Christianity 201

August 19, 2021

Troubles, Distress and the Pains of Life

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Ps.77.1 I cried out to God for help;
    I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
    at night I stretched out untiring hands,
    and I would not be comforted.

I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
    I meditated, and my spirit grew faint…

…10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
    the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
    and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

13 Your ways, God, are holy.
    What god is as great as our God?

Four years ago when we launched our Sunday Worship series of devotions, we discovered the blog Ascents written by Tim Adams. Today’s thoughts are gathered from two things he posted, the first in October, 2019, and the second in March, 2021. Clicking the post titles which follow will take you there directly.

Psalm 77 – Remember God

This psalm consists of four stanzas, each separated by the Hebrew word Selah. In the first two, Asaph is focused on the trials and tribulations of the Hebrew people. Here he asks if God has turned away from His people forever. In the third stanza his focus moves from the troubles around him to the Lord and all that God has done for his children. The final stanza, he offers praise to God for His power, sovereignty, and glory.

In this song Asaph is a troubled soul. While it’s unclear what is specifically happening to cause his grief, it is clear that his concerns are not only for himself, but also for the nation. It’s not that he isn’t mindful of God’s graciousness to Israel, it’s just that remembering doesn’t lift the cloud over him.

It can be the same for us, can’t it? In the midst of a storm, we remind ourselves of the love and power of God, but that doesn’t always make us feel better because it doesn’t make the storm go away. The problem may be that our perspective needs to change. Just as in the picture, the tornado and the rainbow can seemingly converge at the same spot–right where we are.

Psalm 77:10 is where Asaph’s perspective changes. “Then I said, “It is my grief, That the right hand of the Most High has changed.” He remembers who God is and what He has done. Suddenly his lamentations turn to praise. The trial has not abated for him, just his grief.

God does not promise that life will be easy, or that He will always take away our trials. But, He has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us. He may not always calm the storm, but He will give us all we need to weather it.

“Sometimes He holds us close,
and lets the wind and waves go wild;
Sometimes He calms the storm
and other times He calms His child
.”
–Kevin Stokes and Tony Wood.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – The Minor Pains of Life

“Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal,” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18).

I remember, as a young man, watching TV with my grandmother.  I remember a certain commercial that would upset her whenever it came on. It was advertising a particular pain medication that claimed to relieve the minor pains of arthritis.  She would get so angry at the phrase “minor pains of arthritis.”  I would suggest that the drug likely only affected the arthritis pains that were minor.  She would say, “There’s no such thing!”.

Life’s afflictions never seem minor when we are in the midst of them.  They absorb our attention, takeover our thoughts, and easily become the only things that matter.  But here, Paul is suggesting that we view our various trials with an eternal perspective.  He is saying that, because God’s grace abounds—what “therefore” is there for—we should not allow our trials, which are temporal, to take us captive to the pain and cause us to lose our joy over the reality of eternal glory in Christ.  Paul is teaching us that the temporary pains of afflictions and trials are actually serving an eternal, divine purpose by producing in us a greater anticipation for this eternal glory.  The greater the pain, the greater the anticipation.

Pain and affliction are real, but when we recognize that these various trials are temporary and we place our focus on eternity with Christ, we truly experience what it means to abide in Him and live fruitful lives in the midst of this life’s troubles, (John 15:4*). By focusing on eternity we can truly know the fullness of joy in Christ (Psalm 16:11**).


*”I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. … No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. – John 15:4

**You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. – Psalm 16:11

August 1, 2021

Is There a Connection Between Illness and Demon Possession?

A friend asked this question on Friday afternoon. He had some good, scripture-based reasons why we might see a link, but I decided to dig into the topic on my own. I picked a search engine that I don’t use as often, selected six page-one results that seemed on-topic, and chose two of them for my response. I decided to share them here with you. One was apologist J. Warner Wallace, whose books I have excerpted here before. (There’s a new one coming soon!) The other was a more Charismatic/Pentecostal perspective from Eric Hill.

■ Wallace stated:

Although there are several examples of demon possession in the Bible, the Scripture does not attribute all illness to demons. Skeptics often characterize Christians as superstitious people who attribute all physical ailments to the existence and influence of demons. But this is neither the Biblical record, nor what Christians believe. There are several New Testament passages describing the demon possessed and the sick as two different groups (joined by the word “and”):

Luke 13:31-32
Just at that time some Pharisees came up, saying to Him, “Go away and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You.” And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.

Luke 9:1-2
When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

Acts 5:15-16
Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.

In addition, Jesus healed many people who were sick and the Scriptures describe these healings clearly. None of the following illnesses were attributed to demons:

The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant (Matthew 8:5-13)
The Healing of the Woman Bleeding (Matthew 9:19-20)
The Healing of the Blind Men (Matthew 9:27-30)
The Healing of the Man with the Withered Hand (Matthew 12:9-14)
The Healing of Peter’s Mother-in-Law (Luke 4:38, 39)
The Healing of the Leper (Luke 5:12-16)
The Healing of the Paralyzed Man (Luke 5:17-26)
The Healing of the Immobile Man (John 5:1-16)
The Healing of Daughter of the Phoenician Woman (Mark 7:24-30)
The Healing of the Ten Lepers (Luke 17:11-19)
The Healing of the Woman with the Spirit of Infirmity (Luke 13:10-17)

Christians do not attribute all illnesses to demon possession, but it is clear demons are continually doing what they can to keep God’s chosen from a relationship with Him, and this often takes the form of some sort of bodily attack. Demons are focused. They are trying to stop God’s work, stop the growth of the Kingdom, and stop men and women from hearing the Good News. One thing is certain, however. Those of us who have already placed our trust in Christ (and have been filled with God’s Spirit) cannot be demon possessed. Demons are mere creations of God, and as such, they do not possess His power. God is strong enough to reach us, transform us and keep us:

2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

1 Peter 1:18–19
knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

2 Corinthians 6:15-16
What harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people”

Romans 8:38-39
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Are demons the cause of all human illness? No. we live in a fallen, imperfect world suffering the consequence of sin and rebellion. We experience moral evil, natural evil and pain for a variety of reasons. The influence of angelic beings is certainly a part of the equation, but we cannot attribute all evil (nor all illnesses) to the activity of demons.

■ Eric Hill wrote,

Demons Cause Some Sickness, But Not All Sickness

The Bible is explicit in its examples of Satan or his demons directly causing sickness and disease. But I think it is also clear in Scripture and human experience that not all sickness and disease is caused by Satan.

We are presently in the Covid-19 pandemic. There is nothing necessarily demonic about one person being infected by another with the virus. I could say the same of the flu, a sexually transmitted disease, or smoking one’s self into lung cancer.

These physical bodies are born dying and susceptible to degraded physical and mental conditions. Of course, there are many variables that may make one more susceptible than another to any particular condition.

So, we have a coin with two different sides. One side is the reality that demons can and do cause sickness and disease. The other is the reality that demons do not cause all sickness and disease.

This means we must see sickness and disease as possible attacks by Satan. Consequently, we should vigorously resist him in faith with the word of God. Perhaps our earliest response in prayer should be to command the attack on our body or mind to stop.

Commanding a condition to leave our body, however, is not an admission that all sickness is caused by Satan. It is not even certain that when we rebuke a “demon of sickness” from our body that a demon is even present. I know how this sounds. So let me explain.

The Scripture says, we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). This truth can be applied to our lives across the board to include our prayers and warfare against Satan.

None of us knows everything. Unless the Holy Spirit reveals to us the deepest source of our trouble, we can only respond to it with the knowledge we have.

One fact we know is demons can cause sickness. Knowing this, it would be wise to initially and routinely resist the sickness as though it were a demon even though we know it may not be one.

This is not dissimilar to what is often done when we employ the services of an automotive mechanic or a doctor.

