Christianity 201

December 31, 2016

Bitterness: Part Two

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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We pay annual visits to certain blogs, but last year we missed one. We’re making up for that with two posts this weekend — yesterday and today — from the blog Sharper Iron. Be sure to read part one of this excellent study.  Aaron Blumer is a Michigan native and graduate of Bob Jones University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Click the title below to read at source.

Six Ways Bitterness Can Poison Our Lives

Bitterness can be a good thing. Hannah’s bitter disappointment led her to earnest prayer. Peter’s bitter weeping moved him toward repentance. Job’s bitter ordeal has been a source of comfort for untold millions. And God commanded Ezekiel to weep bitterly as a means of warning his people of coming judgment (Ezek. 21:11-12).

But for us sinners bitterness is perilous.

At best, continuing bitterness becomes part of a toxic spiritual stew that includes “wrath, anger, clamor and slander” as well as “malice” (ESV, Eph. 4:31). At worst, unchecked bitterness breeds unbelief to the point of life-altering, faithless choices (Deut. 29:18, Heb. 12:15).

Here we’ll consider six ways self-indulgent bitterness poisons us.

1. More Bitterness

Like mildew in the shower, bitterness seems to multiply itself. We reap what we sow (Gal. 6:8). Similarly, in Romans 1:21-31, sinful attitudes lead to more sinful attitudes and actions, spiraling downward toward an ever-uglier condition. And near the beginning of that decline is a simple failure to “honor Him as God” and “give thanks.”

The sinners in Romans 1 are not believers, but sin works the way sin works—even in the reborn. In the case of bitterness, we brood about some offense committed against us, some disappointment, some failure, some loss. We tell ourselves how unfortunate we are, how mistreated we are, how alone we are, how tragically unrealized our potential is. Emotions escalate and bring more intensely and expansively negative and bitter thinking—more unthankful thinking.

Soon bitterness taints, then corrupts, our entire inner (and eventually outer) life. Best to lay it aside (Eph. 4:31) early!

2. Poorer Health

The Proverbs reveal that attitudes and emotional states impact our physical health.

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Prov. 3:7–8)

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot. (Prov. 14:30)

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Prov. 17:22)

We’re physically harmed by a state of heart that dwells continually on the negative—what ought to be but isn’t, what I should have done but didn’t, what somebody ought to do but isn’t, what I wish I had but don’t.

These ruminations “make the bones rot.”

3. Corrupted Affections

Ephesians 4:31 doesn’t specify that bitterness is the cause of the other sinful attitudes in the context. It does reveal desires (“affections”) that feed each other. Bitterness breeds bitterness but also encourages more comprehensive corruption of our attitudes and conduct. In Ephesians, it tops the ugly attitudes list.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

In James bitterness is linked closely with jealousy, envy, pride and a pseudo-wisdom associated with demons (James 3:14-15).

The mysterious case of “Simon the Sorcerer” is insightful as well. Soon after Philip brings the gospel to Samaria (Acts 8.5-8), the amazing Simon (Acts 8:11) hears the message and “believe[s]”—and it’s his turn to be amazed (Acts 8:13).

But when he sees the apostles facilitate the Spirit’s coming to the Samaritans, he offers to buy the secret of this power from Peter. As expected, Peter rebukes him. But the apostle’s analysis of what ails Simon is surprising (8:20-23). Peter accuses Simon of:

  • thinking God’s gift could be bought
  • having a heart that is “not right before God”
  • wickedness in the “intent” (epinoia) of his heart”
  • being full of the bile (kole, “gall”) of bitterness (pikria)
  • being tied up (sundesmos) by iniquity (adikia)

There is more than ordinary greed for power going on here. Whatever the precise role of bitterness was in Simon’s life, his bitterness was a major factor in the corruption of his values.

