Christianity 201

February 9, 2015

When Your World Collapses

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You may have noticed that we tend not to use devotional material here that begins in personal anecdotes and stories. We tend to go straight to the hardcover exposition of the day’s passage or theme. But in this devotion, writer Katherine Harms interweaves her journey with Psalm 62 in a way that helps us relate to what the Psalmist is writing. Click the title below to read at her blog, Living on Tilt.

Stop and Think About the Bible

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
Psalm 62:8

One day at 4:30PM my supervisor asked me to join her in her office. I sat down expecting an extra work assignment, because two days before she had told me my productivity statistics were the highest on the team. On this day, however, she laid me off. She held me in the office till all the other employees had left. Then she told me to clean out my desk and take my belongings home. Budget cuts. I was a great employee. Blah Blah. There are rules. Blah Blah. Last in, first out. I could not verbalize my need with the eloquence of the psalmist, but I knew what he meant.

Have you ever felt as if your heart were pouring out through deep wounds inflicted by unexpected disaster? Have you ever felt that you were melting away in fear of the future? What did you do? How does the psalmist face his debacle?

Before the psalmist reached this depth, he knew that anything was possible. Life threw him curve balls, just like my experience. He got ready ahead of time:

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
Psalm 62:5

How can the psalmist be so sure he can expect God in his hour of need?

He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Psalm 62:6-7

I would have felt pretty sure of things before my supervisor spoke with me. I would have said that God is my rock, but when the bottom fell out of my world, I felt shaken, not like being on a rock at all. How does the psalmist remind me that I can still trust the Lord?

I have returned to the starting point. When trouble shakes our foundations, we may feel as if we are in a swirling storm. We need to go back to the sure rock, the refuge, the place where we can hide and heal.

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
Psalm 62:8

What will you do when you feel that your very roots are being pulled up by disaster? What will you do when the air you breathe is being sucked out of you by the vacuum you feel in your future?

My network was failing me. I even failed myself. I had believed that it was enough to give quality and quantity to my work. I could assure my own future. It was all in my own hands.

I turned to friends, but there was no help for me. I had built a career and earned every penny of my wages. Last in. First out.

Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.
Psalm 62:9-10

When my world turned upside down and dumped me on the street, I had nothing. Unemployment in my county was 18%. All the sure things in my life were falling apart. I had only one assurance.

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
Psalm 62:8

Have you experienced complete collapse? Have you watched all the supports fall apart? What did you do? What will you do?

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
Psalm 62:8

December 3, 2014

What Science Cannot Accomplish, God Can

Regular contributor Clarke Dixon begins a series of Advent meditations. Click the title to read at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. (Should that be Shrunken?)

Finding Hope

small__5645102295We Canadians can tend to be a hopeful bunch. Perhaps for some of us it is learned through the yearly reaffirmation of that hopeful phrase “there is always next year” when the Toronto Maple Leafs are knocked out of contention. Perhaps it is our yearly experience of spring following a hard winter. Whatever it is, we are hopeful.

Where do we place our greatest hope? Some might say on winning the lottery, but when you look around, science must be near the top of the list. And for good reason. Because of science we getting better at treating diseases and closer to finding cures. Because of science we enjoy quite good health care and many other comforts. As Christians we celebrate science and encourage our youth to pursue it with excellence. It is a very hopeful and hope inspiring enterprise. But it is limited:

Science cannot lift the shroud of death. Even if a cure is found for all kinds of disease, we will die from something else, old age if nothing else. Old age is an age old problem. Even if we produce some kind of miracle cure for aging, people will still die from violence, accidents, or disasters. Science can help us live longer but what it cannot do is keep us from dying. Compare this to hope placed in God:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
(Isaiah 25:6-8a NRSV)

This prophecy of Isaiah points forward to the coming of Jesus, whose death and resurrection took place on that very mountain of Zion. His resurrection points to the fact that God has power over death. That is a power we cannot replicate through our best scientific endeavours. Only the Creator has the power to mess with the creation to that extent.

