Christianity 201

January 5, 2019

Relationship Imperfections Remind Us of What Only God Can Fill

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Today we’re back with Gary Henry at WordPoints. After a long internal debate as to which of these I should run, I decided to use both of them — Gary presented them both the same day — as I felt that the subjects were integrated. Click the title to read either at source and then navigate from there to check out the other great topics on the site.

Our Need for Relationship

“That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

A NEED FOR RICH PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP IS DEEPLY EMBEDDED IN OUR CREATED NATURE

We owe our existence not to impersonal forces, but to a personal Creator, and it was the Creator Himself who said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We are personal beings, and we were designed for full, vibrant relationship.

But sin destroys relationship. It severs us from God and from others, cutting us off from this thing that is so necessary to our na­ture. So there is perhaps no sy­mptom of sin any more obvious than the deep, gnawing pain of isolation. And in sin, there is no groaning more desperate than to be freed from our loneliness.

But however much we need relationship in general, our most vital need, the only one we can’t survive without, is our need for relationship with God.

“In every man there is a loneliness, an inner chamber of peculiar life into which God only can enter.”
(George MacDonald)

Our craving for God is a dependency we were meant to have. It is a profound need for perfect relationship, and to try to fill this need with our flawed connection to other human beings is not only wrong; it is hopeless.

If we fail to let God fill our need for love — if it is not in Him that our loneliness is taken away — then we will force an impossible mandate on the imperfect people around us. We will demand from others a satisfaction they aren’t capable of providing for us in this broken world. Only the infinite God is able to relate to us perfectly. And even with God, what we can have in this life is only a foretaste of the perfect union that heaven will provide.

When we find that even our most intimate earthly companions can’t provide the depth of relationship for which we were created, bitterness may be the tempting reaction. Yet there is a healthier response. We can see the imperfections in our own relationships as a salutary reminder. God alone is the One to whom we must look for life and unfailing love. To forget that is to lose the path that leads back home.

“Didst thou give me this inescapable loneliness so that it would be easier for me to give thee all?”
(Dag Hammarskjöld)

Refuge

“It was a dark and stormy night.”
(Edward Bulwer-Lytton)

TWO DIFFERENT TIMES COME AROUND SOONER OR LATER: (1) TIMES WHEN WE NEED A REFUGE, AND (2) TIMES WHEN SOMEONE ELSE NEEDS A REFUGE WE CAN PROVIDE

“Dark and stormy nights” are a fact of life, and when we find ourselves in the middle of one, our hearts need a safe place in which to shelter. It’s important to appreciate the shelter that others have given us in the past, and even more important to make our hearts a place where they’ll find a welcome when they’re the ones who are scared of the storm.

Having a heart that provides refuge for others takes some learning. Not many of us have such a heart naturally. Caring perhaps comes naturally, but showing compassion in ways that actually do some good is a skill that has to be learned. It’s not rocket science, maybe, but it does take a little education in the school of caregiving. We have to watch and listen. We have to apply good judgment. We have to learn from well-intentioned mistakes that we’ve made. In short, we have to grow in the quality of the mercy that we extend.

Men, especially, have to learn how to be a refuge to others. Since the simple gift of “nurturance” is not normally our strong suit, we have to exert extra effort to learn it. The strong masculine tendency to “fix” whatever’s wrong has to be reined in. To have hearts in which others find refuge, we must learn to see when a safe harbor is all that’s needed — and not a dry-dock facility for ship repair.

Who are those that need from you the gift of refuge? The answer would probably surprise you. If you knew the hurts that those around you carry with them every day, you would be astonished. You may never know those hurts. Your friends may never choose to confide in you about them. But you would do well to assume that most of the people you deal with are hurting. Be ready. Be prepared for the time when they might consider seeking some safety in their relationship with you. If that time ever comes, you will have bestowed on you one of life’s greatest privileges: the privilege of showing compassion.