4. Damaged Relationships

The progressive decay of bitterness taints our relationships in so many ways—a critical spirit, a judgmental attitude, a “persecution complex,” just general unpleasantness. Naomi throws a wet blanket on the homecoming celebration in Bethlehem (Ruth 1:19-20). Before that, she tries to send everyone she loves away (Ruth 1:12-13). Peter leads others back into fishing (John 21:3) rather than feeding Jesus’ lambs (John 21:15). Esau’s bitterness contributes to a widening rift between himself and Jacob, lasting for years (Gen. 27:34, 41-42).

Though the word “bitterness” does not appear in the context, a similar dynamic is evident in Cain’s disappointment and resentment toward Abel (Gen. 4:5-6, 8). We know how that relationship turned out.

And bitterness can be contagious as well (Heb. 12:15. See Deut. 29:18).

5. Hollowed-out Worship

The Bible reveals that Christian joy is not a mere emotion. In Philippians, for example, an abundance of joy and rejoicing coexists with tears (Phil. 3:18). However, though joy can coexist with sorrow, it cannot coexist with the bitterness of resentment, anger, and malice.

Just as bitterness toward others drives wedges into our relationships, bitterness about life in general chills our relationship with God.

It’s no coincidence that joy and thankfulness are so dominant and so often paired in the most worship-focused book of the Bible, the Psalms. Worship is fundamentally humble, thankful, and joyous. Bitterness is fundamentally joyless, unthankful, and ultimately proud.

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy! (Ps 107:21–22)

6. Unbelief

In Hebrews 12:15 we find a solemn warning much like Moses’ warning in Deuteronomy 29:18.

Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit (Deut. 29:18)

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled (Heb. 12:15)

It’s somewhat unclear here whether the unbelief produces the bitterness or the bitterness produces the unbelief. The relationship probably goes both ways.

The attitude of the Israelites at the place ironically named “bitter” (Marah) is a classic example (Exodus 15:23-24), as is their later response to the challenges of the conquest—and many events between.

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And … grumbled  … “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt? … Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Nu 14:1–4)

Again, Hebrews is eye-opening:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin… . As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? (Heb. 3:12–16)

When I indulge in prolonged, self-pitying or resentful bitterness, I’m either turning my focus away from revealed truth or rejecting it—or some of both. At best, bitterness is unbelief by neglect. It effectively denies that God is both wise and good—wise enough to know best how the events of my life ought to unfold and good enough to have the best purposes for whatever He has allowed me to experience, or lose, or fail to gain.

Happily, God has graciously provided more than enough resources for battling bitterness. We’ll consider some of those in a future post.

 

December 30, 2016

Bitterness: Part One

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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We pay annual visits to certain blogs, but last year we missed one. We’re making up for that with two posts this weekend, today and on Saturday, from the blog Sharper Iron.  Aaron Blumer is a Michigan native and graduate of Bob Jones University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. This is a great study on this subject. Click the title below to read at source and be sure to come back tomorrow for part two.

Bitterness Happens

Bitterness is a cup we all have to drink sometimes, though some taste it far more often than others and some mixes are far more noxious than others. The bitterest afflictions are those that are continuous—an irreversible decision with seemingly unending consequences, an irreparable but inescapable relationship, the loss of someone so close to us we can’t figure out who we are without them, a gradual ebbing of health and with it both the grief of lost vitality and the resentment of feeling that it happened too soon and wasn’t fair.

In these cases and many more, bouts of bitterness are unavoidable. But with each perfectly normal attack of spiritual and emotional heartburn comes a temptation to indulge and harm ourselves.

I wish I could title this post “I Beat Bitterness and You Can Too,” but my battle with bitterness is ongoing—almost daily. The struggle has led to study, though, and the truths of Scripture have often proved to be powerful medicine. I need to review them, and the exercise may also help you or someone you know.

If, like me, you’re in the “battling bitterness and often not winning” club, you know you need all the help you can get!

