Christianity 201

December 28, 2021

Something New is Coming

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re introducing a new writer to you. Jamie Hicks has eponymous blog which takes its tag line, “Ruminations of a Tennessee Hicks” from his surname. Since beginning in January 2020, each of his devotionals features both an Old Testament and New Testament passage. Clicking the header below will take you to where we sourced this, which you are encouraged to do.

Everything New

CSB.Malachi.1.6 A son honors his father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is your fear of me? says the Lord of Armies to you priests, who despise my name.”

Yet you ask, “How have we despised your name?”

“By presenting defiled food on my altar.”

“How have we defiled you?” you ask.

When you say, “The Lord’s table is contemptible.”

“When you present a blind animal for sacrifice, is it not wrong? And when you present a lame or sick animal, is it not wrong? Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” asks the Lord of Armies. “And now plead for God’s favor. Will he be gracious to us? Since this has come from your hands, will he show any of you favor?” asks the Lord of Armies. 10 “I wish one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would no longer kindle a useless fire on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Armies, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

11 “My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense[a] and pure offerings will be presented in my name in every place because my name will be great among the nations,”[b] says the Lord of Armies.

12 “But you are profaning it when you say, ‘The Lord’s table is defiled, and its product, its food, is contemptible.’ 13 You also say, ‘Look, what a nuisance!’ And you scorn[c] it,”[d] says the Lord of Armies. “You bring stolen,[e] lame, or sick animals. You bring this as an offering! Am I to accept that from your hands?” asks the Lord.

14 “The deceiver is cursed who has an acceptable male in his flock and makes a vow but sacrifices a defective animal to the Lord. For I am a great King,” says the Lord of Armies, “and my name will be feared among the nations.

After returning from their exile in Babylon and rebuilding the temple of God in Jerusalem, the people of Israel drifted away from devotion to God’s word, will and ways. Instead of learning from the mistakes of their ancestors, they allowed themselves to become immoral and careless in their worship of the Lord.

Soon after, Ezra the priest arrived in Israel, and he led a spiritual reform that was later picked up by Nehemiah the Governor. It is highly probable that Malachi prophesied during Nehemiah’s reforms as Governor. Together, Malachi and Nehemiah brought the nation of Israel back to a healthy fear of the Lord that would last hundreds of years and pave the way for the advent of the Messiah.

In chapter 1 of Malachi, the Lord took issue with the priests’ lack of respect for the Lord and their contempt for His prescribed way of worship. Instead of bringing unblemished lambs and goats for sacrifice offerings, they were bringing the lame, blind, sick and weak lambs and goats that would have been killed anyway. Instead of bringing a costly sacrifice, they were bringing God rubbish.

The issue was not that God is unaccepting of the weak, vulnerable and outcasts of life. The issue was that the priests were cutting corners in worship. They were “mailing it in” and not bringing their best. They were keeping the best for themselves and offering God the leftover scraps. They were attempting to deceive God, but were deceiving themselves instead.

If we view the worship of God as drudgery and only care to offer Him the worthless scraps of our lives, then we do not truly honor Him as our Lord… and we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are devoted to His service. Half-hearted worship is not acceptable, and half-hearted worshippers are not the people that God is seeking to be called His own.

CSB.Revelation.21.1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

Then I heard a loud voice from the throne:[a] Look, God’s dwelling[b] is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples,[c] and God himself will be with them and will be their God.[d] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things[e] have passed away.

Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words[f] are faithful and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life. The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be my son. But the cowards, faithless,[g] detestable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars—their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

After all has been said and done… after Satan and his hoards are eternally destroyed… after death and hell are cast into the lake of fire… after all that is unrighteous and evil is banished and burned on the rubbish heap for eternity, God will make everything new.

No longer will heaven and earth be separated by a vast sea. The new heaven and the new earth will be united in glorious splendor and God will live forevermore with His people – the people who lived their lives in whole-hearted faith and devotion to Him… the people who were redeemed from their sin and cleansed from their filth through faith in the Lamb of God.

The Lord God, the one ever and always seated on the throne, will make everything new. The ones who conquered the world, the flesh and the devil through faith in God and the Lamb will inherit all things and eternally become children of God. Those who refused God’s gift and rejected The Lamb’s sacrifice will burn eternally separated from the life of God with the rubbish of history in the lake of fire.

We don’t have to wait until the end of the age to experience the hope that we have in Christ.

We don’t have to wait until then to experience God’s newness.

We don’t have to wait until then to experience His rivers of life.

We don’t have to wait until then to be named children of God.

