He forgives. He loves. Even at great personal cost. He went through such pain, such suffering, to forgive sinners who had rejected Him and given Him no reason to show mercy. Let alone to show favor, to offer to bring them in as beloved children.

When I am hurt and offended, when I am faced with the command to forgive, to bless, to show compassion, I gain a glimpse of my Savior. Of His choice. Of His greatness and the greatness of His love. The power of it to overcome any desire for retaliation. That He would desire forgiveness and restoration, that He would choose patience in order to give so many the choice to reconcile instead of delivering the justice so rightfully due to them – so rightfully due to me (2 Peter 3:9, 15).

What great, powerful love. What astounding character. What strength to choose forgiveness when it demands so much. This is our God. This is the Savior by whose name we are called. The name above all names, because of what He accomplished on the cross.

We grasp that more deeply when we walk through a situation that brings us even an inkling of His suffering.

This is the delight I see within the statutes of our God, within the commands of how we are to walk through this life…it isn’t just some list of rules. He didn’t outline them in order to make our life difficult. It is insight into who our God is. There is purpose in each command, and it is all for our good and to display His goodness and glory and salvation to the world. So they will see Him.

O Lord, may I delight in Your statutes, delight to follow them, because they show me more of who You are. More of Your character, which is holy, righteous, blameless, faithful, pure, steadfast, and filled with powerful love. May I delight to see You here, and delight to know more deeply how holy and wonderful You are as I follow in Your footsteps. Requiring Your strength to walk in Your ways, because they are so far above my broken, fallen capabilities. Highlighting the great beauty of You and stirring renewed wonder at how You are molding me into Your character, to reflect that beauty in this vessel of clay. So may I delight. Delight to see You. Delight to walk with You in the light, experiencing You in the process, realizing the choices Jesus made as one who was fully human and fully God, and delight to know You more as a result.

November 2, 2018

Sin Makes People Stupid

Today and tomorrow we return to Canadian devotional writer Elsie Montgomery at Practical Faith. Yes, her writing is such a good fit here that I’m taking the liberty of ‘borrowing’ two different posts, two days in a row. Click the title to read at source.

Learning from history . . .

Which one is the wiser statement: “Study the past if you would define the future.” (Confucius) or “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” (Edmund Burke)

Our ‘home group’ is studying the kings of Israel. I came away with one question. They recorded the activities and outcomes of their kings. Clearly, those who followed God prospered and those who did not did not. Each one of them made their own decisions. If they knew the historical patterns, why would any of them choose to worship idols and disobey God? These ‘evil’ kings knew yet repeated the past. It seems all they learned from any study of the past was how to replicate it in their own lives.

My conclusion may come across as crude, but it seems that sin tends to make people stupid. As we discussed this during the Bible study, we agreed that the laws of God are true and He never changes, but even the good kings occasionally pushed against the boundaries and got themselves into trouble. That is, we are doomed to repeat history even when we know it, and unless God intervenes, the past cannot help but define the future.

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:7–9)

This is a spiritual law that could be called cause and effect. It is illustrated in the physical realm of agriculture. If I plant a carrot seed, I will get carrots, not peas or corn. In my spiritual life, if I plan, plant and spend my energies in activities that are self-focused and driven by my old nature, I will reap a spiritually dead crop that amounts to nothing of eternal value. If I live according to the Spirit, the results will last forever.

The ‘evil’ kings were all about power and doing their own thing. They were not measured as evil by their building programs, achievements, battles, etc. but by their response or lack of response to God. The good kings were also not measured by any accomplishments as we might measure our leaders. They were measured by their faithfulness to God and His commands.

I look back at my own history and cannot make an accurate list of “this I did for God” and “this was fleshy junk.” However, I know both will be determined at the bema judgment seat of Christ:

“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:10–15)

Because of Jesus Christ, my eternal destiny is not shaped by mistakes or rebellion, but by faith in Him. What is affected by the law of cause/effect is eternal rewards. Some of life’s efforts will go up in smoke while some will shine like gold.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your Word motivates me to think about motivation and about the power behind everything on my to-do list. Some of it is obviously useless. Open my eyes and keep them open to see and obey the Holy Spirit that the resulting work not only pleases You but will pass that final test.

August 8, 2018

The Lord Cares for the Poor

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Last year at this time, we introduced you to Neil White, a Lutheran (ELCA) Pastor, currently Senior Pastor for Rejoice Lutheran in Frisco, Texas. His blog is called Sign of the Rose. We returned for a visit only to find him in the middle of a series on Revelation. Rather than jump into one of those at random, we sourced this item from last summer. Click to read at source.

Psalm 41 The One Who Cares for the Poor

<To the leader. A Psalm of David.>
1 Happy are those who consider the poor; the LORD delivers them in the day of trouble.
2 The LORD protects them and keeps them alive; they are called happy in the land. You do not give them up to the will of their enemies.
3 The LORD sustains them on their sickbed; in their illness you heal all their infirmities.
4 As for me, I said, “O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
5 My enemies wonder in malice when I will die, and my name perish.
6 And when they come to see me, they utter empty words, while their hearts gather mischief; when they go out, they tell it abroad.
7 All who hate me whisper together about me; they imagine the worst for me.
8 They think that a deadly thing has fastened on me, that I will not rise again from where I lie.
9 Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.
10 But you, O LORD, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them.
11 By this I know that you are pleased with me; because my enemy has not triumphed over me.
12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever.
13 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.