The Poison of Bitterness

In both the Old Testament and the New, “bitter “and “bitterness” are associated with foul tasting substances that make us sick. The most common Hebrew and Greek terms are used two ways: literally, of bad tasting or contaminated substances and metaphorically, of a kind of sickening and contaminating affliction of the inner man. A few samples illustrate the pattern and also help us think biblically about the problem.

When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter [Heb., mara]; therefore it was named Marah. (ESV, Exodus 15:23)

[T]hey shall be wasted with hunger, and devoured by plague and poisonous [meriri, bitter] pestilence (Deuteronomy 32:24)

She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly [verb, marar] with me.” (Ruth 1:20)

“I loathe my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness [mar] of my soul.” (Job 10:1)

And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly [Greek adverb, pikrōs]. (Matthew 26:75)

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” [noun, pikria] springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; (Hebrews 12:15; see Deut. 29:18)

The name of the star is Wormwood [a bitter plant]. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter [verb, pikrainō]. (Revelation 8:11)

Affliction vs. Infection

Bitterness happens. That is, it often comes upon us without our choosing and can’t (even shouldn’t) be avoided. Much like a physical pathogen, brief exposures in smallish quantities may strengthen us, but highly potent or profuse exposures tend to overwhelm.

If we also make poor choices in response, we’re likely to move beyond affliction and deep into infection. We begin to suffer lasting harm and also to spread our bitterness problem to those around us. A look at some of the ways bitterness commonly afflicts may help us avoid crossing over from affliction to infection.

  • Regret
  • Grief
  • Disappointment
  • Resentment

Regret

Esau’s regret is painful to even read.

As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter [mara] cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” (Ge 27:34)

No doubt, Peter’s post-denial, bitter cry burned not only with regret but also horror and shame (Matt. 26:75).

When we’re afflicted with the bitterness of regret, our focus is on what we should have done. As a close cousin to repentance, this sort of bitterness has an important role in God’s work of remaking us in Christ’s image. Linger there too long, though, and the affliction becomes infection. Soon we’re ready to hang it all and go fishing (John 21:3—apparently not what God in mind for Peter, John 21:17).

Grief

As the bitterness of regret focuses on what we should have done (“If only I had …!”), the bitterness of grief focuses on what or whom we have lost. It often accompanies the bitterness of regret, as in Esau’s case, or the bitterness of resentment and anger, as in Job’s case.

Naomi’s example is so insightful. She has lost those closest to her, whom she not only loved but depended on for the basic necessities of life. But she clearly crossed over from the affliction of grief into the infection of bitterness—not only failing to rejoice at her warm welcome back home to Bethlehem, but throwing a wet blanket on everyone else’s enjoyment of the occasion.

See seems to eventually recover, but in Ruth 1:20-21, Naomi is pretty toxic. Those of us who struggle with bitterness of our own have to find a quick exit when these bitterness emitters come around.

Disappointment

The bitterness of disappointment is close cousin to grief. The difference is that grief flows from what we had and lost, while disappointment is focused on what we hoped for (quite possibly still wish for) but have never had.

So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. (1 Sa 1:9–10)

Hannah’s story has a happy ending. Her commitment to pour her pain out to the Lord eventually meets with His mercy—but not before bitterness robbed her of much of the pleasure of what should have been a joyous occasion, and not before her bitterness spilled over at least a little on those who loved her.

Resentment

Who can blame Job for feeling the anguish of his losses? But his bitterness goes beyond the affliction of grief. With the aid of his perhaps well-meaning friends, the pain of his losses festers into the bitterness of resentment. As regret and grief focus on what we should have done and what we have lost, resentment focuses on what we feel we deserve—that we aren’t getting. Resent insists that our affliction isn’t fair.

“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. Am I the sea, or a sea monster, that you set a guard over me? When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,’ then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I would choose strangling and death rather than my bones. I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are a breath. (Job 7:11–16)

Job has not only lost everyone he loved and everything he worked to build, but has lost even the ability to rest. He handles it better than most of us would. Still, his resentment is a bitterness infection, as he—though not in so many words—acknowledges eventually (Job 42:1-6).