When we come to saving faith in Christ and wholeheartedly offer our lives to Him, though we are still contained in our mortal bodies, we spiritually step into eternity in Christ and begin experiencing the yet-to-come in the here-and-now. Our lives are made new, and we begin the sanctifying process of being made new in the image of Christ.

We are filled with the Holy Spirit of God, which bubbles up from within us as a river of living water. We are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, grafted into the prophetic family tree of God, and adopted as His beloved sons and daughters. All of that is available here and now, and in the life to come, to all who will place their faith in the Lamb and worship Him wholeheartedly as they offer all of their lives – not just the scraps – to be used in His service.

Prayer: Lord, I thank You that You did not withhold Your best from me. You did not give me the scraps of heaven, but gave Your dearly beloved and unblemished Son as a sacrifice for my sin. Therefore, You are forever worthy of my best and my all lifted up and presented as a sacrifice of worship to You. Help me to not take Your gift to me for granted. Help me to not see worship and service as drudgery. Make me new, keep me ever-renewed and help me to stay wholeheartedly devoted to You as I keep my faith firmly rooted in You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.


Footnotes; OT passage:

  1. 1:11 Or Burnt offerings
  2. 1:11 Or is great… are presented… is great
  3. 1:13 Lit blow at
  4. 1:13 Alt Hb tradition reads me
  5. 1:13 Or injured

Footnotes; NT passage:

  1. 21:3 Other mss read from heaven
  2. 21:3 Or tent, or tabernacle
  3. 21:3 Other mss read people
  4. 21:3 Other mss omit and will be their God
  5. 21:4 Or the first things
  6. 21:5 Other mss add of God
  7. 21:8 Other mss add the sinful,

 

December 18, 2021

Holiness Shines in the Darkest Moments

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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NIV.Luke.2.8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11a Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you…”

…15b …the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Our search to bring you the best in devotional writing took us to a new writer today. Jake Owensby is a Bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States, holds a doctorate in Philosophy and as we learned later, is the author of Looking for God in Messy Places: A Book About Hope (Abingdon, 2021). We tossed an image of the book cover into the mix today, although I’m not sure the devotional is an actual excerpt. This appeared earlier today at his blog, which is also called Looking for God in Messy Places.

We always encourage you to read C201 devotionals at the place where we found them, and this one is beautifully illustrated there which adds to the reading experience. Click the header which follows.

Wherever You Are

If God can show up in the manger, God can show up anywhere. With anybody. With you and with me. Wherever life might take us.

The angels said to the shepherds, “To you is born this day … a Savior.” And once the angels had gone, the shepherds headed into Bethlehem to see for themselves.

What they found there was an exhausted young mother. A vigilant new father. And a baby. A baby lying in a feed trough. Surrounded by animals and hay and dirt and dung.

But it wasn’t just any baby. When they looked at him they knew in their gut, in their heart, in their marrow that they were seeing God in the flesh. And that this baby, in this place, born to these poor parents, was telling them everything they needed to know about God. About how God is saving them. Saving you and me and the whole world.

In the infant Jesus we see—like those shepherds saw long ago—that God can and will show up anywhere. At anytime. There are no circumstances so appalling, no dwelling so mean, no life so shattered that God will not make it his very own home.

In Jesus we see that God pursues us wherever we may be. Not to spy on us or to scold us or to judge us but to take up nurturing, healing, liberating residence in the very midst of our lives. No matter how messy our life might be. Frederick Buechner put it like this:

“If holiness and the awful power and majesty of God were present in this least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that holiness can be present there too.”

If you’re like me, the birth of Jesus offers relief and kindles a hope that I could never conjure up for myself. That hope is more than wishful thinking. More than the anticipation that my own desires will be fulfilled or my private agenda will get a divine thumbs up.

The birth of Jesus—the moment in which God takes on the vulnerability and fragility of human flesh in a dangerous town in some stranger’s crummy spare room— shows me that God is with us. That love inhabits even the darkest corners of this world.

And the divine love is no mere feeling. Love is the power that changes everything. As Howard Thurman says, Christmas assures us that “love is sturdier than hate, that right is more confident than wrong, that good is more permanent than evil.”

Jesus will not force his way into our lives. His love is freely given. And we can freely accept it, reject it, or ignore it. Each of us will decide whether or not to make room for Mary and Joseph in the inn of our lives.

As preachers have said in Christmases past, each of us is an innkeeper. Jesus invites us to make a place for him at the center of our lives. And there is a part of us—a tender, wounded, weary, harried, bewildered part of us—that struggles to turn off our “No Vacancy” sign.