The final psalm in the first book of the psalter (Psalms 1-41) begins with a beatitude (Happy/blessed are…) just like the first psalm in this collection. Psalm 1 begins by stating “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked…but their delight is in the law of the LORD” and now closing this section of the book of psalms we hear, “Happy are those who consider the poor.” The structure of the book of psalms wants to encourage us to hear the connection hear between a life that avoids the way of the wicked and delights in the law of the LORD with a life that considers the poor. Looking back at the previous forty psalms that comprise this first section of the psalter it becomes clear that one of the central messages is that God hears those who have been oppressed or isolated from their community and so the one who considers the poor models their path after the God who hears the cries of the poor and neglected of the world. This psalm begins with the one who considers the poor being able to count upon the LORD’s deliverance in their own time of trouble. A life that is blessed is one that in following the law of the LORD hears the way in which they are to be a community which cares for the weak, the widow, the orphan, the alien and all the others who are vulnerable in society.

The similarity between the beginning of this psalm and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5: 3 (or Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:20) is just one of many places of resonance between the psalms and the message of Jesus. Jesus vision of the kingdom of God reflects the law of the LORD which imagines a society where the wicked no longer take advantage of the weak. The psalms, along with the law and prophets, the gospels and the letters of Paul as well as the rest of the bible attempt to imagine for the world a different kind of community. I’m reminded of a story that the New Testament scholar Mark Allan Powell shares about the parable of the prodigal son in Luke’s gospel.

He asked his American student why the son who goes to a foreign country ends up starving and they almost all point to him squandering what he had, the son’s life was his own responsibility. When he had the opportunity to ask students in Russia the majority pointed to the reality that in the story there is a famine in the land, that the person’s peril was due to external conditions in the environment. Perhaps most interestingly for the reflection on this psalm was the answer he received when he was in Tanzania about why the son was in danger of starvation: “Because no one gave him anything to eat!” and they went on to explain that:

The boy was in a far country. Immigrants often lose their money. They don’t know how things work—they might spend all their money when they shouldn’t because they don’t know about the famines that come. People think they are fools just because they don’t know how to live in that country. But the Bible commands us to care for the stranger and alien in our midst. It is a lack of hospitality not to do so. This story, the Tanzanians told me, is less about personal repentance than it is about society. Specifically, it is about the kingdom of God. (Powell, 2007, p. 27)

This is the type of society that this psalm attempts to help us imagine, a world where the poor are considered and cared for, but the psalmist doesn’t live in that world. Just because the poet believes that God delivers those who care for the vulnerable they also are honest that attempting to live righteously does not exclude them from the challenges of life or from feeling the exclusion that the poor often feel.

The poet spends most of this psalm reflection on how their own community was not a blessing to them in their time of trouble. The LORD sustains those who care for the poor on their sickbed, but now the psalmist community has only the LORD to call to for healing on their own sickbed. Perhaps their community believes that the illness is a judgment from God and therefore they are justified in their exclusion of this one. It may also be that the illness demonstrates the true nature of the community. The community seems to be a place where only those who can actively contribute are valued and where people are actively waiting on the death of the psalmist to inherit his property. At a time where the community was needed the most for the poet, they found themselves a member of an unjust society that does not consider the vulnerable and weak. The community of the speaker has become warped and close friendships revealed as fading and shallow. Yet, the LORD can bring the one who has a deadly thing fastened to him back to life.

Like in Psalm 38 the psalmist wrestles again with a connection between sin and sickness. On the one hand many modern Christians too quickly dismiss any connection when there are times when one suffers because of one’s own actions or choices. Yet, there are other times where both people too quickly and tightly assume a connection. As Rolf Jacobson shares from his own life:

Even modern agnostics or atheists prove themselves capable of making this assumption when they assume that a person’s poor health is automatically the result of poor lifestyle choices. In my own life, when I was diagnosed with cancer as a teenager, a well-meaning but misguided neighbor remarked to my mother that it was a shame she had not been feeding her family the proper, high anti-oxidant diet, or her son would not have developed cancer. Besides being incredibly unhelpful, this comment was simply wrong—the type of cancer I had is not lifestyle dependent. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 390)

Regardless of whether a person’s plight is caused by personal actions and choices or whether they simply find themselves among the weak, sick, injured, poor, or otherwise vulnerable the psalms imagine a community that can respond differently than what the writer of Psalm 41 discovers in their community.

The psalmist asks to be able to ‘repay’ those who have not acted as a supportive community in their plight and unfortunately in English we lose the double meaning of this phrase. On the one had the psalmist does desire that their health would be restored so that those waiting on their death to claim their payment from their property would have no inheritance because the psalmist continues to live. But the word translated to repay comes from the noun shalom and has the connotation of making complete, restoring, to recompense or reward. (Brueggeman, 2014, p. 200) The poet may also be pointing to being a person who can demonstrate what a righteous life looks like by in the future caring for those who failed to care for them in the present.