You hear an odd sound from your car. You take it to a mechanic and he tries this and that until, hopefully, he finds the source of the odd sound.

You feel something odd in your body. You go to a doctor and explain what happened. The doctor asks a bunch of questions, poke and prod here and there, draws blood, and has tests done.

Why doesn’t the mechanic or doctor simply perform or prescribe a fix after thirty seconds? It’s because they “know in part.” So they use their experience to track down the source of the problem.

This is the same process I use when I’m ministering deliverance and healing to people. It often produces startling answers to prayer as demons are exposed as the problem and cast out.


Links to article excerpts in opening paragraph.

As I researched this further, I realized that in the Body of Christ, opinions on this topic vary greatly; scriptures are interpreted through the particular lens of the other doctrines to which a person might hold.

If you find yourself in a related situation, the gift you need in the moment is not the gift of healing (though that may come into play shortly) but rather the gift of discernment to know what’s really taking place in the physical body.

July 21, 2021

Book Excerpt: Don’t Waste Your Pain (2)

This is our second of two excerpts (see here for part one) from a new book by Paul Willoughby titled Don’t Waste Your Pain: The Journey from Brokenness to Wholeness. Have you known pain in your life? Paul’s book is equal parts of autobiography — including his (and wife Gloria’s) ministry nationally in Canada through Christian television, in local churches in Ontario, in Uganda, and in India — and exposition of key Bible narratives. There are 13 challenging chapters and each has questions at the end for personal or group reflection, as well as links to some supplemental online resources relating to each.

Our excerpt today is from one of the teaching sections. Learn more about the book and how to order at dontwasteyourpain.com.

Fruit from Darkness

God has given us many wonderful parallels in nature that help us understand spiritual realities. Often in the Scriptures we see Jesus using everyday objects to illustrate great truth. One of Jesus’ favourites was to talk about farm life – something very familiar to His hearers. He spoke of a farmer sowing seeds, or of a vineyard that needed tending. One time, in speaking of His death Jesus said those words about a kernel of wheat dying, being buried, so it can produce a harvest of many seeds.

For a plant to grow, a seed needs to be buried in the soil. It is a picture of death and pain, of darkness and loneliness. Unless it is planted it will not bear fruit.

Many times in our lives we also feel like that seed – buried, forgotten, alone. But, like the seed, if we allow God’s presence to fill our lives He can cause us to grow and to be fruitful. It’s not easy. And it may take some time. There may be further pruning involved. But as the great Gardener of our lives, we can trust Him to know what He is doing and to bring us to a place of fruitfulness!

Naomi’s Pain: From Bitter to Blessed

One of the many examples of this in Scripture is seen in the life of Naomi. I imagine that she must have spent many nights weeping, crying out to God, wondering why her dreams had been shattered and buried.

Naomi and her husband Elimelech, along with their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, left Israel due to a severe famine. They headed as refugees for Moab, a country neighbouring Israel. Not long after, Elimelech tragically died. Naomi was devastated yet grateful that she still had her two sons with her. She soon found wives for them: Mahlon married Orpah and Kilion married Ruth. As hard as it was to imagine tragedy struck Naomi again within ten years of her husband’s death: her two sons died.

Naomi could not bear the pain. She viewed her losses the way many people do and concluded that God was against her. Perhaps Naomi wondered, “Aren’t I part of God’s people? Doesn’t God see me or care for me anymore?” Resentment began to seep into Naomi’s soul. We can sense it in her words: “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” (Ruth 1:13). In fact, Naomi told her friends to call her “Mara” instead of Naomi, because Mara meant “bitter.” She was beginning to form her identity around her circumstances, rather than on what God thought of her, or had planned for her. Because of her pain Naomi thought her story was finished; she was unable to see how God could bring anything good out of something that appeared to be so bad.

We all need to be careful about how we interpret the bad things that happen to us. In deep sorrow Naomi gave up and advised her two daughters-in-law to go back home and find new husbands. Orpah followed her suggestion, but Ruth refused. “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you,” Ruth replied. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16). Could there be any stronger example of devotion in all of Scripture? Ruth’s willingness to selflessly bind herself to one in such tragedy and suffering is amazing. However, in the throes of depression, Naomi was unable to see her world correctly.

A small glimmer of hope for Naomi emerged in her daughter-in-law’s promises to never leave her, never forsake her. It is the same promise that God makes to us: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5–6). We begin to see how, in a sense, Ruth is like God and sometimes we are like Naomi; though many will leave us and forsake us, God will not.

Ruth’s promise did not take away Naomi’s pain, but it did help her begin to move in the right direction and kept her going until she reached a place where she could say, “God is good.”

If you read through the story, in the book of Ruth, you will see how after Naomi and Ruth returned to Israel, God moved the heart of Boaz to provide for Ruth and then to eventually marry her. They had a child, Obed, who would eventually become the grandfather of David, the great King of Israel. Hundreds of years later, of course, Jesus himself would come from David’s lineage.

But let’s think about Naomi once again. Imagine her in Moab, her husband and two sons suddenly gone. All her dreams suddenly shattered, her longings unfulfilled, her hopes dashed to pieces. She put a label on herself: “bitter.” But looking back we see that God actually had blessing in store for her. What if she had really given up? Turned her back on God? She could have said, ‘I never want to go back to Israel and its God! He doesn’t care about me!’ But, no, even though she could not understand it, she returned again. And as we turn to the Lord, even in the midst of pain, God can turn our bitterness to blessing, just as he did for Naomi!

When our circumstances look desperate and we are tempted to become despondent, we must remember that there is still hope.

So, don’t give up. God is near. Turn your eyes toward heaven and know that He sees your tears. Let Him draw you close to Himself. Rest there in His embrace and allow Him to “quiet you with his love” (Zephaniah 3:17). Yes, loss is a bitter pill to take, but we never know what good God will bring out of it, or the greater plan He can unfold if we only trust Him.

 

June 21, 2021

Forget That You’ve Heard the Story Before

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today’s devotional by Charles Stanley is an excerpt of a book excerpt, from his new release, Can You Still Trust God? as published by the website and subscription service Devotions Daily. To read the full excerpt, click the header which follows.

The Power of Perspective

…The problem with studying any familiar passage is that we rarely allow ourselves to feel what the characters must have felt. Why should we? We usually know what happens in the end.

Unfortunately, this familiarity with the Scriptures often robs us of their intended results. It is hard to feel the fear David must have felt when he faced Goliath when we know from the outset that he comes out the victor. We miss the sense of isolation Moses must have felt as he fled Egypt for his life. After all, he ends up a hero. So as you approach this familiar narrative in John 11, try to forget the end of the story. Instead, do your best to put yourself in the shoes, or maybe the sandals, of the people involved. If you read what happens but neglect to consider what must have been felt, you lose some of the richest insights of this story.

“HE WHOM YOU LOVE IS SICK”

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. The sisters therefore sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” John 11:1-3

The household of Mary and Martha is one in which Jesus and His disciples had been given hospitality whenever they had been in the area of Judea. Apparently, Lazarus was a wealthy man, and he used his wealth to support the ministry of Christ. The fact that Mary and Martha sent for Jesus as soon as Lazarus became ill is evidence of their faith in His power. No doubt they thought, If Jesus is willing to heal total strangers, certainly He will jump at the opportunity to heal one who has been a friend. But such was not the case.

But when Jesus heard it, He said, This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. John 11:4-6

These verses make absolutely no sense, humanly speaking. That is why I love this story, because most adversity makes about as much sense from our perspective. It is clearly stated that Jesus loves this family; then He makes no move to relieve their suffering. I can relate to that.

Whenever the bottom drops out, I go scrambling to the verses in the Bible that remind me of God’s love — yet at times it seems God is unwilling to follow through with any action.