In the words of Henri Nouwen:

“A part of us clings to our aloneness and does not allow God to touch us where we are most in pain. Often we hide from him precisely those places in ourselves where we feel guilty, ashamed, confused, and lost. Thus we do not give him a chance to be with us where we feel most alone.”

To put that another way, we struggle to give Jesus a place in our inn because we fear that our rooms will be too shabby, too plain, too messy to meet his approval.

So, I encourage you to look with your imagination at that baby. Not the idealized infant of Renaissance paintings and stained glass windows. But at that peasant baby on a dirt floor in a drab, untidy room. That baby breathing donkey’s breath, smelling of old straw, and wrapped in a tattered blanket.

If God can show up there, God can show up anywhere. With anybody. With you and with me. Wherever life might take us.

December 16, 2021

When We Were Hopeless and an Angel Set Us Straight

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through Luke 2:11

by Clarke Dixon

Watch the sermon on which today’s devotional is based at this link. Note: Title is different.

It can all seem rather hopeless. Between nuclear weapons and climate change, it can feel like humanity is doomed. We wonder if this is going to end well for us. Or when bad things happen to good people and all kinds of things happen to all kinds of people, it can all feel rather haphazard. Is God really in charge, and if so, is there really a plan? Speaking of God being in charge, looking at past history, it seems like the ones in charge have often used their power for evil. It doesn’t go well for the people under their care.

Is there hope?

According to the angel who spoke to the shepherds that first Christmas, there is great hope:

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Luke 2:8-12 (NLT emphasis added)

The angel described this baby with three words that bring great hope no matter how things seem.

When it seems humanity is doomed.

If scientists are correct, then it appears that we really are doomed. We’ve got bigger problems than climate change. There is such a thing as universe change. Scientists tell us that the expansion of the universe is accelerating and that ultimately, our universe will cease to be life-permitting at some point. That is a long, long way in the future. But it is still the future! Don’t worry, the heating up of our sun and the boiling of our oceans will get us before the expansion of the universe does.

According to the angel, there is good, hopeful news: To you is born this day a Saviour.

When we use the term “Jesus is Saviour” people often have in mind one of at least three things. We should have in mind all three:

  1. Salvation from the eternal consequence of our sin which separates us from God. Jesus brings reconciliation with God, saving us from death, changing our future from everlasting death to resurrection to everlasting life.
  2. Salvation from harmful ways of living which messes up relationships, inter-personal, and inter-national. Jesus saves us by teaching us and showing us the better way of love.
  3. Salvation not just of of people, but all of creation. With our resurrection also comes God’s re-creation of everything:

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.

Romans 8:18-21 (NLT emphasis added)

If we listen to scientists, and we should, it would seem we are in fact doomed. If we listen to the angel, and we can, we discover that the Creator who spoke all of creation into existence, stepped into creation as Saviour. We are not doomed.

When it seems like God is neither in charge, nor operating by a plan.

When bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, and random things happen randomly to all people, it would appear there is no one in charge, there is no plan.

If God is in charge and working out a plan, why couldn’t he stop this virus from spreading, that cancer from spreading, this train from crashing, and that tornado from landing? Is God really in charge?

According to the angel, there is good, hopeful news: To you is born this day the Messiah.

Some people think God created the world, wound it up, then stood back. The fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, both words meaning “anointed one,” speaks to God stepping in.

The fact there is an “anointed one” speaks to God’s plan:

God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.

Ephesians 1:9-10 (NLT)

Paul was not speaking about mystery in the sense of something that cannot be understood, though there is that kind of mystery, in life, and faith. There may well be an element of mystery in why some seem destined to suffer more than others.

When Paul spoke of mystery, he was referring to something that was hidden, now made plain. What is made plain in the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, the ‘anointed one’, is that God has a plan.

If we look at the random events of our world, we can lose hope that God is in charge and operating according to a plan. If we look to that one event, the birth of the Messiah, we find hope that all is going according to God’s plan. God is in charge. There is a plan.

When it seems like the powers that be use their power for evil.

When we survey some of the famous rulers in world history, it appears that  those in charge don’t care about the people under their charge. How many people died because of the decisions of Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and the list goes on and on. How many people did Rome crucify?

The history of the world is a history of people using power over others. The history of the world is a history of people in power using power to stay in power. This often does not go well for those not in power. We see this with Herod’s plot to kill the infant Jesus which did not end well for those in Bethlehem.

Jesus speaks about power as found in Luke, chapter twelve:

“Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.