The LORD has cared for the one who has cared for the poor. The righteous one can point to their own life as a witness to the LORD’s action on their behalf. Even when their community failed them God proved to be faithful. And they end this psalm and this portion of the psalter with a blessing to the God who has avoided the way of the wicked, who has delighted in the law of the LORD, and who has cared for the poor.

 

October 2, 2017

The Old Testament on Jewelry: Principles Behind the Rules

This is an excerpt from a book by Rachel Held Evans, an author who is accused of great theological liberalism, none of which manifested itself at least in this particular book. What I found instead, in the four paragraphs which follow my introduction, was a tremendous insight into the principles behind the rules.

I was greatly enlightened on this subject by a booklet published by InterVarsity Press (IVP) in 1981, What’s Right? What’s Wrong by Donald E. DeGraaf (sadly out of print, with no e-Book edition or Google Books file, nor can I find my copy.) In it he talks about the difference between rules and principles. A rule applies to one group of people, or people in one particular place, or at one particular time. A principle applies to all people in all places at all times. Rules derive from principles.

So when God gives his people rules — especially in Leviticus, but also in today’s text in Isaiah — God has His reasons. Sometimes we need to spend longer in the text to see what His intentions are. We’ll let Rachel pick it up from here…


In his list of God’s grievances against Israel and his warnings of Jerusalem’s imminent destruction, the prophet Isaiah wrote:

16 The LORD says, “The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, strutting along with swaying hips, with ornaments jingling on their ankles. 17 Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the LORD will make their scalps bald.” 18 In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, 19 the earrings and bracelets and veils, 20 the headdresses and anklets and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, 21 the signet rings and nose rings, 22 the fine robes and the capes and cloaks, the purses 23 and mirrors, and the linen garments and tiaras and shawls. – Isaiah 3: 16-23

At first glance, this passage would suggest that Westboro Baptist Church has it wrong: what God really hates is accessories. But the larger context reveals that what so troubled Isaiah and his fellow prophets was the blatant materialism among Israel’s rich to the neglect and disenfranchisement of its poor.

In biblical times, gold jewelry signified wealth, and although several of the Bible’s heroines wore it (Genesis 24:22-31; Song of Songs 1:10-11), jewelry was far more commonly associated with excess and idol worship (Genesis 35:2-4; Exodus 32; 33:4; Jeremiah 4:30; Ezekiel 7:18-20; 16:9-15; Hosea 2:13). This sentiment carries over into the New Testament, where both Paul in his letter to Timothy and Peter in his letter to the churches of Asia Minor discouraged women from wearing gold jewelry and pearls in the context of a Christian community that prioritized simplicity and charity.

In fact, it seems that most of the Bible’s instructions regarding modesty find their context in warnings about materialism, not sexuality… a pattern that has gone largely unnoticed by the red-faced preacher population. I’ve heard dozens of sermons about keeping my legs and my cleavage out of sight, but not one about ensuring that my jewelry was not acquired through unjust or exploitive trade practices.

Some conservative religious communities, such as the Amish and Old Order Mennonites, continue to forbid women to wear any sort of jewelry at all. Others simply discourage excess. I’m a bit of a jewelry fanatic — not so much of the gold and pearl variety, but of the beads and hemp variety — so I figured it would be a healthy exercise in self-discipline to ditch my necklaces, bracelets, and rings for Lent. I wore only my wedding band, not my engagement ring, and I avoided the items in Isaiah’s list: bangles, headbands, earrings, bracelets, anklets, sashes, perfume, charms, rings, nose rings, fine robes, capes, shawls, and, of course, tiaras.

~A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson, 2012) pp 127-8

May 23, 2017

Paradoxes in the Upside Down Kingdom

We’ve linked before to the blog Don’t Ask The Fish at our other blog, but this is the first time for this devotional site, written by Dr. Tommy Kiedis to appear here at C201. There is some really great content waiting for you there. Clicking the title below will allow you to read this at source, where you can then navigate to some other great articles.

The Upside To Down Times

Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.  — Charles H. Spurgeon

The New Testament is full of paradoxes:

In his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul shares another anomaly for those who walk with God: There is an upside to down times. This is a truth Paul discovered while walking through some very difficult circumstances.

We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing. (2 Corinthians 1:8-10 The Message)

What happened to Paul in the province of Asia? Was there an attempt on his life? Did he suffer some punishing malady? No one knows for sure. What we do know is that Paul said, “it was the best thing that could have happened.” Why? Because God used the trying time to deepen Paul’s faith.

As Paul trusted God, he discovered that God (who raises the dead) would employ that power to rescue him again and again—as many times as he needed rescuing.

Amazing!

Where are you experiencing a “downer” in life? There is an upside to it. Like Paul you can say, “it was the best thing that could have happened.” This change in perspective occurs as you learn to trust that God really is working in your life in the midst of your challenge.