We need to pause here because at this point in the narrative we have our greatest struggles. I am referring to that time between the point we ask God for help and the point at which He does something. It is so easy to read, “He then stayed two days longer.” But the delay was like an eternity for Mary and Martha. The Scripture informs us that they knew the general area and how long it would take Him to make the trip to Bethany. So they waited. And as the hours dragged on, they watched their brother grow weaker and weaker.

Finally the day arrived when, according to the normal traveling time, Jesus should arrive. No doubt they took turns sitting with Lazarus. That way one of them could go out to the road to look for Jesus. I can imagine Mary or Martha asking all the men and women coming from the direction of Perea if they had seen a group of twelve or so men headed that way. As they would shake their heads no, the sisters’ hope burned a little lower. “Why didn’t He come? Maybe He never got the message? Maybe He left Perea without sending word back to us? Where is He? After all we have done for Him, it is the least He could do.” And yet He failed to come when they expected Him.

Lazarus died. Maybe Mary came in early one morning to check on him and found him dead. Perhaps it was in the afternoon when both Mary and Martha were at his side that he breathed his last breath. Whatever the situation, both women felt that hollow, helpless feeling that always accompanies death. It was over. He was gone. Soon their thoughts turned to Jesus, Why didn’t He come? How could He know what we were going through and yet stay away?

These, no doubt, are some of the questions you have asked as you have cried out to God in the midst of the adversity in your life. How can a God of love stand back and watch my friend and his wife suffer and not do anything about it? How can He watch from the balcony of Heaven as women are physically or sexually abused? How can He watch husbands walk out on their wives and children? Does He know what is going on down here?

Once again, this narrative is helpful. Jesus knew exactly what was going on. He knew what Mary and Martha were going through. He knew His friend’s condition was worsening. And He knew the moment Lazarus died:

And after that He said to them [the disciples], “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.” John 11:11

Yet He did nothing! Keep in mind, Lazarus was not some guy off the street. He had invited Jesus into his home. Lazarus had expressed faith in Christ and His ministry. He was a good man. He certainly had more faith than most of the other people Jesus had healed. Some of them did not even know who Christ was (John 9). But Jesus was nowhere to be found when Lazarus needed Him most. To add insult to injury, Jesus had the nerve to say to His disciples,

Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there.John 11:14-15, emphasis added

Jesus was “glad”? How could He say such a thing? Two of his best friends go through emotional turmoil; another friend dies of an illness; and Jesus says He is glad? What could He have possibly been thinking? What was going through His mind?

My friend, the answer to that question is the key to unlocking the mystery of tragedy in this life. To understand what was going on in the mind of Christ and in the economy of God in a situation like this one is to discover the universal principle that puts together and holds together all of life — both now and for eternity.

Christ had a goal in all this, a goal so important that it was worth the emotional agony Mary and Martha had to endure. It was worth risking the destruction of their faith. It was even worth the death of a faithful friend.

What Jesus, in conjunction with His heavenly Father, had in mind was so incredible that even through the pain surrounding the whole event Jesus could say, “I am glad this has happened.” In other words, “Men, what you are about to see is so fantastic that it is worth the pain and death of My beloved friend.” If they were like us, they probably thought, What could be worth all of this?

“IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE”

Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him; but Mary still sat in the house. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” …And when she had said this, she went away, and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she arose quickly, and was coming to Him… Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”John 11:18-21, John 11:28-29, John 11:32

Mary and Martha, for all their time spent with the Son of God, were still human to the core. They wanted to know one thing: “Jesus, where in the world have You been?” They had no doubt that Jesus could have healed their brother; Martha even indicates that she believes there is still hope (John 11:22). But the fact that He had seemingly ignored their plight had left them confused and frustrated. Why did He delay?

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. And so the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!”John 11:33-36

At this juncture any doubt about Jesus’ love and concern for Lazarus is laid to rest. “Jesus wept.” Yet His overt concern about His friend Lazarus adds another layer of mystery to the story.

If Jesus was so concerned, why did He not come to Lazarus’s aid? Why did He let him die?

Once again we are faced with what appears to be an unsolvable mystery. It becomes apparent that whatever Christ had in mind, whatever He was trying to accomplish, it was worth sacrificing the emotions of the ones He loved as well as His own. Jesus wept when He arrived to find Lazarus dead. Think about it.

His knowledge of the future did not keep Him from identifying with the sorrow of those around Him.

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

If anything is clear from this story, it is that some things are so important to God that they are worth interrupting the happiness and health of His children in order to accomplish them. That is an awesome thought…


Learn more about the book at thomasnelson.com

To sign up for Devotions Daily, click this link. (But don’t leave C201, we love you, too!)

Thanks to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for the opportunity to reprint these excerpts. Books is ©2021 Thomas Nelson. Used by permission.

 

April 20, 2021

“Don’t Be Afraid” – Not Comforting Words; It’s a Request

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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The title I gave our version of today’s devotional is my reaction to how this impacted me. It reminded me that the request Jesus made bordered on inappropriate, at least in terms of what you say to someone who has suffered great loss…

Today we return to Kristen Larson who writes at Abide.Trust.Believe. Click her title for it which follows and read this at her site.

Just Have Faith

But Jesus overheard them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”
Mark 5:36

I have been putting off writing about this for a while, because the truth is I just don’t understand it half as well as I’d like to. I don’t understand how Jesus could tell Jairus don’t be afraid. Especially given the news Jairus had just received.

Let me set the stage…

Jesus had just arrived in Capernaum after being on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and a large crowed had already gathered around him by the time Jairus arrived. Jairus was the leader at a local synagogue whose daughter, only 12 years old, was at home dying. Having heard that Jesus was in the area, he found the crowd and fought his way through it to reach Jesus. He then fell at his feet, pleading with him to come and lay hands on her so she might live.

Can you imagine the relief Jairus must have felt when Jesus, the man who worked miracles, agreed to go with him to his home?

But on the way there, a woman interrupted the procession by reaching out to touch Jesus’s robe. This in itself is an amazing story, but for now I want to focus on the fact that Jarius was forced to wait while this other woman took precious time away from Jesus getting to his little girl. And as he was watching Jesus speak to this woman, the terrible news he feared arrived: his daughter had died.

This is where my faith is challenged. Because Jesus didn’t weep with Jairus. He didn’t console him. He simply said, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” But the thing was…his daughter had died. She was gone. In that single moment, the fear of her death became a horrible reality.

This is where I struggle. Because I can’t help but put myself in the shoes of Jairus. What if I had gotten news that my husband died and Jesus told me, don’t be afraid. Just have faith? I feel like I’d want to slap him. My grief would be more than I could bear. How could I not be afraid? How could I possibly have faith? This is a hypothetical situation for me, but it wasn’t for Jairus. And it isn’t for many people I know. So the big question is, how can this be encouraging? How can this be what Jesus tells Jairus? How can it put to rest my own fears of the future?

I don’t know. But I do know that Jesus said it – and it was recorded for us for a reason. And I also know that Colossians 1:15 says that “[Jesus] Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” If I believe that, and I do, I have to believe that even in the face of death and worst fears come true…we’re to trust Him.

Even though I don’t understand this and it feels like an impossible thing to ask of someone, the fact that Jesus said it means it warrants my time thinking about it and praying about it.

There is so much of God I do not understand. But I really do want to be a person who’s first instinct is to trust His word and act on it, find comfort in it, and discover His heart through it. I believe that good things lie on the other side of our obedience – especially when we obey without fully understanding.

My hope is that in the face of fear, both life threatening and none, my knee-jerk reaction will not be panic, but trust. I want my heart to be ruled by Him alone. I want his peace, which passes understanding. I want to be less like the people of the world, and more like the heroes of the bible – who took God seriously.