Luke 12:4-5 (NLT)

The most the powers that be can do to us is kill us. That is all they can do. Their power is therefore limited! This is true of the people that might kill us, and thankfully I cannot think of any. This is also true of the diseases and afflictions that might kill us, and unfortunately I can think of many. God’s power, however, is infinite. God can allow for us to be separated from him forever, or can raise us to live in his presence forever. Now that is power! So don’t fear people, fear God. That being said, Jesus immediately went on to say:

“What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

Luke 12:6-7 (NLT)

Fear God, but don’t be afraid of God. God loves us. The ones using terror against others are the ones who need to be concerned!

According to the angel, there is good, hopeful news: To you is born this day the Lord.

Lord means “master,” and it means that neither Caesar, nor Herod, nor Hitler, nor Stalin is lord, but Jesus is. Their power is limited.

“Lord” was also the word that stood in for God’s name when God’s people read the Hebrew Scriptures. Even today, when Jewish people come across God’s name, they usually say “Adonai,” meaning “Lord”. This is reflected in our English translations of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) whenever LORD is in all capitals. It is also reflected in the Greek translation that the people of New Testament times would have been familiar with. So when the angel announces the birth of the “Lord”, there is a strong hint, especially when taken together with other passages, that this baby is not just one true master among many pretenders, but God Himself.

It may seem like those in power often use power for evil, draining us of hope when we discover that the powers that be are not for us but for themselves. But the angel tells us that this small baby is Lord, this Jesus has power. This infant was evidence that the Powerful One is for us and not against us.

In Conclusion

This can be a hopeless time of year for many. It is said that more people get depressed at this time than any other. Perhaps it is the shorter days, the busyness, or the expectations we place upon ourselves to provide and experience that “perfect” Christmas. It might be that all the glitter and happy songs do not match what is going on in our lives.

This may be a bleak season of your life. This may well be a season of bad news in our world. It is quite normal to feel perplexed by it all, to lose hope. We don’t want to minimize that bad news or gloss over it. But neither do we want to miss the good news.

The identity of Jesus as announced by the angel, of being Saviour, Messiah, and Lord replaces the hopelessness of how things seem with the hope of how things really are.


Clicking the header which appears above Clarke’s byline will take you to Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, for more Advent-themed devotionals.

December 2, 2021

This is Not the Way Things Are Supposed To Be: Welcome to Advent!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Thinking Through Isaiah 40

For a video version of the sermon on which this is based, click here.

by Clarke Dixon

Surely this is not the way things are supposed to be! Do you find yourself saying that a lot these days? You might say it about the pandemic or global conflicts. You might say it about your life, and the challenges you face. You might say it about big life-threatening things, or the little details. I said it when I went to print something in black and white and my printer told me I couldn’t because it didn’t have enough yellow ink. Surely this is not the way things are supposed to be!

Perhaps you can relate. God’s old covenant people in the Old Testament could relate, particularly in the moment spoken of in Isaiah 40:

Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.

Isaiah 40:1 (NIV)

God’s people needed comfort at that moment. The city was in ruins, people were exiled to Babylon, the temple was destroyed, and according to the prophet Ezekiel, God had left the building (See Ezekiel chapters 10 and 11). Things were not as they should have been.

A message of comfort was needed.

A message of comfort was also appropriate:

Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.

Isaiah 40:1-2 (NIV)

God had said that if his people stuck with him, he would stick with them, but if they didn’t he wouldn’t. They didn’t and so he didn’t. Therefore the Babylonians invaded, the natural consequence of the sin of God’s people. However, comfort was now the appropriate message because God is good and faithful to all his promises. Now that the consequences of their sin had been rolled out, God would show his faithfulness to the covenant promises by returning his people to the promised land and also in his own return:

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.

Isaiah 40:3 (NIV)

In those days of exile things were not the way they should be. But things were also not the way they would be! There was great hope for the future.

The exiles did return and they all lived happily ever after, right?

Actually, no. God’s people did indeed return, but they entered a season of their history we could call “Advent”. Yes, they had returned, and yes, there was great work done on rebuilding Jerusalem, the temple, and the nation. However, apart from one short season of self-rule, it was one foreign oppressor after another in charge. This was to be God’s people, not Caesar’s. Things were still not as they were supposed to be!

However, things were not the way they would be. There was hope; God is good, and in keeping his promises, will intervene. Therefore God’s people could look forward to the arrival of a messiah. The time between the return to Jerusalem and the birth of that Messiah was an era of Advent.

Jesus was born and everyone lived happily ever after, right?

Yes and no. There is a happily ever after, but we are not there yet. We can still say things are not as they should be.

I grew up with the song by U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Christian faith is expressed in this song, but so too is lament, that something is not right. Things are not the way they are supposed to be.

We are now in the season of Advent, but we are not just referring to the time set apart to recognize Advent in the church calendar. We live, not just in four weeks of Advent, but an entire era of Advent where we are aware that things are not as they should be, but also that things are not as they shall be.