A Word of Caution

I feel more sympathy than disapproval toward these bitter souls. On occasion, I’ve been Esau, Peter, Naomi, Hannah and even a bit of Job—some days, I try to be all of them at once!

But if we let them, the afflictions of bitterness will infect and destroy us and often badly injure innocent bystanders in the process.

Many of us find that even briefly revisiting the bitterness of Esau, Job, Naomi, Hannah and Peter puts our own pains in a better perspective. But the Bible also calls us to antithetical attitudes that, as they flourish, leave bitterness without much space. Lord willing, we’ll ponder some of these attitudes in a follow-up post.

May 26, 2016

Straight from a Faithful Heart

Lisa ElliottA guest post by Lisa Elliott

In August, 2009 Lisa and her husband David lost their oldest son Benjamin after a heroic battle with cancer at age 19. This loss greatly impacted many others, including ourselves, and I wrote about it at that time. Shortly after, she wrote her story in The Ben Ripple which we reviewed here. We also featured Lisa’s writing in a Facebook excerpt from those days. Recently I stumbled across a more recent article and knew that I needed to help her share it with a larger audience.

I’ve made it a habit over the past number of years to visit a graveyard every Sunday before church. My purpose, you ask? To metaphorically, but in a very tangible way, and strategically before engaging in a worship service, put to death anything in my life that is dead or dying and especially those things preventing new life from taking root and producing fruit in my life in accordance with John 15. You see, I’ve experienced firsthand that the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; but Jesus came that we may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).

You can be sure that the Enemy of our souls wants us to do anything but produce lasting fruit or enable us to live an abundant life—least of all, in our relationship with the Lord; the Lover of our souls, the One who died to give us life and who, in fact, is our life (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

I hope you would agree that God has called us to so much more, even in this life, than what we’re often willing to settle for! He’s called us to not merely survive, but rather to thrive; whether it is in our relationships, in our investments, in our ministry, in our vocations, in our churches, or in life as a whole! Unfortunately, the sad reality is that many don’t! Rather, they forfeit the abundant life that He offers for a mediocre, lukewarm survival.

So what does it mean to thrive vs. survive? Here are some principles I have learned to thrive on:

  • Life is too short to pretend; to simply fake it until we make it. God calls us to be real, authentic, and transparent, especially in our relationship with Him (A good example is David in the Psalms).
  • Life is too short to waste our time, energies, and resources on people who suck the life out of us rather than on those whom we can mutually invest in life-giving ways (Proverbs 13:20).
  • Life is too short to use our time on activities that only serve the purpose of wasting our time. Time is precious to the Lord and we need to use it wisely (Ephesians 5:16).
  • Life is too short to exist merely for the sake of a paycheck or a pension (Luke 18:18-23; Mark 8:36).
  • Life is too short to let the fear of failure, the fear of man, or the fear of the future control us and deprive us of all that God has for us (Psalm 20:7; Matthew 6:25-34).
  • Life is too short to indulge in shallow, idol, and meaningless conversation and miss out on meaningful conversation about life and death issues (2 Timothy 2:16).
  • Life is too short to hold grudges against people who will hold us captive as long as we allow them to (Colossians 3:13).
  • Life is too short to obsess over keeping physically healthy when we should be investing in our spiritual well-being (1Timothy 4:7-9).
  • Life is too short to put off investing in and enjoying a personal and intimate relationship with the Lord until “there and then” when we could be investing and enjoying it in the “here and now”(James 4:13-15).
  • Life is too short to tolerate gossip and slander when instead we should be encouraging one another, and all the more as the day of Christ draws near (Hebrews 10:24-25).
  • Life is too short to wait for life to happen when we can choose to make life happen (Proverbs 4:6-10)!
  • Life is too short to allow the boulders in our life to be obstacles rather than opportunities to climb to higher heights (Galatians 6:10).
  • Life is too short to waste our time longing for the life that was seemingly so much better in Egypt instead of remembering the God who saved you from slavery and brought you through the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8).
  • Life is too short to wander in the wilderness when God calls us to a land promised to us that is full of life and growth and fruit in abundance (Deuteronomy 8)!
  • Life is too short to hold onto the past so dearly that you don’t have the capacity to grasp and embrace all that God is extending to us through the outstretched arms of Jesus (John 3:16).