The bible doesn’t tell us how Jairus responded to what Jesus said. So I don’t know if he was full of faith or if he fell apart. But Jesus went to his house and healed that little girl – she lived again.

I know this isn’t the way all our stories end. How I wish it was. But I do wonder what is on the other side of our faith when we face these kind of horrifying situations. It encourages me to think about how much stock I put into what God asks of me.

This kind of soul searching and asking these kinds of questions is hard…but I think it’s well worth the undertaking.

 

October 26, 2020

Sickness Follows Us from Birth to Death: This is Temporary

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:40 pm
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Today we’re introducing to you another writer just discovered. Most days Michael Wilson does several shorter posts at Jesus Quotes and God Thoughts. I thought this one on healing was a balanced look at the subject. Click the header below, read the article there, and then explore some of the other topics recently covered.

Is God’s plan for us one of healing and restoration?

Jesus didn’t cause anyone to be lame. It was never about character building. There was no lesson to be learned. No patience needed.

People came to Jesus. All the time. Jesus always healed them.

Jesus didn’t give crutches to the lame. Jesus commanded them to stand.

They did at His word. Now that is stunning.

His goal for us is that we be whole and complete. He wants us to walk. He doesn’t give us crutches and wheelchairs.

What an amazing God we serve. He makes us whole again. God is great.

         the lame came to Him in the temple , and He healed them. Matthew 21:14

God has a plan for us. What is it? Healing and restoration.

Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Hebrews 12:12-13

We go through a lot as a part of our human existence. I get sick. Sickness follows me from birth to death. One day I will die. Sickness will cause that to happen. God gives the courage to go through it all. I have been healed of a number of things. Others I have not.

The good news is that this is temporary. Our years here are just a sliver of our eternal lives. A billion years from now we will have a hard time remembering it even happened.

There is no pain or suffering in heaven. We are a people of hope.

Thank God for His amazing plan for our eternal life in Jesus.

  • Revelation 21:4 (NASB) —And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
  • Romans 8:18 —For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
  • Revelation 22:2 — In the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

For more clarity, check out this author’s post from September, Does Jesus Bring Healing and Wholeness Into Our Lives?


Michael divides his writing into several sections. Readers here should check out the section of Teachings.



It was customary at the church in the country to have a time for people to “come forward” at the conclusion of the evening service to mark their decision to follow Christ. The Pastor’s wife was not feeling well so she had stayed home at the parsonage next door to the church. When her husband returns she asked if anyone had walked forward for the invitation at the end of the service.

“Yes;” he said; “We had 2½ responses.”

She looked at him strangely. “You mean 2 adults and one child?”

He said, “No, one adult and two children.”

The investment that you make this Christmas in a child can change the trajectory — spiritually and in other spin-off ways — of their life. Do the kids in your sphere of influence have an age-appropriate Bible?  Don’t risk this important purchase with an uninformed online buy. Check out the Bible carefully before you decide.

September 24, 2020

Evangelism in a Time of Crisis

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Over the years, we have occasionally borrowed from blog of one of my former employers, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Kelly Aalseth is a Regional Coordinator for Leadership Development for InterVarsity in Greater Los Angeles and the author of Keeper of Your Life: Actively Trusting Jesus Through Chronic Pain.  She wrote this in August as InterVarsity was preparing to launch an online student outreach, and said,

Why would I care about evangelism in a time like this? Isn’t just getting myself out of bed each day enough of a risk?

As always, click the header below to read this at the blog. Click the two links within the article for today’s scriptures.

Why Do Evangelism in a Time of Crisis?

Part of Our Healing

We need to remind ourselves that we do evangelism in a time of crisis not to fill some “good-Christian quota” but because it’s good for our souls. Evangelism is a part of our own healing and development, especially in a time of crisis.

In John 9, a blind man is miraculously healed by Jesus and then finds himself in a crisis. His friends and leaders don’t believe him, and his parents refuse to stand up for him. The thing that brings him through this crisis is the act of sharing his story . . . over and over again! The more he tells it, the more he knows Jesus, and the more his confidence grows.

As a freshman, I was invited to lead an InterVarsity Bible study. The week before my first leaders meeting, my dad passed away suddenly. My whole world fell apart. My campus minister told me that, of course, I could opt out of leadership. I was grateful for the grace. But I felt Jesus’ invitation to lead that Bible study because it would be the avenue for my own healing. As I look back on that season, I remember the grief, but I also remember the joy. The more I took risks with Jesus, the more I knew he was trustworthy with all my pain.

Seeing Others Transformed

Evangelism is good for our souls. Taking risks is a major part of our own healing journey with Jesus. But what happens when he meets those risks with his miraculous, transformational power?

In Mark 6:30–44, Jesus invites his disciples to feed thousands of hungry people. They are tired and want Jesus to send the crowds away. But he invites them to share the little they have. As they say yes to Jesus, albeit grudgingly, they witness a great miracle. Jesus satisfies the empty stomachs of the masses, and the disciples get a front row seat to witness the power of God.

My cousin, Erica, decided she was an atheist in college and studied world religions to prove that God wasn’t real. Both of us had experiences with chronic physical pain, which gave us a special bond. One day, Erica experienced a miraculous healing and asked, “Kelly, do you think this could be God?” I took the risk to invite her into an online Bible study (since she lived in another state).

I said, “Let’s study the Bible for four weeks with an assumption that Jesus could be real, and at the end of the four weeks, I am going to ask you to make your own conclusion about him.”

By the end of our studies, Erica said something I never imagined I’d hear from her: “I used to think I would regret having anything to do with Jesus. Now I know I would regret it if I didn’t give my life to him.”

I am now a godparent to Erica’s first child, and I watched her dedicate her son to God. Erica and I have continued to share in our sufferings, and she has become my biggest mentor in trusting Jesus with chronic pain.

When I think about the greatest moments of joy in my life, this one is in my top five. There’s nothing more joyous than seeing Jesus transform lives and the next generation.

How do you need more joy during this pandemic? Have you considered that Jesus’ invitation to do evangelism may be one of the ways he wants to bring you joy? Who is one person you can invite to study the Bible with you this week? Who knows, maybe that person will one day become your biggest mentor!


■ If you or someone you know deals with chronic pain, you might also want to check out Kelly’s personal blog.

September 8, 2020

Looking for Lepers

Today we’re highlighting a new author, Lydia Shearin, who writes at Soli Deo Gloria. Because this was slightly edited for length, you’re encouraged to click the title below and read this excellent article at her site.

Just one Touch

I have heard people say that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the hardest on extroverts, who have been forced into social isolation by quarantine, and I know many introverts who would debate that statement, but I think we can all agree that there is one group of people who have been hit especially hard by all of the social distancing and safety measures:

Huggers.

We all know at least one of these people who thrive off of physical touch, and will hug anyone and everyone, from their friends and family to the grocery store clerk. To these people, hugs are the best way to communicate greeting, farewell, joy, empathy, sadness, and many more emotions…

…I can’t deny that there is something special about our sense of touch. Have you ever noticed how many different emotions we can communicate through a simple touch on the arm, or a squeeze of the hand? As humans, I don’t think that God intended for us to live 6ft apart from each other. We were meant to be spiritually, emotionally, and physically connected to one another.

As I was pondering these things this morning, I was reminded of a powerful story found in three of the Gospels (Mark 1:40-45, Matthew 8:1-4, and Luke 5:12-16); The story of a leper that Jesus healed. Here is Luke’s version of the story:

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Luke 5:12-16

I believe this is such a powerful story because it shows us the character of Jesus, and gives us insight into how he reacts to us when we bring him our brokenness.