Sometimes it is hard to think of God at work when difficulties arrive. Anxiety, like some swashbuckling pirate, is making too much noise. But Spurgeon is right, “anxiety . . . only empties today of it’s strengths.” My task is not necessarily to fight the anxious thought, but to look to God through all the dust of emotions, to learn to rest in the fact that is there and that he is at work on my behalf — because he is!

Here’s an idea. Why not take something on your desk or work space and turn it upside down today as your reminder that God promises to bring an upside to your down times.

He has that kind of power. He loves you that much.

 

April 22, 2016

When We Judge God

NLT Job 9:22 Innocent or wicked, it is all the same to God.
    That’s why I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’
23 When a plague sweeps through,
    he laughs at the death of the innocent.
24 The whole earth is in the hands of the wicked,
    and God blinds the eyes of the judges.
    If he’s not the one who does it, who is?


NIV Job 40:2 Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”


NIV Matthew 25:24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.


NIV Genesis 3:8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”


NLT Proverbs 19:3 People ruin their lives by their own foolishness
    and then are angry at the Lord.


HCSB Ezekiel 18:25 “But you say, ‘The Lord’s way isn’t fair.’ Now listen, house of Israel: Is it My way that is unfair? Instead, isn’t it your ways that are unfair?


NIV Ecclesiastes 5:2 Do not be quick with your mouth,
    do not be hasty in your heart
    to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
    and you are on earth,
    so let your words be few.


The other morning I did a study that resulted in some of the above texts which have to do with blaming God or incorrectly presuming to know the ways of God. You can find more verses on this theme at BibleResons.com . (Emphasis in the texts above has been added.) If you’re not familiar with the contexts of any of these go to BibleGateway.com and click the symbol identified below to see the full chapters.

Bible Gateway full chapter link

I got into this topic reading the following short devotional at Stop And Pray TV. (They had reblogged an article from Thinking Out Loud, so I thought I’d see if I could return the favor!) One thing apparently led to another, resulting in the above scripture medley. You can click the title below to read this at source:

Can a Saint Falsely Accuse God?

All the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen… — 2 Corinthians 1:20

Jesus’ parable of the talents recorded in Matthew 25:14-30 was a warning that it is possible for us to misjudge our capacities. This parable has nothing to do with natural gifts and abilities, but relates to the gift of the Holy Spirit as He was first given at Pentecost. We must never measure our spiritual capacity on the basis of our education or our intellect; our capacity in spiritual things is measured on the basis of the promises of God. If we get less than God wants us to have, we will falsely accuse Him as the servant falsely accused his master when he said, “You expect more of me than you gave me the power to do. You demand too much of me, and I cannot stand true to you here where you have placed me.” When it is a question of God’s Almighty Spirit, never say, “I can’t.” Never allow the limitation of your own natural ability to enter into the matter. If we have received the Holy Spirit, God expects the work of the Holy Spirit to be exhibited in us.

The servant justified himself, while condemning his lord on every point, as if to say, “Your demand on me is way out of proportion to what you gave to me.” Have we been falsely accusing God by daring to worry after He has said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you”? (Matthew 6:33). Worrying means exactly what this servant implied— “I know your intent is to leave me unprotected and vulnerable.” A person who is lazy in the natural realm is always critical, saying, “I haven’t had a decent chance,” and someone who is lazy in the spiritual realm is critical of God. Lazy people always strike out at others in an independent way.

Never forget that our capacity and capability in spiritual matters is measured by, and based on, the promises of God. Is God able to fulfill His promises? Our answer depends on whether or not we have received the Holy Spirit.

 

November 17, 2015

Why Did Uzzah Have to Die?

Today we pay a return visit to ecclesia.org and a Bible topic that often perplexes people. This passage is also the clearest statement by the scriptures on what is often called situation ethics. If you’re unfamiliar with this story, pause for a moment and read 2 Samuel 6:1-12. Ecclesia is a great resource; consider bookmarking this one in your computer.

David, Uzzah, and the Ark of the Covenant

The “Ark” means a box or chest. The pattern of the ark was revealed to Moses in Exodus 25. It was to be made of wood, rectangular in shape, gold plated inside and out. It had a decorative gold border around it forming a rim on the top of the ark. It had a cover made of gold called “the mercy seat”, and matched the dimensions of the ark. At either end of the cover was a hammered gold cherub (angel), with wings outstretched over the plate. You see the creatures as they pull their wings in front of their faces and look down upon the ark. They apparently were small because a solid gold piece would be extremely heavy if it were very large and the ark would be top heavy and awkward to carry. And the ark was mobile. Beneath the plate within the container were three objects: A golden jar that held the manna, Aaron’s rod, and the tables of the Covenant. God promised he would meet with the people of the mercy seat. The very Glory of God was shown on this Mercy Seat.

In other words, this ark was Holy. It was set apart to God. So careful with God that in the details of the drawing that he wrote in Exodus 25, he gave the dimensions, he said how it was to be covered, He even talked about how it was to be carried. At the base of each of the four corners was a fixed ring of gold. Through these rings were slipped gold plated poles by which the entire chest was to be carried. Numbers 3,4 and 7 clearly state that handling the tabernacle was to be done by Levites, and it was to be done on their shoulders.