And only God has the ability to deal with the core problem that leads to death. We think the core problem is that our bodies are prone to failure, and so we seek physical cures. But think back to Adam and Eve and the banishment from the Garden of Eden and the introduction of death. We die because our spirits are prone to failure, we die because of sin. Science can help us deal with some of our physical problems, but only God can deal with our sin problem. He does, has done, and will do:

 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
  “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ
(1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NRSV)

Science cannot wipe away all tears from all faces. Science can help wipe away tears, and does keep certain tears from streaming. How thankful I am for what good science has meant for my child with Type 1 diabetes. Just a century ago grief filled tears were the only prognosis for a parent. But here also, science is limited. Though science can save a good number of people from the effects of disease, how far does it go to ensure people do not experience the effects of injustice, fighting, hatred, and war. Tears have always been with us, but with God things will be different:

Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
(Isaiah 25:8b NRSV)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
(Revelation 21:3-5 NRSV)

God, who is Creator, is also the One who is re-Creator. “Every tear” includes every tear ever shed by His people.

Science cannot take away disgrace from people. We should mention here that it is not science itself that gives hope. It is good people using science for good ends that inspire hope. The advances made possible through science can also be used for evil. If we look at the history of humanity, it is a history of bright moments and achievement. But it is also a history of disgrace. While the name Nobel is often associated with awards for pursuing peace, it is also associated with the creation of deadly weapons, which have been used to maintain peace and wage wars alike. Such is the history of humanity, a mixture of beauty and disgrace. But while we continually fall into disgrace, it was in God’s heart to lift us to a place of grace:

. . . and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
(Isaiah 25:8c)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
(Romans 8:1 NRSV)

In no moment of world history has humanity fallen into disgrace further than when we lifted up Jesus to crucify him. And in no moment of history has God’s grace been more evident.

It is good to have hope in scientific discovery and advance. But as good as it is, it is limited. I am reminded of a van we once owned which proudly displayed a “limited” badge. We bought it with some excitement, but years of ownership proved its limitations alright. It was limited in power, in endurance, and in reliability. It earned its “limited” status well! We approach science with great excitement over its ability to inspire hope. But it is limited. When we stand before the Creator we have sinned against, our only hope will be in the salvation revealed in Jesus Christ.

It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
(Isaiah 25:9 NRSV)

June 24, 2013

Treasure and Trust

Today’s post is a double-header from a new devotional blog at Faith Bloggers, Scripture4You. The author writes under the name Faith Twins.  The title of the two posts below is also a link to read at source, which is strongly encouraged, as is looking up the complete scripture references.

Where is Your Treasure?

~~~ 2 Corinthians 11:18, 21-30 ~~~ Psalm 34 ~~~ Matthew 6:19-23 ~~~
 
‘…store up treasures in heaven…
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.’
 
What do you truly treasure?
Is it your friends and family? Is it your faith in God?
Is it your material possessions? Is it your social status? Is it your acquired wealth?
Is it your reputation? Is it your health?
Perhaps your answer is a combination of all of the above.
Our heart leads us to live with passion.
You cannot treasure something without having space for it in your heart.
 
A treasure holds specific value.
Something treasured is protected from damage.
 
After a natural disaster we often see people carefully
 combing through the remains of their life.
They are compelled to salvage whatever they can…
What they find now becomes their treasure.
Many come to treasure life itself a little more…just having survived.
 
Jesus wants us to look beyond our earthly treasures.
They will all pass away.
The treasures that matter most are not visible with the naked eye.
The treasures that matter most have one thing in common;
love is always part of the equation.
Only those treasures inspired by love can be stored in heaven.
We can only withdraw from our treasure chest of love.
Whatever else we think we have stored up will not survive…
only love will remain.
Love is more precious than gold, silver, or jewels.  
 
  And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.
 
 I find this verse to be particularly disturbing.
If the only ‘light’ in your heart is darkness then you have no light.
If you have no light how then are you to see anything?
Physically our eyes need a light source to function properly.
 
Jesus is the light of the world without him we are truly ‘in the dark’.
We are children of the light.
Treasure this light.
Let this light of Christ shine forth from your heart.
 
If you treasure his light it will be reflected out toward others.
If you have light in your heart it will seep out.
You cannot keep it contained. 
 
Blessings are in what you treasure within your heart.
Can you see them?

Worry Versus Trust

~~~ 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 ~~~ Psalm 34 ~~~ Matthew 6:24-34 ~~~
 
…do not worry about your life…
 
…Are not you more important…
 
….will he not much more provide for you…
 
…So do not worry…
 
…Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself…
 
No matter how many times in the same passage
we hear about having faith and trust,
we still worry.
 