“Discouraged people don’t need critics. They hurt enough already. They don’t need more guilt or piled-on distress. They need encouragement. They need a refuge. A willing, caring, available someone.”
(Charles R. Swindoll)


Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
  Colossians 3:12 NIV

We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love.
 2 Corinthians 6:6 NLT

January 4, 2019

The Help Someone Needs May Be You Sharing Your Story

Today’s devotional is from the website Partners in Hope Today, which we reconnected with six months ago. The devotionals posted there — in print and in audio — are especially focused for readers who are in a recovery program.  Click the title below to read at source.

Sharing the Message

Audio for SHARING THE MESSAGE

Within each personal story of the journey from bondage to freedom is the power of the Gospel to save those who are lost.  We are simply sinners saved by grace and kept clean and sober daily by God’s mercy.  When we tell our story, our lives give witness to God’s grace and mercy and we are fulfilling the great commission of spreading the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others.  We are pointing them to the pathway of their own healing journey with Jesus who said:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are oppressed;” (Luke 4:18 NKJV)

The Bible tells us that if someone struggles we should be gentle and humble as we help them get back on the right path.  It’s important to remember how we were when we were slaves to our addiction, just as they are now.  We need to support the desire in a person’s spirit to carry out their new life choices, even while their flesh is weak.  We also need to respectfully warn others for whom we perceive ongoing danger.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  (Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV)

We are not the Saviour, but we can love others as God loves us.  Love goes beyond mere words.  Sometimes it is demonstrated in silence or in an understanding touch as we come alongside someone who has strayed from the path of recovery.  Love doesn’t accuse but encourages the person to get back on the path to healing and continue the journey.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, May my life reflect the joy of living life to the full so that others may believe in the power of the Gospel to save and transform lives.  Amen


Would you like to be able to share your testimony with others? It could be very helpful to someone you know or someone you don’t.

CRU — the organization once known as Campus Crusade — offers these tips in organizing your thoughts and the chronology of your personal story.


Although we don’t sing hymns in many of our churches anymore, I decided to include this contemporary version of “Love Lifted Me” as an example of how a story (testimony) can be a great encouragement to someone else.

(For a more rocking version, click this link.)

 

April 11, 2016

“I Told You So”

I Told You So

Once again, we’re paying a return visit to Sunny Shell who blogs at Abandoned to Christ. To read this at source — with a longer introduction — click the title below.

I Told You So Isn’t Always Wrong

The condensed version of, “I told you this would happen, but you wouldn’t listen.” is, “I told you so.” It’s been ingrained in me and I think, most, if not all of you, that saying “I told you so” is wrong. It’s considered to be harsh, inconsiderate, unkind, jabbing; and therefore, the most unloving and graceless thing to say to anyone after they’ve neglected to heed wise counsel, and find themselves in an unsavory and often, painful situation…

…Saying “I told you so” after someone has suffered the consequences of their foolishness, is usually a brazen “in your face” kind of statement people say in order to lord over another person’s failings. And that’s just flat out cruel. However, that doesn’t mean we can, nor should assume that everyone who says “I told you so” is being cruel or arrogant. As a matter of fact, they may be saying it out of deep empathy, compassion, love and mercy for the person they’re saying it to. Yes, I said mercy.

It may seem strange for you to reconsider that saying “I told you so” may perhaps not be the wrong, but rather, the right, good, and most helpful thing to say when someone is sitting in the miry pit of their indiscretions. So allow me to share a few real-life, biblical examples of where the person saying “I told you so” is genuinely being kind, merciful and encouraging (that is, instilling courage) into the person they’re saying it to.

“And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.

“And the LORD said to me, ‘Say to them, Do not go up or fight, for I am not in your midst, lest you be defeated before your enemies.’ So I spoke to you, and you would not listen; but you rebelled against the command of the LORD and presumptuously went up into the hill country. Then the Amorites who lived in that hill country came out against you and chased you as bees do and beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’

“saying, ‘Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.’ But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said…Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, ‘Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship…Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.’ Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.”
Genesis 42:22; Deuteronomy 1:42-44; John 11:40;
Acts 27:10-11, 21, 31-32 (ESV, emphasis mine)

In all these incidences, whether it was Reuben, Moses, the Lord Jesus Christ, or the Apostle Paul telling the hearers, “I told you so” was said not to lord it over them, but in order to mercifully and lovingly remind the hearers of the painful calamities that happened the first time they didn’t heed wise counsel. In such cases, “I told you so” was said not to injure the one being told, but in order to shield them from repeating the same foolishness; and thereby, be spared the same pain or worse, due to their rebellious heart.

“Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’ “

This is not to say that hardships only come upon us because we sin (we know this because of John 9:3), but in the above verse (John 5:14) we see clearly that Jesus confirms what God reveals throughout the Old and New Testaments: sin devastates, divides and decays our relationships, our jobs—our lives. And in the case of this man that Jesus healed at Bethesda, according to Christ, this man’s 38 years of being an invalid was the direct effect of his sin. Which is why we can readily conclude that Jesus’ strong admonition wasn’t “kicking someone when their down” but it was a merciful reminder of the destructive and painful consequences of sin.

Therefore, though it’s most widely understood that saying “I told you so” is unkind and unloving, we see here, that once again, the heart in which we do or say things (Ps 141:3-5; Mt 15:18-19) should alone be the determining factor of whether or not it was loving or unloving, kind or unkind.

March 3, 2014

Biblical Networking

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One thing I love about my present job is that I often get to do some networking to help person “A” connect with person “B” after the former has stated a particular need or interest. Because I know a little bit about a diverse number of believers in our community, I can usually sense if the former might be well-served to get to know the latter, and also if the latter is going to be willing to offer the help, advice or service needed.

At the service we attended this weekend, we looked again at the story of Naaman who is healed of leprosy by bathing seven times in the Jordan. If you don’t know this story, you can read it now in II Kings 5: 1-19. If you’re paying attention in church, no matter how familiar the story, I guarantee that you’ll hear something new or discover new insights as you listen and read along. For me, that happened in verses two and three:

Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

Described only as “a young girl,” not named, we simply know that she was from Israel and hence knew (of) Elisha the prophet. In All the Women of the Bible we read:

Some twenty words cover all we know of this Jewish female slave whose record consists of only one remark, which is often sufficient to describe a character as it does in the story of this nameless heroine. Mary Hallet reminds us that “one of the most amazing things about Bible stories is their sheer restraint. With one or two deft strokes a scene is painted, a character is sketched, or an incident described…. There is, I say, something astonishing in the terse poetry of the Bible.”

Matthew Henry says,

The unhappy dispersing of the people of God has sometimes proved the happy occasion of the diffusion of the knowledge of God.

and then cites Acts 8,

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.

If you’re not familiar with it, this might be a good time to get to know the term diaspora which means scattering or spreading about.

Biblical NetworkingToday, we might use the word networking to describe what the young girl did. She knew someone who could help and was willing to speak up, even though this was probably not normally her place to do so. To me, the boldness of the maid servant of Naaman’s wife is reminiscent of Esther, who speaks up for her people at great risk.  In chapter four of that book, we read,

11 “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives…”

But this doesn’t stop Esther and she finally brings about the rescue of her people from certain death. Quoting the passage, we say that she was raised up “for such a time as this,” and certainly there are times that God places people in pivotal situations for key tasks.

We could equally say that Naaman’s wife’s servant girl was placed in that household “for such a time as this.”

There is a danger here in reducing opportunities like this to simple networking that misses the point of obedience in speaking up. It’s also easy miss the providence by which a simple word, a simple mention of a person who can help or a book that might be beneficial can have far reaching consequences beyond the immediate person in the conversation.

We see this in the Second Testament with Andrew. Some feel that Andrew’s greatest act was done at his initial calling insofar as the first thing he did was to get his brother:

John 1:40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus…

Again, we can’t diminish the plan of God in Peter’s inclusion among The Twelve, but on a human level, it begins with Andrew’s networking. “Hey, I have a brother who might be up for this, give me a few minutes to go get him!”