Each one of these things were important to God. Even how the ark was transported from one place to another, because that’s where David got into trouble. David thought the best way to move the ark was on a cart (2 Samuel 6:3). So they got a new cart and set the ark on the cart and started to transport it, but something happened. Suddenly there’s a death (2 Samuel 6:7). What did Uzzah do to deserve death?

2 Samuel 6:6, “And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it.”

That’s all he did. After all, it’s a natural thing to do, if it’s going to drop you’ve got to grab it! But it wouldn’t have ever dropped if they would have done it right.

What’s the right way? The Levites were the ones who were suppose to carry the ark, the poles were to be put through the little ringlets at the bottom of the ark, the poles were to be placed on the shoulders of these specially chosen men, and they were to balance it as they carried it from one place to another. And David didn’t do that. He took a convenient route and changed the details to fit the expediency of the hour.

“It doesn’t matter what you do, do something, even if it’s wrong”. That’s the most stupid council I have ever heard. “Do nothing until it’s right, then do it with all your might”. That’s wise council.

Now here’s David standing next to a corpse and he gets mad (2 Samuel 6:8) because of the Lord’s outburst against Uzzah. We have David angry at the Lord when, in fact, the Lord was angry at David. Now understand David hasn’t done his homework, we often get in trouble when we don’t do our homework. We seek the Lord’s Will and we reach out on a lark and we want to do “that”, so, in expediency or convenience or because we’re in a hurry, we make “that” decision. And the Lord says, “Look, I have written a lot of things in my book about that decision you just made, and I want you to take council from me. That’s why it’s not working. And if you want to have a heart for me, then you check my Word and you find either precepts or principles, and you go according to that, and I’ll make you happy like you won’t believe. If you don’t, you will be miserable.”

People need to know the right way to do things and to practice them. Shortcuts or grandstand plays almost never work over time, and when they are substituted for careful execution, people are often hurt.

Uzzah undoubtedly meant well. On the surface he did a useful, helpful, even noble thing. But he did not do the right thing, and it cost him his life. In this strange circumstance, brought about because David, the leader, wanted to do things his way, the right thing would have been to let the ark touch the earth instead of Uzzah’s sinful hands.

David assembled thousands of people and had glorious music played in celebration of the Ark’s return to Jerusalem. It was a grandstand play. It would have been much better had he quietly followed the instructions and done it right. Enthusiasm must be accomplished by obedience. It is not enough to mean well. We must also do the right thing.

January 28, 2015

You Don’t Need to Have a Position on Every Issue

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
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Regular midweek contributor Clarke Dixon will return next week.

Opinion - Theological Issues

Perhaps you’ve been in churches where candidates for the position of pastor are being interviewed by the leaders or the congregation to see where they stand on particular issues. If a church has gone through a period of turmoil over specific areas of its ministries, it’s important to know which side a person takes. If there is a particular aspect of Bible teaching the church desires, it’s necessary to know the pastor’s skills on those areas. If the church members have a strong feelings toward certain doctrinal patterns, the candidate needs to be able to define their position.

This morning I was speaking briefly with a woman who I would consider as having a deep spiritual life, and in the course of discussing of something else, I asked her what her belief is concerning women in ministry.  (It made sense in context…)

She never did answer the question.

Instead, she quoted the middle sentence of three that occurs in Jeremiah 31:33:

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.

Having an opinion, or a position, on such an issue seemed almost irrelevant to her.  Although she didn’t say all this, obviously it wasn’t necessary…

  • to work it out in advance, since she was trusting God would show her His desire, His direction at whatever time it was needed; it’s not that she didn’t understand the question, but more like she didn’t understand my need to ask
  • to amass knowledge on the topic; this is something that came out in a few commentaries as I studied this passage; we put such a huge weight on diagrams, logical constructs, backing verses, etc. but none of this education ensures that we truly know the mind or the ways of God
  • to establish a position categorically; part of the holiness of God is that He is can’t be tamed, can’t be put in a box; it’s possible that the situation or context of any given issue could override the need to have a rule or policy written in stone, such as when David’s men ate the consecrated bread in the temple
  • to determine consensus; the point of the verse, and verse 34 which follows it, is that each individual will independent access to God…and will know Him. [Eerdman’s Bible Commentary, p645] hence there is no need for a collective opinion, a poll, a referendum on God’s desires
  • to practice anything less than grace; the whole point of the verse is God’s announcement of a New Covenant, something not mentioned in Jeremiah until this point

So…should the congregation ask the prospective pastor their questions as to doctrine and practices? Absolutely, but they shouldn’t expect to put God or the pastor in a box. And the individual being asked should not be evasive or mysterious, but should consider the type of answer I was given when I asked.

Or maybe there is a whole set of other questions that matter more, but we don’t know to ask them of each other.

We are simply too caught up in trying to cross ever ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ and tying our theology together with a nice bow. Some categorical, hypothetical questions can’t be answered until you’re in the middle of the situation, and that’s where you often find that God surprises you.

 

November 2, 2014

Replanting, Rebuilding, Repaying, Repairing

Isaiah 51:3 NIV

The Lord will surely comfort Zion
    and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
he will make her deserts like Eden,
    her wastelands like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
    thanksgiving and the sound of singing.