At first glance, this my seem like just one of the many healing stories in the Bible, but for the Jews, Jesus’ response to the leper carries a whole different meaning. For him to reach out and touch a leper would have been shocking, to say the least, and ungodly, to say the worst. To understand this, we have to understand how serious having leprosy was in Jewish times. In those days, leprosy had no cure. You could not just grab some prescription anti-itch cream and put it on. People did not realize that the disease was caused by a bacterial infection that could be easily spread, but they did know that it was very contagious, and so lepers were avoided at all costs. Because leprosy seemed to appear out of the blue, a person who had leprosy was often considered to be stricken and punished by God himself.

If you go back to the Old Testament and read Leviticus 13, you will see that there was a rigorous process to figure out if someone had leprosy, and the chapter lists some of the symptoms to watch out for. I will spare you the nauseating details in case some of you are eating lunch, but trust me when I say that it was bad. Regardless, at the end of that chapter, we get a picture of what life would have been like for a leper:

 “Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.”

Leviticus 13:45-46

If a person was found to have a skin disease, they were to be isolated outside of normal society. They couldn’t work, no one could visit them, and no one could touch them. Because of the nature of the disease, they were either in pain or in an unbearable state of numbness all the time, and they had to depend on the generosity of others for their daily food and money. Not only that, their appearance was a badge of shame, as they were required to tear their clothes, wear their hair unkempt and call out that they were ill so that no one would come near them. Imagine if we did that today with other ailments. Imagine having to walk into a grocery store shouting, “Move everybody, lady with cancer coming through!” or “Don’t come near me, I have Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicavolcanoconiosis!” (yes, that is a real disease)   Imagine not being able to see your loved ones or hug your children for years.

In this context, Jesus’ choice to touch the leper was unimaginably shocking, but also so loving. Imagine, after not being able to touch anyone for years, the first touch you feel is that of your savior. that’s powerful. You can be sure that that leper never forgot Jesus’s touch.

But that is not all. There is another deeper, spiritual level to the story. Not only did Jesus heal the man’s body, I believe he forgave the man’s sin and healed his soul as well. That’s a big statement; let me explain. You may have noticed that after Jesus proclaimed the words, “Be clean” over the leper, he commanded the man to go and offer the sacrifices commanded by Moses for cleansing. Why? Not to receive spiritual or physical cleansing (he had already received that), but as “a testimony to them [the priests, scribes and pharisees]”…

…So when Jesus touched the man, he brought him ceremonial cleansing as well as physical cleansing. Yay! But there is one caveat: Anyone who touched a leper was considered to be defiled. In Leviticus 5:3-6 it says:

3 or if they touch human uncleanness (anything that would make them unclean) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt; 4 or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt— 5 when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned. 6 As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.” 

According to the law of Moses, If a Jew touches someone who is unclean, he defiles himself and must offer a sin offering to the Lord to be right with him. So when Jesus touched this leper, he literally took upon himself the man’s uncleanliness. Now, although the man has become ceremonially clean from Jesus’ healing touch, Jesus would be considered by the priests and other Jews to be ceremonially unclean. He would not be able to have full communion with God in the temple until he had made the correct sacrifices for sin. But we know something that the Jews of that time didn’t know: Jesus didn’t need to make sacrifices to be reconciled with God after touching the man’s uncleanliness, because he was the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world! Nevertheless, bearing all these factors in mind, it was a deliberate and conscious choice by Jesus to touch this man!

How easy would it have been for Jesus to simply call out to the man from a distance, “You are healed”? He had healed people from a distance before; he would later heal the centurion’s slave from a different part of the city. No one would have thought anything if Jesus stood back at a safe distance and spoke healing over him. The man would have still rejoiced, and the people would have still been amazed. But for this man, love meant reaching out and touching him. Love meant taking the man’s filth onto himself.

How often does God treat us the same way? When we bring ourselves to him, with all of our filth and sin and shame, does God turn away in horror? Does he stand at a safe distance from us and shout “Be Clean”? No. When we fall before his feet with nothing but lust, pride, envy and all the other infectious sins that we bear, he reaches out and pulls us close. He touches us, and takes all of our uncleanliness upon himself so that we can be clean before God.

Praise God we have a savior who is not afraid to get his hands dirty!

Yet we as Christians are often so unlike our Savior. We are quick to judge, but loath to lift a finger to help. When we encounter broken people with messy lives we say, “I don’t want to get into all of that.” We hide behind the walls of our church buildings and proclaim a gospel of radical love that we don’t live, while outside our doors there are hurting people who need the touch of a Savior. When God brings hurting, messy, unbeleivers into our lives, we try to love them from a distance, secretly worrying that their ways will rub off on us and our children.

Well guess what, Christians: Real love is messy.

If you want the Lord to use you to touch people, you must first get close enough to them to touch them yourself. And I don’t mean just physically close enough- I’m talking about removing some of the emotional “protection” barriers we put up and really loving people. And yes, they might curse a lot. And yes, they might have a drinking problem. And yes, you might loose some money, or “waste” some time, or get a little hurt, but love always costs something and if we want to be like Jesus we need to learn to accept the cost.

So my question for you today is this: Who is the leper in your life?

August 25, 2020

The One Who Saves the World

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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On the days we introduce you to outside sources here, I sometimes find a blog or website which is so good, and so similar to what we do in terms of depth, article length, daily content, etc.; that I wonder how we never discovered it before! I want to introduce you today to Virginia pastor Chuck Griffin who is the LifeTalk editor of Methodist Life. Click the header below to read today’s devotional. If you decide to read some other recent articles — which is encouraged — use this devotional link and be sure to click the link for the scripture readings as they’re often not showing. Again, I highly recommend this one!

Prayer of Ascent

I try not to dwell on Covid-19 day after day in these devotionals. The pandemic is serious and it is often on our minds, but I hope to keep the message of Jesus Christ ahead of all other messages, regardless of our circumstances.

If you follow the daily lectionary, however, you might notice that the readings for [last] Tuesday and Wednesday use the same psalm reading, Psalm 130. I’m hoping we can join together and pray this psalm over three days as a cry for relief from this disease.

Covid-19 is not as devastating as many plagues and famines experienced through history, but its effects are certainly bad enough, and it is wise to root ourselves in the same prayerful attitude as our spiritual ancestors.

As you read through this psalm, along with a little commentary I’m providing, hold in your hearts a request for a miracle. We seek a powerful, global sign from God as Covid-19 is driven out of our lives globally.

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

The psalm’s heading places us on a spiritual journey. I know we have work, school, doctors’ appointments and such—even with our world partially shut down, we remain such busy people. But can we adopt the pilgrim mindset for just a few days? Can we make our own ascent toward a holy place, toward a shared memory of Christ on the cross?

All three days, let’s take a few extra moments to settle into a time of quiet, saying to ourselves, “Right now, even if it’s only in my imagination, I’m going up to see the one who saves the world.”

From the depths of despair, O Lord,
    I call for your help.
Hear my cry, O Lord.
    Pay attention to my prayer.

This is a fervent petition, one lifted by a broken people, a people who have seen the troubling effects of their own sins and the broad effects of sin on the world. As we pray, we should be like the Canaanite woman in Sunday’s Gospel reading, desperately persistent, trusting that the tiniest crumbs of grace will make all the difference.

Lord, if you kept a record of our sins,
    who, O Lord, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
    that we might learn to fear you.

As Christians, we have a particular understanding of how this forgiveness is granted. See that cross; see the weight of the world’s sins on Christ’s shoulders. The record of our sins is expunged, and we undeservedly are found to be holy and worthy of eternal life with God. The stone is rolled away from the tomb, the resurrection is proof! Sin and death are defeated! Finding ourselves in a renewed relationship with God, we know all kinds of restoration are possible now.

I am counting on the Lord;
    yes, I am counting on him.
    I have put my hope in his word.
I long for the Lord
    more than sentries long for the dawn,
    yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.