In this case, it’s not a referral that’s given, as in the sense of the maid-servant’s reference to Elisha; rather, in this case, Andrew goes out and then brings Peter to Jesus.

Of course, our ultimate purpose is Kingdom networking or bringing people to God. But like the unnamed servant girl, like Esther, like Andrew, we have to be willing to turn the thought into something vocalized. We have to be willing to speak up.

May 12, 2012

Encouragement from a Shipwreck

Today’s devotional is from the blog of a North Carolina Sunday School class of mostly young married couples, called The Purpose Class.  This blog post, about Paul and his companions being shipwrecked in Acts 27, appeared under the title, Land Hooooo.  (I hope I typed the right number of oo’s!)

Acts: 27: 32: So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let if fall away. 

Today’s devotional is about a shipwreck.  Have you felt like you have shipwrecked some aspect of your life before?  I think to some degree we all have…either by a poor choice, unfortunate circumstances, the sin of someone else, or some other reason; it’s not that difficult for us to have that “sinking feeling” in life.  But I want to encourage you today, especially if you’re going through your own personal shipwreck right now…God can make a miraculous situation out of a shipwreck.  With His help, you can survive the storm!  You can even use that storm and ensuing shipwreck as a turning point in your life to make the proclamation that God brought you through!  Picture us saying, “Yes, I went through the storm; and yes, I was shipwrecked; but in the end, by the grace of God, I’m a product of what God can do with a shipwrecked person!  Amen!  Let’s look at the story.

Today’s scripture comes to us in an extremely trying time in the lives of nearly 300 individuals; 276 to be exact, as the story points out.  The story is that of Paul, his companion prisoners, and the guards and soldiers assigned to maintain order.  Paul had been arrested and was being transported to Rome to have his appeal heard by Caesar.  They had been sailing for several days and had come to harbor in a place called Fair Havens.  And now, against Paul’s advice, the Roman centurion in charge had decided to sail on, instead of “wintering” in the port at Fair Havens…apparently it was very late in the sailing season and bad weather was common.  It’s in this setting that great turmoil strikes those on this fateful trip.  

As they left the port in Fair Havens, they were met by a gentle breeze.  It wasn’t long before this breeze became a “northeaster” that began to drive their ship uncontrollably.  The scripture says in verse 15 that they “were driven along.”  Isn’t that how a lot of our shipwrecks in life start?  At first a sin or circumstance seems like it’s a gentle breeze.  It’s inviting and seems like it’s not that big of a deal.  But soon the gentle breeze turns into a raging nor’easter and by then, it’s too late to get off the ship…we’ve already left the port. With that said, perhaps we could avoid some (not all) life shipwrecks by making God-directed decisions to begin with, especially those that are temptation-based, right?  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).

As the men on this ship began to realize the dire situation they had gotten into, they began to throw things off the ship to lighten the load.  It says in verse 19 that “they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands.”  It struck me when I read this that this is exactly how we usually act in our storms too.  We start to try to fix it ourselves, with “our own hands.”  And really, God wants us to turn to Him in those times.  I heard a pastor speaking about how we often feel God turns away from us when we make mistakes and says, “Well, they’ll just have to suffer, I tried to tell them;” or “You turned your back on me, so I’m going to do the same to you.”  But this is not how God seems to work.  There are many stories where Jesus goes TO the one who has sinned and has made bad choices.  He lets them know that He still loves them.  Read the story of the woman at the well in John 4: 1-26; the story of the disciple Peter’s denial of Jesus and how Jesus specifically sought him out after the resurrection.  The same could be said of Thomas after the resurrection; remember, the other disciples had faith, but Thomas “doubted.”  But Jesus came TO Thomas to show him His scars.  Jesus didn’t scorn these people, he sought them out.  So don’t let the devil trick you into thinking that God is mad at you and doesn’t want to hear from you.  No, God loves you dearly and wants a relationship with you, with all of us.