Psalm 69:65 NIV

for God will save Zion
    and rebuild the cities of Judah.
Then people will settle there and possess it

Joel 2:15 NIV

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm
my great army that I sent among you. 

Amos 9:25:11

11 “In that day I will restore David’s fallen shelter—
    I will repair its broken walls
    and restore its ruins—
    and will rebuild it as it used to be,

Many times in the poetic and prophetic literature we see what I would call the language of restoration.  Other writers have picked up this theme and noted the promises to “build highways in the desert”1 and the concept of Christ’s return constituting “the restoration of all things.”2

In the verses provided for today, we see the replanting and refreshing of a waste place (KJV); the rebuilding of walls (in other passages and here implied) and cities; the regaining of lost years, whether stolen or squandered; and the repair of something broken (of the four, the one perhaps with an analogy most waiting to happen).

There have been times in my life when a project seems to be in ruins, a dream appears to have been shattered, time and energy seems to have been expended for nothing, and everything I have been building toward is simply broken.

Your life is no different; brokenness happens to everyone at some point.

But God is in the business of restoration. Replanting, rebuilding, repaying, repairing is his modus operandi. He’s in the grace business.

God’s desire is to put things right. When circumstances of career, relationships, finance, health, vision, purpose or security come crashing down, somewhere in time and space these things in your life will be restored and God is positive disposed and favorably inclined to you seeing that restoration in his complete fullness of time.

Deuteronomy 30 (The Message)

3 God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered. 4 No matter how far away you end up, God, your God, will get you out of there 5 and bring you back to the land your ancestors once possessed.

I Peter 5:10 (NLT)

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.

Go Deeper: 21 Verses on Restoration from the blog Jolly Verses (seriously!)

Have a comment to add? I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface on this topic. Regular readers and subscribers are encouraged to use the comment section on the blog.


1An Introduction to the Bible By Robert Kugler, Patrick Hartin p.234
2How to Study the Bible By Greg Herrick p.19

October 20, 2014

God Isn’t Always Looking for Ability

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:19 pm
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But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.        1 Peter 2:9

Years ago I remember hearing the idea that “God isn’t looking for your ability, just your availability.” You can be a very competent person, but if your talents and gifts aren’t fully surrendered — or even casually offered — you won’t get picked for the team on God’s next mission.

After leaving university, I remember wanting to work in a particular facet of a particular industry. I sought information on the training needed and was told that the dominant employer didn’t actually take graduates of that program. Simply put, it was easier for them to take willing people off the streets and train them than to take people who thought they know how to do everything and have to retrain them in the company’s methodology. The gifts and knowledge that would have resulted from the training would have actually gotten in the way.

Our pastor spoke on this yesterday; how our culture tends to default to able-ism. I didn’t take exhaustive notes because I intended to ask him after for his sermon notes, only to discover he was working from a rough outline. (He’s always better off-script anyway; not to mention one-on-one with people in his office or over coffee.)

The notes he sent me follow. What does it mean to be a chosen people?

What did that mean?

God would work through everyday people

  • not through the most powerful
  • not through the religious hierarchy
  • or the ecclesiastically ordained
  • not through an elite group of somebodies
  • but through everybody

And this truth bears out over and over again in the pages of scripture as God chooses the most unlikely people to do his work.

John Goldingay: “God’s instinct is to resist social conventions by resisting eldest-ism, able-ism, racism and sexism.”

God works in the ordinary and God works through the ordinary.

The idea that God would not choose the eldest in the family repeats over and over again in scripture, and in a couple of real-life situations today, I’ve seen the same thing play out in everything from Christian organizations to families.

In the sermon, he noted that God chooses to work through

  • the second oldest*
  • the foreigner
  • the woman
  • the weak

*In our sermon text, I Samuel 16, God doesn’t just choose the next oldest, but he chooses the youngest. It was pointed out that to have the prophet — no, wait; that should be capitalized — to have The Prophet visit your home was a rare and high honor, but nobody even bothered to go get David at that point. Furthermore, in verse 11, he isn’t even mentioned by name, just by “the youngest” which is a polite translation of a derogatory term.  Eugene Peterson renders this verse:

“Well, yes, there’s the runt. But he’s out tending the sheep.”

All other translations listed online use youngest, except for the Wycliffe Bible:

Yet there is another little child, and he pastureth sheep.

The Spanish RVR1960 is interesting, rendering the verse:

Queda aún el menor

which while it could also translate as “youngest,” also  translates (as you might expect) as “the minor.”

And yet, this is the one Samuel realizes that God has chosen. David had his flaws and his failings but he is called ‘one after God’s own heart;’ and thus we remember him favorably. But we were reminded at the outset of yesterday’s message that David was also very ordinary: There are no miracles associated with his story as one finds with Elijah or Joshua.

There may not be any miracles in your story, either; but God chooses to work through people just like me and you.


Thanks to Rev. Jeff Knott for today’s inspiration and notes!