The bottom line is that life is too short to settle for anything less than what God wants for His children. The question is what are you going to settle for?

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21).

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).


Casting Crowns has a new release that fits so well into what I’m trying to say. You might want to have a listen:

Lisa Elliott is an award-winning author of The Ben Ripple; Choosing to Live through Loss with Purpose and Dancing in the Rain; One Family’s Journey through Grief and Loss. She is a dynamic inspirational speaker; often described as “refreshingly real” as she passionately shares the life-changing truths and principles of God’s Word in her ministry, Straight from the Heart. 

Visit her website — there are more articles in the “Straight from a … Heart” series —  at www.lisaelliottstraightfromtheheart.webs.com

Like her on Facebook at Lisa Elliott – Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author

Lisa’s books can be purchased directly from her, greatcanadianauthors.com, Amazon, Indigo/Chapters, and Christian bookstores across Canada and throughout the U.S. via Anchor Distributors.

October 26, 2013

A Bend in the Road is not the End of the Road

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:11 pm
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A few weeks ago I picked up a Twitter follower and decided to see what his blog was all about. Zech Newman blogs (and posts original photography) at Restoring Significance where this appeared as Growing Pains. (Click through to read at source.)

Life is a difficult thing sometimes. Nothing stays the same. We will be moved backward or forward. Are you advancing? Are you taking back ground restoring what was lost? One of my mentors has told me, “Embrace the pain.” This was very hard for me to hear but so true. You and I need to let our pain and discomfort be a catalyst for our personal development. Our greatest pain can be our biggest testimony and our greatest mission in this world. I have written my story of hope which was so painful. Fear of rejection, the loss of family, and the pain of expectations were other painful points. When we face pain we will never be the same. Facing difficulties and challenges is unavoidable. Learning from them is the part that is optional. John Maxwell has said, “A bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn.” We want to be shaped by pain, but not defined by it. These 4 things help me embrace the pain and grow.

1. Mindset. How we look at our pains will determine how we end up on the other side. We can choose to look at the glass as being half full or half empty. We cannot control everything, however, we can control our attitude. Everything in life begins and ends in the mind. Focus on adopting a positive life stance. If we have a positive outlook, the good and bad things in life will be better. If we have a negative stance, unfortunately everything will be worse. Focus on the good and it will make the pain a little less painful.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”   ~ Philippians 4:8

2. Time. Allow yourself to have some time to grieve. We are not thoughtless robots; we all have feelings. The bigger the pain the more time we need. We expect others to flip a switch sometimes. Give yourself some grace. I know it can be hard. You will get through this. Some pains like losing someone close to you can last a lifetime.

  ”For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be    revealed to us.” ~ Romans 8:18

3. Help. We should not walk through life alone. We need people to walk along side us in good times and in bad. We as humans are relational beings. We need to reach out to those that are close to us in time of pain. Don’t bottle it in and close yourself off from others. In great pain this is my first reaction. It is wrong and can be dangerous. Sometimes you just need someone to cry with. Someone that will listen to you and have empathy.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:11

4. Make good changes. Pain can make us face changes in our own lives that we need to make. When pain comes we either face the feelings and try to change or we try to escape. Trying to escape can lead to hiding in addiction and many other self-destructive things. We need to slowly but surely train ourselves to fight for positive change and not run toward destruction. Think through what you can learn from the pain. Here are a few examples of things I have learned. I will be rejected; embrace it. Life is short; love as big as I can. Kids are a blessing; be patient with them. I can choose the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. These were not fun lessons, but I would not change them for anything in the world.

