Christianity 201

June 16, 2021

God is Always Up to Something!

Do you agree with today’s title? I believe God is always active and orchestrating things behind the scenes, but we often frame this type of discussion in terms of our subjective experience of unanswered prayer(s). Or we dismiss key passages in Isaiah such as the one which follows today as no longer applying to us, or only claimed by Pentecostals and Charismatics with a penchant for signs and wonders.

But the popular worship song Waymaker reminds us,

Even when I don’t see it, You’re working
Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working
You never stop, You never stop working

We sing those words on Sunday mornings, but do we believe it? I know my own faith can falter in a season like the one we’ve been through this past year.

Today we’re back with a mash-up of three devotionals from “Breakfast of Champions” by Andy and Gina Elmes. To get these sent to you by email, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions.

Don’t dwell on the past

Isaiah 43:18-20, NIV
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

Forget former things! It will cost you your future to live in the past, and that is a far too expensive a price to pay. If those former things you need to forget were negative it is time to forget and move on. If those former things were positive it is time to give thanks for them and move on to what God has for you next.

Make sure that you spend your life living for what God is doing now, not forever wandering down memory lane; memory lane is great to visit every now and then but it is not where we live! To live there would cost you the ‘weekly rental payments’ of your present and your future…

Trade in your old moments for His new ones

Isaiah 43:16-21, The Message
This is what God says, the God who builds a road right through the ocean, who carves a path through pounding waves, the God who summons horses and chariots and armies — they lie down and then can’t get up; they’re snuffed out like so many candles, “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.”

…We need to daily resolve that we will not live our lives desiring to be in moments that have passed but rather to be a part of the moment that now is. Ever had a postcard from somewhere real nice that had the classic message written on it, “Wish you were here”? It is great that the sender thought of you, but the truth is you are not there and you will never be there for the sunset captured in the photo on the postcard. But the good news is you can be a part of the “what God is doing” postcard of today.

The Bible and the history books are like catalogues of great moments that happened, that you were neither at or a part of. Plus, you don’t own a Tardis or converted DeLorean time machine, so you cannot be in them. If God had wanted you there then He would have put you there – but the good news is, He had something even better in mind for you. The truth is God wants you alive today, to live for what He is doing today.

These verses say, “Look, I am doing a new thing”. So trade in your desires to be back in a moment that has been and gone for the honour and excitement of being in a moment that, like an artist, God is still painting.

If you “make the trade” then, in the future, when people say, “Did you hear what God did in 2021?”, you will be able to say, “I know because I was there when it happened!” If you keep your heart set on moving with the God who does new things you can say that about every year of the rest of your life, because our God is always doing a new thing somewhere.

Perceive, know and give heed

Isaiah 43:18-19, AMP
Do not [earnestly] remember the former things; neither consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive and know it and will you not give heed to it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Concerning the new thing that God is doing and “causing to spring forth”, He asks us to do three things to relate to it:

• Perceive it
• Know it
• Give heed to it

Perceive it

According to the dictionary, to perceive is to “recognize, discern, envision, or understand”. We need to make sure that we are at a point in our daily spirituality that we are able to sense and perceive what God is doing in a person’s life or any given situation.

It would be a shame to miss the wave of something God was doing because our senses, or ability to discern “new things”, were numb – maybe numbed from carnality or distraction. Make sure your “taste buds” for spiritual things are sharp and able to know the flavour of our God doing something new in your day.

We need to know it

Know when God is bringing a change of season. Jesus said to a crowd, mentioned in the Scripture below, that they knew how to discern natural changes like the weather and then He rebuked them for not being able to sense or know when a spiritual change of season was at hand. Let’s make sure we do not fall into the category of the ignorant, but stand with those who can feel the wind of change when it blows.

Luke 12:54, NKJV
He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

Give heed

Finally, He wants us to give heed to it – another way of putting that would be to be aware of it or live in accordance with it. Let’s make sure we understand when God is doing something new and that we are passionate to be a part of it, and not bound to a previous moment. Choose to live in accordance with what He is doing today and not just what He has done.