We’ve used this song here four years ago, but it really fits. Danniebelle Hall singing Ordinary People: (Audio window showing; click center of the black bar to play.)

April 15, 2014

It’s Not Always Logical

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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First of all, today’s item was originally titled “It’s Only Logical” and we would appear to have given it the opposite title, but you’ll have to read more to find out why! Second, the writer, Jennifer, refers to a post on the same blog the day before, that is also very recommended. So you might want to read that as well today. The blog is called Get Along with God and the writer of this piece is Jennifer.  Click here to read at source and take some time to look around.

Mike’s post yesterday gave me much to chew on, and I started to remember all the ways that the Bible makes my brain hurt. One in particular stood out to me:

So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.
Matthew 20:16 NKJV

The verse above is a perfect example of just how NOT human our God truly is, and how maddening His ways are to me when I’m not in the Spirit.

Can you imagine the reaction if we tried to implement that verse into the world? Oh, the fistfights that would break out, the bloody howls of outrage that would echo through the halls of every building that had people queued up for something—utter pandemonium would ensue! That’s to be expected, of course, but I’m not sure that the reaction would be any better if the last were made first in your average church. Think about the parable that this verse caps.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.  And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went.  Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise” (Mt. 20:1-5).

This goes on until the last group of workers is there only an hour. And then the vineyard owner pays each man exactly the same amount, regardless of the amount of work they’ve done. Needless to say, the first group isn’t very happy. Honestly, I remember reading this parable when I was young and I wasn’t very happy either. I remember thinking, “Well, God, that’s not fair!” And by any definition of the word “fair” (i.e., treating people in a way that does not favor some over others), God is absolutely not.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:8-9 NKJV

And how! When Mike likened each surrender (encounter of the Cross) to paying a toll before continuing down the road, what really leaped out at me was how many of those tolls have to do with God’s absolute sovereignty. It ever and always comes back to the fact that I’m not in charge, and the One who is, doesn’t do things the way I think they should be done. Just look at the Almighty burn leveled by the landowner at the end of the parable:

‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’

Not so much as a “By your leave, good fellow!” Nope, if there’s one thing that God makes plain through sheer repetition, it’s His inviolate, immovable sovereignty. Paul asked, “Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” That’s not even nice, let alone fair!

And sometimes I think that that’s the point. My fallen nature, which is always accessible to me, ever flirts with the lie that there are no consequences for disobedience to the Word of God. (“Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die’” [Gen. 3:4].) It is the enormous love of God that hammers home, over and over, the indisputable FACT that He rules ALL—and I exist only as He sees fit to let me.

Sandy commented on Mike’s post, “Talking about an exchanged life, it seems one needs an ‘exchanged’ brain first!” I think that’s brilliantly right. The mind of the Spirit is NOTHING like my natural mind. I cannot comprehend the mind of God, let alone His alien ways, without the mind of the Spirit. I cannot walk in His ways, or carry out His will, without the indwelling life of Jesus Christ exchanged for my own. And without the unearned, inexplicable, and life-giving love of God the Father, I wouldn’t even know how much I just don’t know.

Every toll represents the death of my pride, the sacrifice of my rights, the surrender of my thoughts, and the end of my life as I know it. It’s humiliating and painful. And that’s how He set this up. Strangely, the less I try to understand Him, the better I know Him and the more I love Him. God is just…GOD.

October 4, 2013

This Just In: God is Very Complex!

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Genuine Offical Deity

 Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord,
    or instruct the Lord as his counselor? (Is. 40:13, NIV)

Who can ever understand what is in the Lord’s mind?
    Who can ever give him advice? (NIrV)

Can anyone tell the Lord what to do?
    Who can teach him or give him advice? (GNT)

Who could ever have told God what to do
    or taught him his business? (Message)

Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord,
    or what man shows him his counsel? (ESV)

Who directed the Lord’s spirit
    and acted as God’s advisor? (CEB)

Many different takes on Isaiah 40:13 to begin with today, with emphases ranging from the idea of knowing or understanding the mind of God in the first phrase, to those which treat the whole verse in the context of the second phrase, giving the Lord advice or counsel. I would suggest that both approaches are right here, since to try to offer my opinion on what someone else should or has done is to presume to have grasped their situation fully.  (That’s why good counselors spend three quarters of an hour listening and only one quarter of an hour talking.)

Matthew Henry writes:

As none can do what God has done and does, so none can assist him in the doing of it or suggest any thing to him which he thought not of. When the Lord by his Spirit made the world (Job 26:13) there was none that directed his Spirit, or gave him any advice, either what to do or how to do it. Nor does he need any counsellor to direct him in the government of the world, nor is there any with whom he consults, as the wisest kings do with those that know law and judgment, Est. 1:13. God needs not to be told what is done, for he knows it perfectly; nor needs he be advised concerning what is to be done, for he knows both the right end and the proper means. This is much insisted upon here, because the poor captives had no politicians among them to manage their concerns at court or to put them in a way of gaining their liberty. “No matter,” says the prophet, “you have a God to act for you, who needs not the assistance of statesmen.” In the great work of our redemption by Christ matters were concerted before the world was, when there was one to teach God in the path of judgment, 1 Cor. 2:7.