If you are walking through major pain at the moment I hope this helps. It can be so painful and I hope that I did not appear to gloss over the pain. I pray that this helps you to grow through your painful time. Allow this time to draw you close to the feet of Jesus, the only one who can truly change us. Be blessed on your journey.

o-o-o-o

Today’s two-for-one special: While at Zech’s blog, I was reminded of this worship song, which I’ve also come to appreciate over the past few weeks. Enjoy No One Higher by Seth Condrey.

June 29, 2013

Focusing on Found

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:55 pm
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John 20:1-18 (NLT)

The Resurrection

20 Early on Sunday morning,[a] while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

Jenni Catron is Excecutive Director of Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN. This appeared recently on her blog.

Loss is a debilitating feeling. Something as simple as losing your keys creates anxiety and unsettledness until they are found. The loss of a job triggers fears, insecurities, and doubts. The loss of someone dear creates a sense of desperation, a longing that is never fulfilled.

We’ve been in a series at Cross Point called Cover to Cover where we are looking at the entire story of the Bible and unpacking the themes that God has woven throughout it.  We’ve also had a daily scripture reading plan and daily devotional where we can share our thoughts and learnings with one another.

Today we read John 20:1-18

In this passage, Mary and the disciples are reeling from their loss. Not only did they lose Jesus to death but they soon discover his body is now missing too. One more loss to compound their sadness.

But look closely at how they respond…

Simon Peter and the other disciple looked into the tomb, saw the strips of linen and Jesus’ burial cloth and accepted it as evidence that Jesus’ body was gone. Scripture tells us they went home.

But Mary, seeing the same evidence, stayed awhile longer. She stood outside the tomb crying. It seems that she couldn’t quite bring herself to leave. She grieved.

And then the story turned.

Mary didn’t recognize Jesus immediately. I wonder if He looked different. He wasn’t the crucified version that she lost. Mary was looking for a beaten and battered body. Jesus showed up differently than she expected and she didn’t recognize him at first.

When you experience loss do you leave or do you grieve? Do you look for Jesus or assume He’s gone?

Too many times in my life I’ve allowed loss to lead me to believe God has abandoned me. When a circumstance didn’t turn out the way I hoped or I lost someone or something valuable I assumed God was gone too. But time and time again I discover that He is there. He might look different or behave differently than I thought He would, but He is there.

So often in our lives we fixate on what we’ve lost rather than seeing what we’ve found.

God is there. He’s in your circumstance. He might look a little different than you expected. He might show up in a different way than you hoped, but He is there.

Is there a situation in your life where you feel God has abandoned you? Look closely. Made he is there just waiting for you to rediscover him.


Bonus Item: The Place of Children at Church

The YouTube channel that I oversee is named after our retail covering, Searchlight Books, but consists almost entirely of classic Christian music songs that you can’t buy at Searchlight or anywhere else. More recently however, we’ve included some sermon excerpts and this weekend we posted an eleven-minute excerpt from the Phil Vischer podcast where Wheaton College professor Scottie May spoke about visiting inter-generational churches during her sabbatical. This is a must listen-to segment for anyone who cares about church and especially for people in children’s ministry or youth ministry.

This is an audio-only clip with no moving images, so even if you are not on a high-speed connection and don’t normally click on video links, you should be find with this one. Click here to listen to Inter-generational Churches.

November 5, 2012

Peace… Be Still

If I’m really honest — and I’m going to be today —  I would have to admit that I approached last Monday night’s storm with a great deal of apprehension. Part of it was due to the media buildup and part of it was due to general anxieties being brought on by a variety of circumstances.