May you know God doing something new in your life today.

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.

October 2, 2020

Christianity and Karma

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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When we signed on to WordPress this afternoon, we had no idea that they were suspending the “classic editor” that we’ve used to write these devotionals for more than ten years. With hours to deadline, it’s like being told you suddenly have limited minutes to learn a new language.  I’ll do my best today, but no promises how this will appear on the site, on mobile, or in your email subscription.

Checking the news this morning was surprising (and also not surprising) to say the least. A man who has been the world’s most vocal in minimizing the dangers of the current worldwide pandemic tested positive for the virus. To be charitable and avoid  jumping to other conclusions, it was ironic, and left people wondering about the possibility of this person succumbing to the disease because of his age.

Looking at the world theologically, what would be the substance of a response to that? As a literature student, I learned the idea of “retributive justice.” The idea that people get what they deserve. What others call ‘Karma.’

First of all, in the interest of accuracy, we need to say that the concept of karma in Hinduism and Buddhism refers to consequences occuring in the next life or what could also be termed a future existence because of things said/done/not-done in this life. (see ⋆ below) The term does not imply immediate consequences as does the idea of retribution.

Do we believe in those consequences?

The most theological answer we can give is ‘yes and no.’ Because sometimes the consequences of sin are embedded in the nature of the sin itself. But other times it appears that people have escaped any type of punishment for their lifestyle, attitudes and actions.

The former type of consequences is termed as the principle of sowing and reaping. Galatians 6:7 states;

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. (NIV) Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. (NLT)

The book of Job echoes the agricultural metaphor:

As I have observed, those who plow iniquity, and those who sow trouble, reap the same. (4:8 BSB)

as does the book of Hosea:

You have plowed wickedness and reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your mighty men (10:14 BSB)

This is consistent with God’s dealings with humankind. In Exodus 34, God describes himself:

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”  (34:6-7 NIV)

But we run the risk of forgetting that larger forces are at work. In Jesus’ classic sermon in Matthew 5, he tells us:

… For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. (5:45 NIV)

While the context of this verse is particular, the principle has application. We simply shouldn’t try to read too much into the events and circumstances of life or believe that everything caused — because the verse says he sends — is due to the reasons we would attribute to it. Again, I think that sometimes broader purposes are at work.

But let’s not move too quickly away from the verb he sends because people are often quick to say that things just happen because ‘we live in a fallen world.’ I think this minimizes the potential of God’s role in our human situation. He is fully capable of directly — or through the agency of ministering angels — orchestrating the events which touch our lives, the lives of our spiritual community, the lives of nations.

If a person is neglectful or skeptical about the reality of the current virus, do they run the risk of contracting the disease, or at least testing positive? Of course it’s a possibility, but we can become judgmental if we try to extrapolate meaning from this without knowing everything God knows.


⋆ This is why a search for articles on Christians and Karma doesn’t necessarily answer the dilemma presented in today’s set up. The articles focus on the implied afterlife nature of Karma to the neglect of discussing the consequences realized in this life. In many respects, “Do Christians believe in karma?” is the wrong question.


Related:

An early post here at C201 discussed “Christian Karma” in an article (video link) titled Ten Things Jesus Never Said.

We also got into this topic in a look at Job’s words — also the basis of a popular worship song — You Give and Take Away.

 

 

July 29, 2020

Our Kids’ Emotions in the Middle of Loss

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today’s blog post is a little different from what I normally run here. Hopefully, it contains some practical advice for parents, but it really deals with emotions that all experience in times of loss. But first I need to set this up.

My sister-in-law and her husband have two twin boys. She writes,

Parenting is … hard. On so many levels.