Worry robs you of the present moment in time.
When we worry we are in effect saying we do not believe
God will take care of us or our loved ones.
 
We do see how all of nature is provided for by God,
but we see our state as different.
We pretend to take all the credit for our well being.
The truth is we only work in concert with God.

Ask God to remove the plague of worry from your life.
Instead entrust your would be worries to God.
He is always there listening. 
 
I recently received this in an email.
It has a beautiful message about embracing the present…
living in the present.
 
I AM
 
I was regretting the past
and fearing the future
Suddenly my Lord was speaking:
My name is I AM.
When you live in the past,
with its mistakes and regrets,
it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I Was.
When you live in the future,
with its problems and fears,
it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I Will Be.
When you live in this moment,
it is not hard. I am here.
My name is I AM.
(Helen Mallicoat)
 
Does your worrying remove any of your fears?
I admit I am guilty at times of worrying about things that never come to pass.
Being prepared for the unforeseen event is not the same
as worrying about what could happen.
The time we spend worrying will never make a difference in the future.
The real blessings lie in trusting in the present.

 

February 5, 2013

Meditating on God’s Divine Providence and Love: Psalm 31

A completely different format today that I hope you will fully engage with. It certainly fits our situation, and I suspect it does for many of you. This was found at the blog of Tim Chester where, as always, you’re encouraged to read it at source.


In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
2 Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,

a strong fortress to save me.
3 Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
4 Free me from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hands I commit my spirit;
redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth.

  • From what do you need ‘rescue’ and ‘refuge’?
  • What’s the ‘trap’ in which you could fall? In other words, what temptation comes with your circumstances?
  • Highlight each time the Psalmist says ‘refuge’, ‘rock’ and ‘fortress’. How is God a refuge for you in the midst of your current problems?

6 I hate those who cling to worthless idols;
I trust in the LORD.
7 I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
for you saw my affliction
and knew the anguish of my soul.
8 You have not handed me over to the enemy
but have set my feet in a spacious place.

  • What makes the Psalmist glad? How might these truths comfort you?
  • What does it mean for God to put you in a ‘spacious place’ in the midst of your current problems?

9. Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and my body with grief.
10 My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
and my bones grow weak …

  • How do your current problems make you feel?
  • Do you find it helpful to express those emotions before God?

14 But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies;
from those who pursue me.
16 Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.
17 Let me not be put to shame, O LORD,
for I have cried out to you …

  • ‘My times are in your hands.’ ‘Had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.’ (Charles Spurgeon) Do you believe this? How does it comfort you?
  • How does God’s face shine on you in the midst of your problems? In other words, how is God being good to you?

19. How great is your goodness,
that you have stored up for those who fear you,
that you bestow in the sight of all
on those who take refuge in you.
20 In the shelter of your presence you hide them
from all human intrigues;
you keep them safe in your dwelling
from accusing tongues.

  • God has great goodness stored up for you. Compare the hope you have in Christ with what you think you lack in life.
  • How do you think of God ‘sheltering you’ and ‘hiding you’?

21 Praise be to the LORD,
for he showed his wonderful love to me
when I was in a city under siege.
22 In my alarm I said,
“I am cut off from your sight!”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
when I called to you for help.
23 Love the LORD, all his saints!
The LORD preserves those who are true to him,
but the proud he pays back in full.
24 Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the LORD.

  • What comfort has the Psalmist given to those who feel abandoned by God?
  • Who could you tell how God has helped you? Who could you encourage to be strong, take heart and hope in the LORD?

Making Psalm 31 Your Own

O LORD, I take refuge in you from ____________.
Don’t let me be ashamed by my problems.
Be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.
Free me from the temptation to ___________.
I put myself in your hands for you are my refuge.

I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
for you see my  ___________.
and you know the anguish of my soul.
When I feel trapped by my circumstances
lead me into a spacious place.

Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am in distress.
Both my body and soul feel weak with sorrow.
But I trust in you for you are my Father.
My times are in your hands.
My problem ___________ is in your hands.
Let your face shine on me.

How great is the goodness you have stored up for me.
It’s much greater than  ___________.
In the shelter of your presence
you keep me safe me from  ___________.

Praise the LORD, for he shows his wonderful love to me
when I am besieged by  ___________.
In my alarm I said, “God has abandoned me.”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy.

Love the LORD for he protects his people.
Be strong, take heart, hope in the LORD.