As it turned out, the media’s anticipation of the storm was not hype, and people in New York City who failed to heed the warnings to evacuate ended up needing rescue.  If September 11th, 2001 represented the day that war came to America, then October 29th, 2012 was the day catastrophe came to New York City.

Stephen and Brooksyne Weber have had storm-themed devotions at Daily Encouragement all last week, though it’s interesting that the Friday before (26th) they chose this verse:

 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

The day after (30th) they chose this passage,

“And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’” (Mark 4:37,38).

The passage continues,

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

We sleep at night with a fan on in the room (for the white noise background), but even with that the winds were howling. I’m sure that we’ve had worse winds in several Canadian winters, but this time around I entertained the possibility of the top half of the house blowing away.

So I laid there and in my heart prayed “Peace, be still.” My lips didn’t move and my vocal cords didn’t engage, but inside, the prayer was a scream. I wasn’t expecting the storm to stop so much as I was praying for a stillness of the winds of anxiety and the rains of adversity.

I was praying for a stillness, a calm to inhabit my heart and mind.

And while that was going on, I thought of a song that’s based on the same passage in Mark, Master the Tempest is Raging. There are a few versions of it online, but nothing that matches the passion and intensity that I remember when, in my teen years, I heard it performed by the 120-voice choir at my home church in Toronto.

These are the lyrics, though I had no memory of the 2nd or 3rd verses until I looked them up today:

Master, the tempest is raging!
The billows are tossing high!
The sky is o’ershadowed with blackness,
No shelter or help is nigh;
Carest Thou not that we perish?
How canst Thou lie asleep,
When each moment so madly is threat’ning
A grave in the angry deep?

The winds and the waves shall obey Thy will,
Peace, be still!
Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea,
Or demons or men, or whatever it be,
No waters can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean, and earth, and skies;
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will,
Peace, be still! Peace, be still!
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will,
Peace, peace, be still!

Master, with anguish of spirit
I bow in my grief today;
The depths of my sad heart are troubled—
Oh, waken and save, I pray!
Torrents of sin and of anguish
Sweep o’er my sinking soul;
And I perish! I perish! dear Master—
Oh, hasten, and take control.

Master, the terror is over,
The elements sweetly rest;
Earth’s sun in the calm lake is mirrored,
And heaven’s within my breast;
Linger, O blessed Redeemer!
Leave me alone no more;
And with joy I shall make the blest harbor,
And rest on the blissful shore.

I think it is significant that in 1874, the writer, Mary A. Baker, chose to take the direction in the second verse that most likely applies to us today, and most certainly applies to me. The winds of fear and the rains of troubles and trials really never stop, but “no water can swallow the ship.”

As I did Monday night, and several times in the days since, reach out your hand toward your circumstances and whisper, ‘Peace … be still.’

~Paul Wilkinson


A more contemporary song that came to me this week was posted here previously, check out Psalm 91 by SonicFlood.

Hurricane Sandy devastated Cuba, Haiti, The Dominican Republic; but all we tend to hear about is New York City. Here’s an examination of the inequities of media reporting.

January 8, 2011

God, You Are So Many Things: Psalm 91

Heard this for the first time just minutes ago at 96.5FM in Australia.  Thanks to the video people who post these songs.   Because the lyrics are already in the video, what follows is Psalm 91 from The MessageThis particular blog post had a lot of different tags as suggested by the lyrics.  If one of them brought you here, kick back and enjoy the music for a few minutes.

You who sit down in the High God’s presence, spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow,
Say this: “God, you’re my refuge.
I trust in you and I’m safe!”
That’s right—he rescues you from hidden traps,
shields you from deadly hazards.
His huge outstretched arms protect you—
under them you’re perfectly safe;
his arms fend off all harm.
Fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night,
not flying arrows in the day,
Not disease that prowls through the darkness,
not disaster that erupts at high noon.
Even though others succumb all around,
drop like flies right and left,
no harm will even graze you.
You’ll stand untouched, watch it all from a distance,
watch the wicked turn into corpses.
Yes, because God’s your refuge,
the High God your very own home,
Evil can’t get close to you,
harm can’t get through the door.
He ordered his angels
to guard you wherever you go.
If you stumble, they’ll catch you;
their job is to keep you from falling.
You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes,
and kick young lions and serpents from the path.