We want the boys to enjoy the experience of having a family dog. It’s not quite working out so well. The boys have had four dogs in their 12 years of life. The first had a compromised immune system that just quit at the age of 3 years old. The second had Parvovirus as a new pup. The third had fear aggression and bit a couple children (including our own) so he had to go live with a family member, and now the fourth dog gets overheated, Lyme Disease, and a ruptured bowel over the span of two weeks.

B. says “I think Gods trying to teach us about grief.” Although he’s also incredibly devastated and angry, I told him it’s OK to be angry with God— just ask Him to help you understand.

C. says “What are we doing wrong?!” We told him, sometimes things in life just suck and this is a big one. We’ve explained what we couldn’t control about every scenario but he still thinks there has to be something we could’ve done.


Of course it’s easy to simply read things on social media and click on a sad-face emoticon or just let my wife’s replies suffice. But I think this touches on matters that affect us all, not just parents, not just kids. I took about 45 minutes to craft a multi-paragraph response…

Thinking about C.’s question, I turned to Job 1:1 “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.” (NIV) Job clearly hadn’t done anything wrong.

In John 9, “As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. Rabbi, his disciples asked him, why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” (NLT) And Jesus’ answer is “Neither.”

In Matthew 5:45, Jesus says, “For he makes the sun rise upon evil men as well as good, and he sends his rain upon honest and dishonest men alike.” (Phillips translation.)

[At this point I realized that some people might default to a ‘Well-then-it-doesn’t-matter-how-I-live’ type of response believing that it doesn’t affect outcomes at all. So I continued…]

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t benefits from living a good, God-centered, Christ-following type of life. There are, and one of them is having someone to turn to and pour out your anguish and disappointment at times like this. And I would dare to say — some may disagree — that it’s okay to say, ‘God, I’m really upset with you. We prayed and our prayer wasn’t answered.’ And he’d say, ‘I know.’ God would rather have our anger than our apathy

And who knows the big picture? It started out about the dog being overheated, but then became about Lyme disease. In the end it was about a bowel obstruction. How did all these factors play together? I don’t know.

Pets do come in and out of our lives. Maybe not with this frequency all the time, but it happens. Each loss, as B. says, is a learning experience. Reactions varies from person to person, and from pet to pet. Jonah threw a major fit over a plant that died, a plant he’d known for basically one day. “Then the Lord said, ‘You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly.‘” Scripture records this for us to see these feelings are not unique. And remember, that was about a plant!

We all want to feel like we’re playing on a winning team, and your team got into an epic battle which at the end wasn’t won. But that doesn’t mean that us (the four of you and we, your extended family) aren’t winners, because the dog was supported and loved and cared for until the end. That means that everyone involved had an overflow of love to give, and an overflow of love to grieve. That’s the correct response. Waking up today and deciding it’s just another Wednesday wouldn’t be right. We were made to feel things; we are a combination of body, mind, soul and spirit.


I could have kept going, but these kids are young and it’s just a day later.

Maybe this applies to you or someone you know today. Perhaps you are just really upset over the situation the world is in right now, and asking, as someone asked me yesterday, how God is permitting all this to happen.

My answer would be the same: Talk to him. Confess your sadness, your disappointment, even your anger if that applies.

Talk to him.


Here’s one of Ruth’s responses:

…Part of love is wanting to protect, both for you toward your family, and the guys toward their pets. We’ve all been there. We’ve all struggled with helplessness. In those moments all we can do is be there with and for each other. God may not give us the miracles we ask for, but he gives us each other. That’s not a fix, but it can be enough to give us the strength to hope.


Related (somewhat):

September 27, 2019

Don’t Speculate as to What God Cares About

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , ,

This week we discovered Lauren Jensen and choosing which of three articles to share with you, decided this might be something someone here needs to hear. As always, click the header below to read this on her site.

His Ways Are Not Our Ways: Why We Need to Hear that God Cares

 

What is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 8:4 ESV

I used to fuel myself 12 hours of the day on coffee and caffeine. When my sweet friend would remark, “I don’t know how you get it all done,” I would shrug and smile and reply that I just had a lot of energy. Simple, stupid Lauren.