In many of our churches we are not really sure how to observe Advent, as we often rush into the celebration of Christmas along with the rest of society. More importantly, however, what are we to do when our entire lives are spent in an era of Advent? Here are three things.

We lean into lament.

This is not the time to sugar coat the world’s problems behind a veneer of faith. Neither is it time to sugar coat our own problems as if they don’t exist. As long as there are things like poverty, oppression, injustice, racism, sexism, discrimination of many sorts, depression, disease, and the list goes on and on, then things are not as they should be. Let us say that and lean into lament. In fact leaning into lament will drive us to the second thing to do:

We lean into the better way of Jesus

Upon the birth of John the Baptist, not long before the birth of Jesus, John’s dad, Zechariah had this to say of John, and Jesus:

…you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Luke 1:76-79 (NIV emphasis added)

Here is a wonderful allusion back to Isaiah 40, that indeed God was returning and ready to intervene in a significant way. This is a message of comfort. But in this message we also see a significant reason why things are still not as they are supposed to be: we humans, Christians and non-Christians alike, fail to walk in that path of peace that Jesus through his life, teaching, example, and way of the cross has guided our feet into. This is the time to lean into that better way of Jesus. This is the time to call for change, in ourselves, and in our world.

We want to be careful here, with our focus on lament and call for change, that we recognize the better way of Jesus is the way of love and not hatred. There can be a fine line between the two. How so? If you attended our church anniversary service, you would have heard my wife share how she came to a point three years ago of saying enough is enough. She chose to make certain changes that would be to the betterment of her physical, mental, and spiritual health. This seeking of better health is an expression of love; of self-love and love for others. However, sometimes the call for change can come from somewhere else. These lines from a Tenille Townes song are striking:

The voice that I don’t wanna hear, the hurtful words I say
The long list of things about myself I wanna change
The heavy cloud that won’t leave even after it rains
I try to be a hero ’til it brings me to my knees
Yeah, there’s a villain in me

From the song “Villain in Me” written by Alex Hope and Tenille Townes

Sometimes the call for change in ourselves can come, not from a place of love, but from a place of self-hatred. Sometimes the call for change in ourselves does not lead to self-love, but to even greater self-hatred. This is not the way things are supposed to be.

Likewise, the call for change in our world can come from a place of love, but it often comes from a place of hatred. Let us be careful, therefore, that our call for change, in ourselves and in others, comes from living out the better way of Jesus which is the better way of love.

Lean into the love and promise of God

The day is coming when things shall be as they should be. Even when our calls for change seem to fall on deaf ears, or our efforts at change seem to come to nothing, change is on the way. This is a season of Advent, but seasons change and the next one will arrive with the return of our Lord! There is reason for great hope!

In Conclusion

There is a Christmas carol that captures well the spirit of Advent, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day“:

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on Earth, ” I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

Things are not the way they should be. However,

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, good will to men

Things are not as they shall be!

While we observe Advent for four weeks, we actually live in Advent our entire lifetime. As we do so, we lean into lament, and we lean into hope, that God, who is good, will intervene in an incredible way some day. In the meantime we lean into the better way of Jesus.


Regular Thursday contributor and Ontario, Canada pastor Clarke Dixon initially posts the devotions here at his own site, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

October 14, 2021

Are You Glass Half-Full or Glass Half-Empty?

Thinking Through Exodus 15

by Clarke Dixon

Are you a glass half-full kind of person or a glass half-empty kind of person? If you are not sure, your friends and family can probably tell you! In the Bible we come across a people who could be described as neither, but in a manner which might describe us even better.

Let us consider God’s people in the moments after they had just crossed the Sea and escaped the Egyptians:

Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD:
“I will sing to the LORD,
for he has triumphed gloriously;
he has hurled both horse and rider
into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has given me victory.
This is my God, and I will praise him—
my father’s God, and I will exalt him!
The LORD is a warrior;
Yahweh is his name! . . . .

Exodus 15:1-3 (NLT)

And on the song continues with praise to God for the incredible rescue. And of course this is entirely appropriate, for God has pulled through for a tiny people in the face of a large powerful oppressor. Let us remember that they had been slaves for hundreds of years, they were not trained for battle, they were not prepared for battle, and yet here they were, with their backs up against the wall, or rather a sea, with a big trained professional army eager to follow orders to destroy them. Any bystander would know how this is going to pan out. Except that they wouldn’t, for God’s people had a secret weapon; God.