December 12, 2012

Anxiety, Depression and the Hope of Christmas

Fear, worry and anxiety are strongly linked to depression; and at this time of year, when everybody else is celebrating, depression seems to get larger, not smaller, for some people. Today is a double-post from Ben Nelson at the blog Another Red Letter Day.  I thought it significant that he dealt with both of these issues a few days apart. Links to the individual articles are in the titles, and you’re encouraged to read these there, leave comments, and browse other articles.

The Catch

Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. (Matthew 6:31-34 NASB)

In Monday’s post [Much More] I told you that God provision was not a principal or a promise, but more of a forgone conclusion.

Today there is actually another shoe about to drop.

There is a condition – a catch – one itty-bitty proviso.

And that goes back to the last paragraph – Who’s your master?

Here is the thing – If Jesus is your master, you have nothing to worry about – really –nothing.

Worry is a total waste of ‘redeemed time.’

The time you have is a gift of God. He gave it to you with a plan and a purpose.

Worry is a waste of that precious commodity.

Remember this guy?

And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. (Luke 15:13 NASB)

We call him the prodigal son. Do you know why we call this young man prodigal? (yes it is an adjective) Prodigal means wasteful.

So are you a prodigal when it come to your time – wasting it on worry? 

I pray today you would come to your senses like the prodigal son, and run home to Papa who is more than willing to take care of ‘what you will eat’ and ‘what you will drink’ and ‘how you will clothe yourself.’ And He has your tomorrow well in hand.

So get yourself comfortable in the role of servant, and our Wonderful Lord and Master will sweat the details.


Got Gloom?
Check this out

We all know this Christmas verse thanks to GF Handel:

The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them. (Isaiah 9:2 NASB)

But look what comes right before it:

But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. (Isaiah 9:1 NASB)

I love this – Jesus growing up in Galilee of the Gentiles making it glorious – but check the beginning

No more gloom for her who was in anguish.

Are you in anguish?

Are you living in gloom?

Are you stuck in a dark land – a dark place?

Christmas is here to break the gloom – break the anguish.

Ok – that was a bit mushy – how ’bout this:

Jesus was born, lived, and died a cruel death to break the gloom with an astonishing light

~ Ben Nelson

After posting this I discovered we had already borrowed an article from Ben just a few months ago, which I try not to do. But obviously this is a great source of devotional thoughts  which you might want to bookmark.

June 10, 2012

Merciful Judge

Saw this yesterday at the blog Jesus Carries Me and I knew it belonged here, too!  For best results (!) read this at source, where it appeared under the title,

The Judge who is Plentiful in Mercy

Isaiah 21:13-17New International Version (NIV)

13 A prophecy against Arabia:

You caravans of Dedanites,
    who camp in the thickets of Arabia,
14     bring water for the thirsty;
you who live in Tema,
    bring food for the fugitives.
15 They flee from the sword,
    from the drawn sword,
from the bent bow
    and from the heat of battle.

16 This is what the Lord says to me: “Within one year, as a servant bound by contract would count it, all the splendor of Kedar will come to an end. 17 The survivors of the archers, the warriors of Kedar, will be few. ” The Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken.

Although there are many who like to think of God as their fluffy little genie in the sky who will pander to all their selfish desires, the Bible paints a different picture. Yes, God is good. Yes, He delights in doing us good. But He is also a Judge –a righteous Judge at that.

He doesn’t turn a blind eye to hurts perpetrated against people. He doesn’t turn a blind eye against the wrong. But He is also a judge who is plentiful in mercy. In fact, He is a Judge who became a Savior. Therefore, in order to learn the truth about God’s character, we cannot separate the two –Judge and Savior. We have to study His judgments as much as we study His promises of goodwill.

The Scripture reference above is a judgement against Arabia. The Arabians were known as caravaners and were also notorious for robbing other caravaners. Disaster is about to hit this nation. They were well known as skillful archers but neither their skill, nor their strength or courage will be able to protect them against the judgments of God. This serves as a reminder for us to ensure that our treasures are stored up in a place that is safe from the invaders and thieves of this world. Where your treasure is there your heart will be also. What are we storing up? Where is our heart? Is it with things that can be shaken? At the end of the day only what cannot be shaken will remain. Paul writes to Timothy:

To put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17b-19)

You caravans of Dedanites, who camp in the thickets of Arabia, bring water for the thirsty