Knowing what has been done for us, we should experience a deep longing for the Lord. In his word, recorded in his Scripture, we are able to discern right from wrong, and we simultaneously begin to see a bare outline of what a remarkable experience it must be to live in the full light of God.

Let’s root our longing for healing from Covid-19 in that deeper longing to be in the full presence of the risen Savior. And let us trust that dawn is coming—that the long night will end.

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
    for with the Lord there is unfailing love.
    His redemption overflows.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from every kind of sin.

Lord, Covid-19 is a sign of the world’s brokenness. As you drive it away, may we also see a clear sign of your unfailing love and your desire for our redemption, and may we have the courage to declare what we see. Amen.

June 25, 2020

Spectacular and Sensational: Are Christians to Be Known Primarily for Working Miracles?

by Clarke Dixon

In these days of a pandemic, should we as followers of Jesus be known for doing spectacular and sensational things? Should we be fearless in the face of infection? We’ve prayed about it, we believe that God can protect us, so should we then act like we are immune? Should we declare the pandemic will be over soon? We keep praying it will be.

Of course, this is not just about the pandemic, but all of life. Is the working of miracles the Christian solution to all problems? Is the spectacular and sensational the defining mark of the Christ follower?

Jesus clarifies the defining mark of his followers in the Sermon on the Mount:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

The defining mark of the Christ follower may not seem clearly evident here on first glance. Let us put ourselves, for a moment, in the shoes of the scribes and Pharisees. We have a passion for God’s law. We study it, memorize it, and teach it, hoping that our zeal for pleasing God is contagious.

Along comes Jesus, doing spectacular and sensational things, like casting out demons, healing people, and works of power. Yet he does some surprising things too, like healing on the Sabbath. Have you not read your Bible Jesus? Working on the Sabbath is forbidden.

We are concerned. Jesus is attracting people with the spectacular and the sensational, yet his track record of keeping the law and traditions we teach is suspect. Will the Jesus followers, of which there are now many, be all show, and no substance? Will Jesus be taking people away from righteousness through all the spectacular and sensational things he is doing?

To that Jesus says,

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 7:21 (NLT emphasis added)

The defining mark of the Christian is not the spectacular and sensational, though those things may happen. The defining mark of the Christian is the doing of the heavenly Father’s will. Jesus’ followers can not be described as “workers of lawlessness” (literal rendition of ‘evildoers’ in verse 23).

In other words, Jesus is not taking people away from God and godliness, Jesus is taking people deeper into God and godliness.

Let us remember what Jesus said near the beginning of his “Sermon on the Mount” back in chapter 5

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20 (NIV emphasis added)

When Jesus speaks of the need for a righteousness that excels that of the scribes and Pharisees, he is pointing out that there’s is a faulty righteousness. There is something missing. They were all about the letter of the law, missing God’s heart.

When Jesus goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to teach about character, he is taking us toward a righteousness that captures God’s heart.

Here is the defining mark of a Christ follower; a character that captures God’s heart. In developing a character that captures God’s heart, the Jesus follower develops a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. Of course eternal life depends on God’s grace and not our ability. However, salvation to eternal life does not preclude becoming more like our Saviour as we follow.

Yes, Jesus was going about doing spectacular and sensational things. And no, Jesus was not keeping the traditions in ways that would keep the scribes and Pharisees happy. However, Jesus was, and is now, calling people, not to be workers of the spectacular and sensational, nor to a wooden adherence to a set of rules, but to a deep righteousness formed of God.

What about us? What defines our Christian walk? Is it a focus on the spectacular and sensational? Do people know us to be a people who walk about with the expectation that God will hand out miracles like candy? Do we see miracles as the solution to all our, and the world’s, problems?

We should pray for miracles. I believe they happen. But while we pray for miracles, we can recognize how character that captures God’s heart solves many of our, and the world’s problems. We can think of problems in family relationships, marriage, race relations, and so much more. If our character is growing in Christlikeness, many of our problems wouldn’t exist in the first place!

We may think that we would be most like Christ if miracles would happen all around us, and through us. We are most like Christ when we love as Jesus loved, when we sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed, when we serve as Jesus served, when we forgive as Jesus forgave.

Ours is not to make people think we are the second coming of Jesus by the working of miracles every time there is a problem. Ours is to be a people who live in a deep relationship with God through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. We respond to every problem, including every pandemic, with Christlike character. We will be known as Jesus followers, not by our miracles, but by our character.


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. His family are currently riding out both the pandemic and the heat wave next to their pool. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

June 22, 2020

Prayers that Bring Healing of Another Kind

Today another new author for you! We’re highlighting Penny Gadd who writes at Seeking the Light. She is currently working her way through the Gospel of Luke. As always, click the header below to read this at her site.

Jesus heals a man with leprosy

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ And immediately the leprosy left him.

Then Jesus ordered him, ‘Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their illnesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

The NIV translation that I use has a footnote to this passage that says: “The Greek word traditionally translated ‘leprosy’ was used for various diseases affecting the skin”. I see no reason to doubt that statement. As the NIV continues to use the description leprosy I shall follow their example.

Leviticus 13 describes the symptoms, and the actions that had to be taken when a case was discovered. If you were diagnosed with leprosy you had to live alone outside a centre of population (Leviticus 13: 45 – 46), and you were ritually unclean.

It was a horrible diagnosis to receive because you could no longer participate in community life, and above all you couldn’t take part in worship. Nevertheless, the Law of Moses recognized that some people did recover, and Leviticus 14 explains what they needed to do to be accepted back into the community.

When the leper of this story in St Luke’s gospel met Jesus, he threw himself full length with his face to the ground, and begged to be healed. There was no doubting his faith that Jesus could heal him, but he obviously felt unworthy. Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean. He may have felt that he had sinned badly to have deserved the punishment of leprosy; that would have been a common point of view at that time.

For Jesus, though, what mattered was the man’s faith. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’

Jesus healed the leper. Not merely did he cleanse him, but he reminded him of what he still needed to do to be accepted back into the worshipping community of Israel: … go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them. Jesus had dealt with the physical cleansing, but, because the now-healed leper still lived under the Law of Moses he had to take the correct actions to be made ritually clean.

For Jesus, though, what mattered was the man’s faith.

I find myself wondering whether that’s the whole story. Many times, I and my friends have prayed earnestly for the healing of people we know. We have faith that Jesus can and does heal, and yet it is only rarely that we see physical healing. What about all those occasions when people are not healed?

I suggest, tentatively, that there is always some form of healing, often spiritual and at a level that we can’t easily see. On those rare occasions when there is a miraculous healing, it seems usually to be when it will build faith in Jesus. In other words, it’s a sign like the healings carried out by Jesus. If we are to understand when God heals physically and when he doesn’t, we need to understand his will better, and listen to how he wants us to pray for individuals.

Perhaps that’s a message we could take from the last verse of today’s study.

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Even Jesus, whose ability to hear the Father’s voice was unrivaled, finds that he can only pray properly by withdrawing to solitude. He needs to avoid the crowds. What do we need to avoid? Do we need to go to a lonely place, or just a quiet place? I don’t think it matters very much provided we make the opportunity to listen.

And, if we listen carefully to God, perhaps we will be better able to know how to pray effectively.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,
Please help my heart to be still and silent when I pray so that I can hear your voice.
In Jesus’ name, Amen

May 19, 2020

The God Who Touches Lepers

Melody has creating devotional writing at In Pleasant Places since January, 2013. This is her 5th time being highlighted here. Her blog started somewhat organically from correspondence she was sharing with a friend, as she explains in her story. To read this at her blog, click the header below.

Powerful Healing, Compassionate Love – Isaiah 53:4-5

“Surely He has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows…
Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with His stripes we are healed.”