After embarking on a life sans caffeine, I realized that I actually have a very limited amount of energy. The only way to fill the energy tank is to simply rest, preferrably sleep. On top of that, I am also incredibly anemic.

In the face of finite energy and resources, I have adopted the phrase, “I don’t care.” The truth is I can’t care. I only have so much time and energy to use and I can’t waste it on things that don’t matter in the long run. Ahhh- that’s why kids tattle and adults don’t. We just don’t have the energy.

Anyway, I’m guessing I’m not alone on this one. With the world pulling us in every direction, we can’t possibly care about it all. And I think that’s partly due to the Fall, but also partly because we are dust.

Being weak clay with finite resources, it is impossible to conceive of a God of infinite resources. Of infinite caring. And phrases creep in that make God more like us. Phrases like “God doesn’t care about that.”

So in well-meaning Christian love we tell people that “God doesn’t care” about the color of their hair, the clothes they wear to church, if they even go to church, where they live, where their kids go to school…

Really, it’s a curious and dangerous thing when we start to determine and speak to what God cares about. Especially when He is quite clear that He is interested in every detail of His creation.

But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.

Matthew 10:30 ESV

“Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt,
to bring rain on a land where no man is…

Job 38:25 ESV

Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you observe the calving of the does?

Job 39:1 ESV

It’s really just a matter of reading Job 38 and 39. It’s watching closely as Jesus holds the little children close and promises the kingdom of heaven to “such as these.” It’s paying attention when God commands His people to remember the foreigners and orphans and widows. It is pausing to contemplate the millions of moments in each generation, the sequence of genes in each person along the way that led to the creation of you. Oh please please please pause and think about all the things that occured so you could occur. You are so precious. So important.

God cares about the small things and the big things. We don’t have a God who cares nothing for anything. Honestly, we have a God who cares so much about everything we can’t even imagine it.

And here is why I’m making a deal out of this: the moment we begin to determine what God does or does not care about, even in an attempt to be spiritually encouraging, we open mental gates to thoughts that if God does not care about that, then He probably doesn’t care about this. How many people don’t pray about things because they mistakenly think that God is busy with more important things and He won’t care about this? How many people, me included, have felt so small and insignificant that God probably doesn’t care about what we are going through?

How can we determine what God cares about when He repeatedly shows us in His word that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways?

And those little mistakes, the ones we are tempted to say God doesn’t care about, have been covered by the blood of Jesus. This doesn’t mean they are no big deal. It means they are forgiven. We are free. Our chains aren’t ignored- they are broken.

And while I don’t recall God saying in the Bible that He didn’t care about __________ (I could be wrong — feel free to refresh my memory), there are certain things He regards higher than others.

Appearances, facades, hypocrisy are not disregarded by God. On the contrary, His talk of bearing fruit and white-washed tombs and being ambassadors and putting on Christ indicates He feels very strongly about what our lives look like because often they reveal what is happening inside us.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart…” (Proverbs 3:5) “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”(Matthew 22:37) “I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 11:19) The hearts of His people rank number one; hearts that are turned to Him, humble hearts of flesh. Souls satisfied and cleansed in the blood of Christ.

Does God care about the color of your hair? The number of tattoos on your body? What you wear to church? Where you spend your Sunday mornings or Saturday nights? Your lineage, gender, culture? Absolutely. You are His child and He loves you. Will any of those things separate you from His love? Never.

We have some serious freedom, friends. We aren’t under the yolk of a bully God who will punish or disregard us with every misstep. We are in the hand of a loving God who desires a relationship with us. Who wants our obedience because it means the best for us in our relationship with Him and others. Who uses our every foible and failure to point to His glory and mercy and faithfulness.

In a world limited by the caring capacity of its inhabitants, we can’t hear this enough: God cares. He cares about it all. He cares about you. God is good.


 

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.

 

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