“The enemy boasted, ‘I will chase them
and catch up with them.
I will plunder them
and consume them.
I will flash my sword;
my powerful hand will destroy them.’
But you blew with your breath,
and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
in the mighty waters.
“Who is like you among the gods, O LORD—
glorious in holiness,
awesome in splendor,
performing great wonders?
You raised your right hand,
and the earth swallowed our enemies.

Exodus 15:9-12 (NLT)

The Hebrew people walked safely through the Sea, young and old alike, while the big bad army on the other hand, were sunk. This song was a “WOW” moment for God’s people, a moment of praise and thanksgiving for what God had just done.

While they stood and reflected on the miracle they had just experienced, they also looked forward:

“With your unfailing love you lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your might, you guide them
to your sacred home.
The peoples hear and tremble;
anguish grips those who live in Philistia.
The leaders of Edom are terrified;
the nobles of Moab tremble.
All who live in Canaan melt away;
terror and dread fall upon them.
The power of your arm
makes them lifeless as stone
until your people pass by, O LORD,
until the people you purchased pass by.
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain—
the place, O LORD, reserved for your own dwelling,
the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.

Exodus 15:13-17 (NLT)

The song began with what God had just done, but closes looking forward to what God promised to do. The miracle at the Sea was a “WOW” moment, and the promises are “WOW” promises.

So are God’s people glass half-empty kind of people, or glass half-full kind of people? God’s people as we find them in Exodus 15 are something else altogether, they are a glass quite-full kind of people!

For three days . . .

Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).
Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded

Exodus 15:22-24 (NLT)

Then a little later, and a little further into the wilderness,

Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt. There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.
“If only the LORD had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”

Exodus 16:1-3 (NLT)

In no time at all, God’s people went from glass quite-full kind of people to glass knocked-over kind of people.

Perhaps that might be a good description for us. We may be neither glass half-full nor glass half-empty kind of people, but glass knocked-over kind of people. Our moods, thoughts, and attitudes may be all over the place and depend on situations and circumstances. We might be going along quite well with our glasses quite-full, life being good, then we get focused on the problems at hand, or the people in our face, and over the glass goes. We go from hopeful about the future to anxious, from confident in the present to nervous, from relaxed about life to stressed out, from ready to take on the world to unprepared to even get out of bed. From glass quite-full to glass quite-empty in the time it takes for a glass to fall over.

Is there a better way?

How might things have turned out if God’s people kept singing that song from chapter 15 while in the wilderness? What if that song was not a top-of-the-pop-charts-for-just-one-day kind of song, but one they sang every day in the wilderness?

When they ran out of water, if they were singing about how God helped them in the past despite the odds being seemingly stacked against them, maybe they would think to seek God in the present. If God can deal with the army problem, God can do something about the water problem.

When they ran out of food, if they were singing about God’s promises for the future, maybe they would think to seek God in the present. Since God had rescued them in the past and made promises about their future, then just maybe they could trust him with today instead of assuming the worst?

What about us?

Are we singing songs of praise and thanksgiving enough? Are we remembering God in our lives, that when trouble hits, God is our first thought and not our last resort, that when life gets rough, trust in God is something we just do, and not something we must try to muster up? Are we continually getting our hearts and minds in tune, ready for what is next, whether good or bad?

If God’s people could sing of being rescued from Egypt in Exodus 15, we have an even greater rescue to sing about. The Lord has rescued us from all that separates us from Him. The Lord has rescued us from death, though Jesus.

If God’s people could sing about the promised land, we can sing about even bigger promises now. The Lord has promised to be present with us. The Lord has promised eternal life with Him through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Lord has promised us His Kingdom coming, and leads us to move toward it in the here and now.

Thinking of our tag-line at Calvary Baptist Church of “helping people walk with Jesus,” it can feel like an uphill battle trying to get people excited about the possibility of walking with Jesus. It should be harder to convince Jesus to want to walk with us. But Jesus takes no convincing, on the contrary, Jesus “took the nails”. That’s God’s love, that’s God doing what God does because God is love.

That’s a song worth singing, a tune to get stuck in our heads! So when trouble strikes, and it will, we know God is going to get us through it, because God is not some idea we contemplate from time to time, but One with Whom we walk every day in a trust relationship.

Thanksgiving may be just one day in the year, but gratitude is a song we can sing daily, bringing focus on the reality of God walking with us in the past, future, and present, bringing focus to the reality of God and the reality of God’s love. Praise and thanksgiving remind us that we can trust God. When we live a life of gratitude to God, trust will be something we do daily and will not be something we must muster up when hard times hit.

Perhaps this is worth an experiment. What if for a week, or a month, each morning we think of something God has done for us in the past, plus something God has promised for our future? We might want a Bible and a notebook handy! What if we start each day with a “song” of praise and gratitude?