Isaiah 53:4-5

I read these words by Charles Spurgeon this morning:

“What a mass of hideous sickness must have thrust itself under the eye of Jesus! Yet we read not that He was disgusted, but patiently waited on every case… Whatever my own case may be, the beloved Physician can heal me; and whatever may be the state of others whom I may remember at this moment in prayer, I may have hope in Jesus that He will be able to heal them of their sins.”

This is the example the disciples witnessed. Jesus, with compassion and care for all. Not repulsed. Not hesitant or intimidated. Instead, He was welcoming and patient. Demonstrating that there is no lost cause; He can heal all who come to Him. A powerful physical demonstration of His ability to heal, cleanse, and restore, pointing to His greater healing of the soul for all who believe in Him.

No sin is too great, too dark, too ongoing. He cleanses all.

That’s what He died for.

And He meets us with the same compassion regardless of how dirty, shameful, and unworthy we feel – just as He met the high priest in Zechariah’s vision, rebuking his accuser, removing his iniquity (taking it on Himself ultimately on the cross), and clothing him in pure garments (Zechariah 3:1-4).

As Jesus reached out His hand to touch the leper (Luke 5:11-13), He reaches out His hand to touch and cleanse us. To pull us out of the mire and give us a new song to sing (Psalm 40:1-3). To change our lives because we are delivered into His kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13-14), freed to know Him in relationship and experience His grace in obedience. Freed to love and serve Him, walking in the newness of abundant life. With strength and peace, joy and steadfast hope.

When we are freed, may we never forget the greatness of His salvation, the depth and depravity of sin He saves us from, or our continual need of His mercy and grace – and His ability and ready willingness to meet that need (Hebrews 4:16).

May we never look at others’ chains and sicknesses with disgust, but as our Savior does – with compassion. With love. Reaching out to meet them where they are, and gently sharing our experience of a God who loves them enough to die for them, a God who will not shame them, a God who stands with ready open arms to assure them, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zechariah 3:4).

Fellow believers, let us not be repulsed.

Let us not shame.

Let us not cast down.

Rather, let us reach out to love.

Let us listen.

Let us share of the Father’s great love and mercy, manifested on the cross of Jesus and extended very personally to those He puts in our path.

Let us share this not to change them, but to introduce them to the living God of love, hope, peace, and freedom. For each precious one who believes in Him, He will draw them out of the mire into His light. He will free them from their sin. We bring others to Jesus in love and compassion; His Spirit does the rest, just as He continues His work to free us from our sin. A work that He will bring to completion for all who are His (Philippians 1:6).

Because His healing work is that powerful and His love for us is that great.

“I waited patiently for the LORD;
He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.”
Psalm 40:1-3


April 4, 2020

A Psalm We Need Right Now

Today we’re back with Kristen Larson who writes at Abide.Trust.Believe. This is very transparent, and very timely. Click the header below and read this at source.

My Shelter

Only God could have prepared me for the coronavirus pandemic like he has. Had I known ten years ago, five years ago, even this time last year that this world crisis would come, I would have lived in total fear and tried in my own wisdom and power to prepare.

But in the midst of planning and worrying and preparing, I would not have learned all I have about God. I would not have learned how good he is. I would not have learned how deeply he loves me. I would not have learned of his faithfulness and power. I would’ve ended up living in a panic, ultimately doing it all without him. And when the crisis came, I would not have known him.

Instead, I am living through this with anticipation for all he’s about to do, and in wonder of all the ways he’s already provided. Looking back even over the last three months, I see how he’s made me ready for this.

Over the last week and a half, since this pandemic came to the US, I keep hearing over and over again from different people the reference to Psalm 91. It seems to be the hallmark passage for this crisis. Today more than ever, it means so much to me.

My take away today is that I don’t have to live in fear of what the future holds. I just need to always, in all things, trust the Lord my God. He will direct my steps and set me on the right path.

Psalm 91 NLT

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
though ten thousand are dying around you,
these evils will not touch you.
Just open your eyes,
and see how the wicked are punished.
If you make the Lord your refuge,
if you make the Most High your shelter,
no evil will conquer you;
no plague will come near your home.
For he will order his angels
to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras;
you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!
The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer;
I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honor them.
I will reward them with a long life
and give them my salvation.”


Back in January, 2011 we featured this SonicFlood song which is based on Psalm 91.


Speaking of songs which have been featured here at C201, I’ve put together a playlist of some of the ones I’ve featured here related to Good Friday (or Communion Services). It runs 90+ minutes (at the moment) and contains 21 songs. To get started with the first song, click this link.


To read Psalm 91 as a metrical psalm (poem) go to the second half of this 2014 Christianity 201 article.


For six promises from Psalm 91, go to this 2012 C201 article.

August 3, 2019

Turning Problems to Blessings | Miracles

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Sometimes I will spend as much as 15 minutes combing the internet before I land on something and I know, this is the writer I am supposed to share today. I want to introduce you to Janet Perez Eckles:

Although physically blind, Janet Perez Eckles has been teaching thousands to see the best of life. “Because I lost my sight at 31 and endured the murder of my youngest son, along with the acquittal of the man responsible,” Janet says, “my life should’ve been a mess. But God gave me a message to showcase His power: His power at work to conquer fear and turn the deepest pain to a life rich with triumph and success.”

Today we have two short devotionals for you. Click the individual titles to read on her pages.

God’s way to perform miracles

What keeps you from believing in miracles?

A mother answered these questions with boldness and unique faith. The results stirred attention and a film was made of this miraculous event.

The scenario took place in a St. Louis hospital. The story is about John Smith who fell in icy water and remained there for 15 minutes. The news read, “When rescuers brought him to SSM St. Joseph Hospital West, the teen wasn’t breathing. Paramedics and doctors did everything in their power to bring John back, not willing to give up. They performed CPR and other life-saving measures on him for 43 minutes—without regaining a pulse.”

Medically, the boy was dead.

They called his mother to the room to give her the bad news.

What did she do? She prayed. She declared out loud God’s power and the Holy Spirit upon her son and believed she would receive it.

What happened next is that blood began to flow in that dead boy’s veins.

The doctors shocked and stunned couldn’t give explanations. They only had one conclusion: it was a “genuine miracle.”

The chilling details.

Here are the chilling details: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/02/04/inspiration-nation-mom-prays-son-back-to-life/22883985/

I’d like to meet that mother and tell her, “I want faith like yours. To be that bold, and overflow with trust.”

Her trust didn’t drive her to beg, but declare God’s healing power. Her faith didn’t lead her to lament the circumstance, but prompted her to praise the Lord for what He knows how to do. And she didn’t sink into sorrow, instead she believed God’s promise, claimed and received it.

While she claimed it in faith, the mountain was removed.

I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Let’s Pray

Father, teach me to look to you for that unwavering faith that proclaims what You can do and what You will do. In Jesus’s name.

What miracle are you expecting?


How our problems turn into blessings

The Terminix rep sat at my kitchen table. “I have good news and not so good news,” he said.

Gulp. I braced myself. I called him because I had some bites that could be from those pesky insects. And since I travel often, they could have hitched a ride in my suitcase.

“Good news,” he said, “you don’t have bed bugs. But not so good news is we inspected and you have no protection against termites.”

Yikes! Forget the bed bugs, termites that could eat up my house is a bigger problem and a greater threat. I signed up for their plan faster than you can say bugs.

Isn’t that like life? We drown in tears because of an ugly situation, painful and unexpected. But God is in the background using that very situation to work something beautiful. He’s using it as a path to bring about greater changes and before you know it, that problem was a blessing in disguise.