I say all this to introduce two verses from the book of Nahum:

The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies. (NIV, verse 2)

The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him (NIV, verse 7)

Two pictures of God, only five verses apart; and on this contrast stands a barrier to those outside of the faith, and often a conundrum to those within: How can God be a God of wrath and a God of love? How can He be full of wrath and full of compassion?

I don’t wish to start down that road here today, except to say that these are two aspects (of many aspects) of the same God. We could just as easily ask: How can a God of might and power and majesty subject Himself to the vulnerability of entering the world in the human condition through the incarnation? How can a God who seems dismissive or disdainful toward certain created beings (i.e. the way the scripture reflects on grasshoppers or dogs) be the same God who seems to care about sparrows?

Sometimes we find the contrasts juxtaposed within a single scripture portion, such as many of the Psalms, and it is the same type of contrast that evidences itself in Nahum chapter 1. This was a prophet word that Nahum delivered to Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, the same city which Jonah was working so hard to avoid contact with.

(The Message)2-6 God is serious business.
    He won’t be trifled with.
He avenges his foes.
    He stands up against his enemies, fierce and raging.
But God doesn’t lose his temper.
    He’s powerful, but it’s a patient power.
Still, no one gets by with anything.
    Sooner or later, everyone pays.
Tornadoes and hurricanes
    are the wake of his passage,
Storm clouds are the dust
    he shakes off his feet.
He yells at the sea: It dries up.
    All the rivers run dry.
The Bashan and Carmel mountains shrivel,
    the Lebanon orchards shrivel.
Mountains quake in their roots,
    hills dissolve into mud flats.
Earth shakes in fear of God.
    The whole world’s in a panic.
Who can face such towering anger?
    Who can stand up to this fierce rage?
His anger spills out like a river of lava,
    his fury shatters boulders.

7-10 God is good,
    a hiding place in tough times.
He recognizes and welcomes
    anyone looking for help,
No matter how desperate the trouble.
    But cozy islands of escape
He wipes right off the map.
    No one gets away from God.
Why waste time conniving against God?
    He’s putting an end to all such scheming.
For troublemakers, no second chances.
    Like a pile of dry brush,
Soaked in oil,
    they’ll go up in flames.

Nahum doesn’t have a lot of good to say to the King of Assyria. Yes, the Lord is good, but as far as Nineveh is concerned, his judgements are good. Unlike the Psalms which often resolve the conundrum of God’s nature in the final verses, when you skip ahead to the end of chapter three you see an ending much like the point where we stopped above.

This is a side of God you don’t want to see; and thanks to grace, none of us reading this need experience.

April 21, 2013

What is Progressive Revelation?

No specific scripture today. Out of about a hundred questions in a 1969 booklet I’ve been reading, Bible Questions Answered by John I. Paton, this one really struck me.

What is meant by the expression “progressive revelation”?

That all depends on who is using it.  The attitude of Bible critics of the last century or so has been that man gradually evolved in a spiritual understanding of God.  According to them early men believed in many gods but after a long period of time some came to see that there is only one God.  This approach to progressive revelation makes the Bible out to be a record of man’s progressive discovery of God.

This is far from what the Bible means with regard to progressive revelation.  In Hebrews 1:1 we learn that bit by bit and in many different ways, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets. All of this revelation and information was truth.  None of it was ever withdrawn.  God added to the body of truth from time to time, speaking finally in His Son (v. 2).  Just before He went to the cross our Lord promised that after His resurrection and ascension the Spirit of truth would come and He would guide God’s people into all truth (John 16:13).  It was not many years after that that the New Testament writings were finished.  God’s revelation of Himself and His will is presented fully to man in the Bible.

Perhaps the following example of progressive revelation will serve to illustrate how God gradually revealed His truth.  He first gave a basic element concerning a truth and then added to it as the Bible proceeded to its completion.

We learn from Genesis 4 that Abel “brought of the firstlings of his flock” (v 4.), sacrificing a lamb to the Lord.  This was a “by faith” offering (Heb. 111:4).  Later on in Genesis we learn through Abraham’s preparation to offer up Isaac that “God will provide himself a lamb” (22:8).  God, not Abraham, would furnish a lamb.  At still a later time, in Exodus 12:7, we are told that after slaying the Passover lamb, its blood had to be applied.  According to Leviticus 16:5 Aaron was to take two kids of the goats for a sin offering, one to die and the other to be sent away from the camp of Israel.  Finally, in John’s Gospel we learn that the Lamb is a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ (1:29).  He is provided by God for us.  It is through the application of His shed blood by faith that we are saved from the wrath of God against sin.  We are justified in God’s sight through Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 4:25).

In Abel’s sacrifice we see a lamb provided for an individual.  In Egypt the lamb was needed for a family.  Then when the Passover Sacrifice was fully constituted, the Passover lamb was slain for the nation.  But God’s Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, was slain on Calvary, not only for an individual, not only for a nation, but also for the whole lost world. (John 3:16).


Bonus item today:

Head over to Thinking Out Loud and watch a 5-minute video on different ways of interpreting the book of Revelation.

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