A life lived in praise and gratitude is a life anchored to the reality of God’s love for us. When we are anchored to the reality of God’s love for us we won’t be glass half-empty or glass half-full kind of people, we won’t be full glass-knocked-over kind of people, we will be cup-runneth-over kind of people.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This devotional is based on a sermon which can be seen here.

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

July 25, 2021

Utter Dependence on God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today once again we’re featuring the website Out Of The Ordinary. We’ve showcased writing here by Rebecca and Kim before, this time it’s the third member of the team who goes by Persis. She wrote this in May of 2020 when the global pandemic was just a few months in. How little did we realize for how long we would need to depend on God as our source of strength and comfort. She also (in the first paragraph) quotes a theologian whose name I have been hearing much in the past few weeks. Click the title below to read at source.

The Place of Dependence

We live in a strange world, a world which presents us with tremendous contrasts. The high and the low, the great and the small, the sublime and the ridiculous, the beautiful and the ugly, the tragic and the comic, the good and the evil, the truth and the lie, these all are heaped up in unfathomable interrelationship. The gravity and the vanity of life seize on us in turn. Now we are prompted to optimism, then to pessimism. Man weeping is constantly giving way to man laughing. The whole world stands in the sign of humor, which has been well described as a laugh in a tear.1

Herman Bavinck may have have written those sentences 111 years ago, but he could be describing the present. Life as we know it has changed drastically for the entire world. Every level of society has been impacted, and what we once knew may never return. I am more aware than I have ever been of the complex tangle of human lives, basic needs, information, and decisions that are “heaped up in unfathomable interrelationship.”

In March [2020], two pastors on Twitter asked if Christians would be willing to fast and pray for an hour on Friday afternoons regarding the coronavirus. I was gung-ho the first two weeks and eager to pray. The hour passed quickly as I prayed for everyone and everything I could think of. But as the weeks passed, the number of situations and people needing prayer seemed to grow exponentially. When the last prayer time rolled around, I began to think of government employees from national to local levels, medical staff and researchers, essential workers, the unemployed, the elderly, those with compromised health or mental illness, and the list went on and on.

All these people so dependent on each other.  Some have positions of authority with decision-making power over many. But there are others previously overlooked who we are literally depending upon for our daily bread. So many people. So many lives. Any attempt to untangle these interrelationships would inevitably result in harm to someone because this is a no-win situation. These thoughts were too overwhelming, so I had to give way to the tears and lament that had been building up inside. The only words left to pray were, “Lord, you know.”

In our inmost selves, we are immediately  — without benefit of reasoning, that is, and prior to all reasoning — conscious of ourselves as created, limited, dependent beings. We are dependent upon everything around us, upon the whole spiritual and material world. Man is a “dependent” of the universe. And further, he is dependent, together with other created things, and dependent this time in an absolute sense, on God who is the one, eternal, and real being.2

If our sole dependence rested on other fallible human beings, we would have good reason to fear. There is a limit to the best wisdom, knowledge, and skill any person can offer, and that “best” is still tainted with sin. But there is Someone greater, wiser, and more powerful under-girding our interrelationships and interdependence on each other. Someone on whom we truly depend. He is not the watchmaker god of the deists who winds the timepiece and observes what will happen from afar. Our God sees perfectly and judges righteously. His purpose will not waiver and neither will his love. He took on humanity that he might redeem us, purchasing pardon with his death and providing righteousness with his life.

As his children, we have an open invitation to the throne of grace. We are welcome to pour out our hearts in petition, but we are also free to come when we are too overwhelmed to even know what to pray.  We can come to the end of our rope and the end of ourselves in this place of dependence. A place where Christ accepts a feeble, “Lord, you know,” and gives us assurance that he does.

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb. 4:15-16 NASB


1. The Wonderful Works of God, Herman Bavinck, Westminster Seminary Press, 2019, pg. 29.
2. Ibid. pg. 27.

July 24, 2021

Death, The Intruder

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted. – Ps. 23:4 (The Voice)

This is our third time visiting the writing of Jake Hunt at his blog Wiser Time. Though he doesn’t write frequently, we wanted to share this more recent article here. Jake writes from Prague in the Czech Republic.

Now ye need not fear the grave

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

All our fear is ultimately the fear of death. It is, as Paul says, “the last enemy.” It is the ultimate worst case scenario.

My grandmother died this year. She was 92. She lived a beautiful life, passed her final days in my parents’ home being cared for by those she loved the most, and died trusting in Christ. This is the way to go. Having seen her decline, and knowing she was tired and ready, I had even prayed that God would take her before too long.