Five Ways

Here are five ways God might be crafting that transformation:

  1. When relationships fall apart, God may not restore and heal. Instead, He might be in the process of a make-over of our heart. He might be cleaning stuff that tainted our life. He might be pointing ways to increase our wisdom and preparing us for something lasting and real.
  2. When our children grow up and grow distant, following the wrong path, rather than bringing them back when we expect, our freedom might be what God has prepared instead. The freedom from worry by surrendering each child to Him and placing them in His capable hands.
  3. When financial problems don’t end, God might not wipe out our debt, but might invite us to bring to Him the first fruits of our labor and to see how much He can provide.
  4. When life’s losses devastate us, God might not bring back what we lost, but increase our dependence on Him to receive His comfort and peace.
  5. When the doctor gives us bad news, God’s healing might not happen yet. Instead, He might be working in us a deeper trust, a genuine confidence in Him and boldness to believe He has the answers when doctors don’t.

God has answers that are eternal.

Difficult circumstances demand solutions that are temporary, but God has the answers that are eternal. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

Each problem is a blessing when we look for the lesson. When we hear His message. When we appreciate the change. And when we believe that, in Christ there is no problem without a purpose. No sorrow without His comfort, no setback without a solution and no tragedy without His triumph.

Let’s Pray

Father, thank You for your patience with me. Thank You for showing me to look beyond the circumstance and see Your mighty hand at work to bring greater things. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Which of your problems can be turned to a blessing for you?


Janet wrote a book filled with words of encouragement, uplifting thoughts and illustrations of real-life triumph to empower you. Its title: Trials of Today, Treasures for Tomorrow: Overcoming Adversities in Life. You can get it HERE.

April 5, 2019

Hidden But Not in Hiding

This is our sixth time taking you to the writing of Lori Thomason at Pure Devotion. Click the header below to read at source. Click here to read her story.

Hidden

Matthew 5:14-15 (NLT) “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.

Leaving church trying to wrangle our crew, a woman approached me who I had not met before. She introduced herself to me and proceeded to tell me that I radiated “light”. I honestly do not remember exactly her words because any form of compliment makes me extremely uncomfortable. I shifted the attention to her daughter who was a blouse similar to mine. Smiling and waving awkwardly on my part, I got in the car to leave. This is exactly what I want people to see in me even though the whole situation made me uncomfortable. I need to hear that the Light of His Love is shining through. There are seasons when our light doesn’t seem to be as bright as it should. Or even worse, when it feels like no matter what you do the projection is not quite right. You feel hidden from the world and lost in your calling. To feel inadequate, insignificant and ineffective in our mission is discouraging. Am I the only one today who feels hidden sometimes?

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 

The Light of His Love has changed my life. It has infiltrated me and constantly transforming the old woman into a new creation. It is not easy to live a life of exposure. Constantly peeking into His Word and pursuing God in prayer is a place that my inadequacy and insignificance seem magnified.  How can a God of such goodness give me amazing grace? He loves me. He wants me. He is for me. Jesus died for me. He rose again for me. He made me victorious giving me unprecedented favor. Still there are times when I do not feel like a bright and shining light but a candle barely maintaining a flame.

The story of David is one of hidden potential. David was the youngest in his family so the chances of him receiving the father’s blessing were not in his favor. Too many in line before him. He was relegated to a field to tend sheep. He spent countless hours worshipping God in his hiding place as evidenced in his writing. He also encountered some challenges namely a lion and a bear threatening the flock. He obliged them with death. In a simple task, taking his brothers some lunch and checking on their wellbeing, his hidden potential was revealed. David was a warrior. He was a champion. He was a future king. Who are you today? What potential is hidden inside of you? Are you ignoring it?

Luke 8:46-48 (NLT) But Jesus said, “Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.” When the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. The whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed.

 “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

What if you are not hidden but in hiding? Oh, this is pretty good too. The woman who had the issue of blood. Years of isolation, pain and suffering decided to seek out Jesus. She did not call from the side of the road like blind Bartimaeus. She did not make a scene. She got on her hands and knees crawling through the crowd just to touch the hem of his garment. When Jesus felt power leave Him, He asked, “Who touched me?” The woman fell silent and tried to stay hidden. When the woman realized she could not stay hidden, she forever became a light for all to see. Are you hidden by God on purpose until it is time for your release? Or are you staying hidden on purpose imprisoned by doubt and fear? I wonder also if this woman was a Jew and knew that her belief in Christ and healing would make her subject to her religion and possible persecution. Why risk it? What is keeping you hidden today? Is it the Lord? Or is it you?

Mark 4:22 (NLT) For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to light.

In my younger days, this scripture was often leveled as a threat. God knows everything. You cannot hide from God. Everything is “naked and exposed” before His Eyes is a huge detriment when you know what the hidden sin is in your life. But that is not the context of this verse at all for the believer. It is a promise. A precious promise. Yes, God sees the sin in our life. He offered the perfect solution for it. What God is after is the potential placed inside of us before our birth in the midst of creation. (Psalm 139:16) He longs to reveal the mysteries and secrets hidden from the adversary yet still on reserve just for you. You may feel hidden. Isolated. Alone. But what if you are really being transformed and protected by the Hand of Your Loving Father instead? What if He is working out the details of your perfect release into the calling and purpose that leads to full satisfaction and complete contentment in His Son – Jesus Christ? He is keeping you in His Care so that when you are ready and the time is right – you will walk into the promise unhindered. This is excellent news and a precious promise for every believer.

Daniel 2:20-23 (NLT) He said, “Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars. He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though he is surrounded by light. I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors, for you have given me wisdom and strength. You have told me what we asked of you and revealed to us what the king demanded.”

King Nebuchadnezzar was a hot head for sure. He had disturbing dreams and demanded his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers tell him what he had dreamed and why. The dream deeply troubled the king. When these “wise” men could not oblige the king, he ordered for the execution of all “wise” men. Well, this became a problem for the Hebrew men because though not involved there was guilt by association. So Daniel told the men to to ask the God of heaven to show them his mercy by telling them the secret, so they would not be executed along with the other wise men of Babylon.The Lord responded telling Daniel the interpretation of the king’s dream. Daniel’s response is noted above in Daniel 2:20-23. God is all wisdom and power in our life as believers. His Son, Jesus Christ, gives us access to righteousness to restore our relationship as Children of God giving us access to His Kingdom and all that is within it. We can ask God to reveal deep and mysterious things to us and He will. He will provide light for our darkness with a simple request of childlike faith. God desires to bring you out of hiding and showcase the glorious light within us.

Isaiah 51:15-16 (NLT) For I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea, causing its waves to roar. My name is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. And I have put my words in your mouth and hidden you safely in my hand. I stretched out the sky like a canopy and laid the foundations of the earth. I am the one who says to Israel, ‘You are my people!’”

No matter if you are hidden in Him or in hiding yourself, the Lord knows exactly where you are and is working relentlessly to expose the Light in you and reveal your purpose to you. He never grows weak or weary. His Grace is always sufficient in releasing His Power in our every weakness. When the time is just right, God will set your light on the hill just as His Word promised to do. In the meantime, you must trust the Lord. Trust in His Word. Trust His Will. Trust His Timing. He hasn’t forgotten you. He is keeping you safe and secure for destiny today. Ask the Lord to share His Secrets and Mysteries to you. Stop and listen for His Voice. Write down what He says, it will be a place to rest your head when the enemy tries to keep you up with lies. The darkness is not a scary place for the light. Light drives out darkness every time. You are a Child of God full of His Love which always produces light. If you see light in someone else, tell them. Sometimes it is the spark that keeps them moving in the right direction! The woman who came and spoke to me today had no way to know that her words touched a weary heart. My mission in life is to share God’s Love and the “Light” inside of me that is for them, too. I often have shared that if I could just open my heart and let people see what Jesus has done inside that they would want Him, too. She was a light to me today and a reminder that just because I cannot always see the light, I can always be the Light!

John 8:12 (NLT) – Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

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