14-16 “If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
“I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life,
give you a long drink of salvation!”

August 26, 2010

Consider Your Ways

Anyone who can’t find Christian devotional content on the internet just isn’t looking hard enough.  Today we introduce Fresh Manna by Tim Burt, an associate pastor in Minnesota who has been writing devotions online since 2007.   You can also read today’s devotional here.


“Now therefore thus says the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.” (Haggai 1:5)

I woke up this morning thinking about people that enter into sudden crisis and how it affects their spiritual walk. The man that suddenly has his wife utter those words that grip his heart, “I’m leaving you – I just can’t do this anymore.” The person who has just had his boss tell him or her “I am so sorry but the company has to lay off fifty people and I have to let you go.” The person that is sitting with their doctor to find out what those unusual symptoms have been about and he says, “I am sorry to tell you this but you have cancer.” The person who gets the phone call about their loved one just having a serious accident. All these horrible crisis occurrences can grip the heart and attempt to send one’s mind into a tailspin. And they are seldom over in a moment. Difficult times and seasons like this often lead to pain, confusion, condemnation, blame, and eventually backsliding from God. I believe that today, God is trying to warn some of those reading about needed changes that will help them avoid crisis and to others – a call to come back to Him from their wandering away.

When sincere Christians experience these kinds of painful, heart-gripping events, most at some point begin to process through a spiritual inventory. “What did I do to bring this on?” Even though they may have done absolutely nothing, the devil uses these occasions to take advantage of pointing out our sinful weaknesses and beats us over our head with condemnation. That is his wicked nature that will never change. He is an accuser and is called the accuser of the brethren. Rev. 12:10 “…the accuser of God’s children, who accuses them before our God day and night…” Some think the accusations they hear are from God and that He is mad at them. They don’t have the discernment to know it’s the voice of Satan. Consequently, some run from God at these times of crisis. Others get mad at God. They think God has let them down.

When people are guilty of sin and won’t own up to it and it has led to pain or crisis, they often blame God, but since they can’t see Him, they blame those that represent God. They blame their Pastor, or religion, or someone who preaches the gospel on television that they can take cheap shots at, or maybe even their Christian friends. Suddenly every Christian looks like a hypocrite because of their imperfection and Satan amplifies that. Blaming someone else feels better than looking inside through self-examination and repenting for sin.

If disobedience has led to or contributed to the crisis they are facing, the Lord’s goal is always an assurance of His love and willingness to forgive where there is repentance of sin. His goal is always reconciliation – the restoring of relationship and right behavior with Him and help and deliverance from the crisis. Examine Jesus’ walk and you will see this is true. Its’ always about Him bringing correction and instruction on how to get it right. It’s all about leading people into change – supernatural change. It’s never about beating someone up and leaving them in the dust. The devil will do that. People do that to each other, but that is not God’s character.

Crisis often drives healthy self examination. It is always the right time to examine your life. It is also always the right time to purge ungodly thoughts, attitudes, unforgiveness, immoral behavior, and anything that we would mark unpleasing to God. Crisis might drive us to our knees. But it would be better to hit our knees before crisis came. It would be better to delight ourselves in the fear of God and move as far away from ungodly attitudes and behavior out of our love for God as possible. If we did, we’d have greater confidence that God would protect us and help and deliver us when crisis rears its ugly head instead of being buried in the devil’s condemnation.

He will supernaturally strengthen us to make needed changes and that often helps us avoid the crisis’s that could derail us. That is why He calls out to us and says: “Now therefore thus says the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.” (Haggai 1:5)

In His Love,
Pastor Tim Burt