Back to the story.  Part of verse 20 says, “we finally gave up all hope of being saved.”  But it is here that I want us to take hold of a different way of looking at things.  It seems that we have a choice to make in the midst of our personal shipwrecks.  We can give up hope, start throwing things overboard, and go down with the ship; or we can be like Paul, and become an encourager.  Paul makes a proclamation (Given to him by an angel) to those onboard the ship, that “no one was going to be lost, so keep up your courage.”  That’s easy to say, but tough to do, right?  If you’re like me, it’s a whole lot easier to “take fear” vs. take courage.  I need to ask God to help me change my mindset and heart in these situations and let God take care of the situation, not me.

After 14 days they were still being driven across the sea.  In fact, they had lost all sight of the sun or stars.  It seemed as if they were at the mercy of the storm, but really God was in control.  He’s still in control today too.  It says in verse 32 that as the ship was approaching land, basically out of control, some of the sailors tried to pretend they were putting out anchors, but were actually trying to get into one of the lifeboats.  When Paul noticed this he told the centurion that “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.”  So the centurion had the ropes to the lifeboat cut and the lifeboat fell away.  I think maybe that’s what we need to do, we need to quit holding on to the usual pattern of behavior when it comes to a lot of situations, especially the shipwreck situations.  The usual pattern of trying to get into our own “lifeboat” doesn’t work.  Maybe God is urging us to cut away the “lifeboats” that we are so dependent on in this world and start depending more on him.  The lifeboats of financial security, materialism, etc.  Do we depend on these things more than God?  Something to think about…

During this whole time of struggle, Paul was encouraging the men onboard to take courage.  He encouraged them to eat and reminded them again of what God had promised through the angel that had visited him earlier.  “Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head,” Paul would say.  Maybe that’s a good strategy for us in the storms too.  Go back and read God’s promises.  Proclaim those promises to those around us.  Encourage those who need encouraging.  We’re all sensitive people and we all get scared when the ship is heading towards disaster.  But think about what that situation would have been like if Paul hadn’t been onboard.  I wonder how it would have been different without his encouragement and calm direction.  I also wonder if God has placed us in certain situations so that we might be the encourager and helper. 

Finally, it says in verse 35, that “He (Paul) took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all.  Then he broke it and began to eat.  They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.”  Isn’t that a great example of how God can use a shipwreck to bring folks to him?  Paul was a “doer” of the word, not just a proclaimer or listener.  The story doesn’t say this, but I bet a lot of people on that ship came to know the Lord that day.  After it was all over, I bet they reflected on Paul’s calmness in the midst of the storm.  It’s a calmness that sounds and looks pretty familiar to another person that had been through quite a few storms himself…Jesus.  Remember the story from the gospel of Matthew?  Matthew 8: 24 says,” Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.”  He was sleeping!  When this storm came suddenly, like the storms of life tend to do, Jesus was there with the disciples and He’s with us too.  He asked the disciples that day why they were so afraid?  And then He calmed the storm.  The tough part to understand is that sometimes Jesus calms the storm and sometimes he allows us to go through the shipwreck.  But take comfort in this, either way, Jesus is there and He loves and cares for you. 

I pray that we would grow in our faith to become encouragers to those around us going through their storms and shipwrecks of this life.  They’re going to happen, we all know that…but what we need to remember is that we don’t have to “go it alone.”  How did Paul’s shipwreck turn out?  Well, they all made it safely to shore, all 276 of them.  Did they lose their ship?  Yes.  Did they lose their cargo?  Yes.  Did their faith in God grow because of the experience?  Undoubtedly, YES.  Storms aren’t pleasant, but they’re a part of life.  Through the strength, wisdom, and grace God gives us, let’s weather the storm knowing full well the final outcome.  Land Hooooooo!  We will all make it together!

Father, thank you for bringing us closer to you through the storms and shipwrecks that we go through in this life.  Lord, You know that we’re scared of the storms; help us understand that that you know what’s best for us, and that all things work together for the good of those who love you.  We do love you Lord, help us to love you more and be an encourager to those around us.  Thank you for bringing us closer to you.  Amen.

 

Memory Verse:  Psalm 42:1:  As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.