The prophecy starts by painting a picture of an evening scene as if it is saying that the sun is setting for Arabia. There is a call on the Dedanites to extend hospitality to those who will flee in fear from the threat of the approaching enemy. The Dedanites were merchants known for trading with the prolific port city of Tyre. Apparently they usually camped in the thick, hard-to-reach wooded areas of Arabia through which they usually enjoyed safe passage. They are called upon to give water to the thirsty fugitives. In a dry and arid land, giving someone water is seen as one of the greatest acts of hospitality. As the Arabians flee the enemy they will now become dependent on the kindness of others. The lesson here is that we should be generous in our help of others. We never know when it is our turn to be in need of the kindness of others.
You who live in Tema, bring food for the fugitives

The people who live inTema is also called upon to provide.  Tema is believed to have been an oasis. This indicates how the Arabians will experience a scarcity of basic necessities of food and water.

We see from these calls to Dedan and Tema, that although God brings His judgments against those who disobey Him, He still provides a way out of the danger and we see in the later verse that not all of the Arabians are destroyed. A small remnant is saved from the disaster.  The prophecy is given a year before the actual disaster takes giving those who hear it time to repent and change their ways. This is in line with God’s merciful character. Although He cannot turn His back on the wrong, He provides a way out. We have all sinned and fallen short of His glory. But He provided a way out for us to be made righteous. He provided a Substitute so that the judgement due to us will fall upon Christ Jesus. By faith in Him we escape the inevitable final judgement coming on this world.
All the splendor of Kedar will come to an end

Kedar was splendid in beauty, in power, riches and military strength but all these things were to be torn from them. They were excellently skilled as archers but this will not help them as the judgment of God comes against them. In Psalm 120:5 dwelling in the tents of Kedar is symbolic language for being cut off from the true worship of the true God. “Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek, that I live among the tents of Kedar!” Sometimes, we look at what is splendid on the surface and we live by sight instead of by faith. This is a reminder that whatever looks grand in this world is destined for destruction and if we place our hope in these things we are bound to be terribly disappointed.

God is righteous. He is holy, but He will not leave us in our current state of hopelessness. He is merciful and will always provide a way out. If the Judge declares us innocent, who is there that can declare us guilty any longer?

If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. (Romans 8:31b-34) NLT

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.

October 19, 2011

The Lord Giveth, The Lord Taketh Away, Right?

The book of Job is complicated.

Several years ago a manufacturer of Christian giftware created an entire themed line (or range as the British say) for men based on Job 1:10–

“Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.

There were work gloves, and a measuring tape, and other items all inscribed with

You have blessed the work of his hands

And everything was going fine until my wife pointed out that the speaker in this passage wasn’t God, wasn’t Job, wasn’t Job’s friends; it was the devil.  They were selling merchandise with a quote from the devil.  I mean, it’s possible for Satan to speak the truth in a situation, but it is rather unsettling.

I mention that because on the weekend, we had a discussion about the popular worship song, Blessed Be The Name (of the Lord).  The line that came up was,

You give and take away

and the individual pointed out that God allows things to happen, but doesn’t specifically cause things to happen.

The song lyric is based on Job, but this time we can’t blame the devil.  Chapter one, verse 20 and 21 reads:

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (NIV)

The statement reflects Job’s understanding of how things work, but it’s a limited understanding; this being chapter one and all.

We do however see similar themes; such as I Samuel 2: 7,8

The LORD makes poor and rich;
He brings low, He also exalts. (NASB)

and Psalm 75: 6,7

For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another. (KJV)

But the causality appears slightly different in the NLT

For no one on earth—from east or west,
      or even from the wilderness—
      should raise a defiant fist.
 7 It is God alone who judges;
      he decides who will rise and who will fall

and is closer to the idea of God allowing but not actually doing.  And certainly, to believe in the sovereignty of God is to believe that nothing that takes place happens without his rubber stamp on it.

So what do you think?  Can you stand and sing that line of Blessed Be The Name with confidence?  Or do you shy away from it?

I think it’s important that our overarching belief is that God working to bring all things toward the good.  As Romans 8:28 reminds us:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who arecalled according to His purpose. (NASB)

He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.  (w/ vs. 27; The Message)

And furthermore, we can adopt an unconditional allegiance to God regardless of the circumstances or even regardless of their source.  Job reaches this point twelve chapters later, in 13:15:

Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…(KJV)

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