And yet, this was the toughest blow of a tough year for me. I think of her daily. I miss her terribly. It hasn’t fully set in that I can’t pick her up and take her to dinner the next time I’m in Georgia.

This is because death, even a good death, is awful. It’s an intrusion into the good world God created. And we pass our entire lives under its shadow, knowing it awaits us all, awaits those we love. Death is inevitable. The fear of this makes us subject to life-long slavery.

Jesus stepped into time and space, became human with all that entails, in order to change this. He was acquainted with death, more so than many of us. He lived in a time when death was much more a part of everyday life than it is for us. People didn’t get taken to the hospital and then the funeral home; they typically died at home, were mourned at home, and were buried by the family and community.

Jesus seems to have lost his earthly father at a fairly early age, as Joseph departs the narrative between his adolescence and young adulthood. He saw children die– doubtless more than just the few he raised from the dead. He wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. But more than all this, he passed his entire life on earth in the shadow of the cross. He knew it was coming. He knew what he was here to do. “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.”

The fact that he also knew the Resurrection was coming didn’t change the fact that the suffering was coming as well.

Hebrews 2:14 and following is one of my favorite passages, and especially my favorite passage for Advent. One thing that always strikes me: The author doesn’t say that Jesus delivers us from death. Of course, in the greatest sense he does, but unless we are alive at his return, knowing Christ does not deliver us from the physical experience of death. He does, however release us from slavery to the fear of death.

This is not just about knowing that heaven is coming, though it is that. It is about knowing that because Jesus’ humanity is so genuine, his becoming one of us in every way so complete, we are united with him in every stage of our life, including the final one. How has he destroyed the power of death, and the work of the devil? Through death itself. He didn’t pretend to die, or seem to die. He died. His death destroyed death forever. And he accomplished this for us– for “the children” of whom he is unashamed, who share in the flesh and blood that he willingly adopted.

“Now ye need not fear the grave.” Because Jesus has been there already. And so we will not go there alone.


Here’s how Eugene Peterson renders today’s key text:

MSG.Heb.2.14-15 Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it’s logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death.

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 24, 2021

Feeling Defeated?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through 1st John 5:3-5

Do you ever get that defeated feeling? Like you are fighting a losing battle or are on the losing side? It might be your health or a relationship gone sour. It might be your parenting skills or your relationship with God. We try to be Christlike and loving, but there we go again with a rather unloving attitude, words, or actions. Or there we go again, being inpatient or lacking in gentleness or self-control. Or there we go again, another drink, another look. We are losing the battle, again.

We feel defeated, yet John says that we are conquerors!

Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

1 John 5:5 (NRSV)

Perhaps we think that John is thinking of the Christians in his day and wonder if only we could be like those earliest Christians, going from victory to victory in Jesus! But were they going from victory to victory in life and faith?

The earliest Christians would have have sometimes felt like they were fighting a losing battle.

We can think of Paul never being delivered from his “thorn in the flesh.” We can think of how the family of James, the brother of John, would have felt when their loved one was executed while Peter was miraculously rescued by an angel. You win some and you lose some. Some battles were indeed lost.

While there were very positive moments and very good things happening among the young Christian communities, there were reasons these earliest Jesus followers would have felt defeated collectively.

They would have felt like they were losing the battle for the hearts and minds of God’s people, the Jews, who had a great hope that God would come and intervene on behalf of His people. God did, through Jesus. But the good news largely fell on deaf ears.

They were also losing the battle for the hearts and minds of non-Jews in the Roman world. For example, why didn’t Paul and the other apostles ever speak out directly against slavery in their letters? Well, what would be the point? Who would have listened?

Paul did tell the Christ followers that their relationships could and should be different, as we read, for example, in his letter to Philemon. The way of Jesus was working its way into all relationships, but mainly relationships within the community of Christians where there “is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).

However, among those calling the shots in society, the Christians were just a small insignificant sect. They were like an insect the authorities would try to squash time and again. Like us, they experienced victories, and crushing defeats. The winds of change were indeed blowing, but at times the battle would have seemed to be lost. We are not alone if we sometimes feel like we are fighting a losing battle and not on the winning team.

Yet John calls us conquerors. John, who would have seen the highs and lows, the ups and downs, the wins and the losses, has the audacity to call us conquerors. How so?

And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.

1 John 5:3-4 (NRSV)

Notice how that victory is described by John as “our faith.”

The one who conquers is not the one who figures out how to win every battle by their own efforts, but the one who trusts Jesus to win the war. And Jesus has won the war.

The one who claimed to be the Messiah, the rightful king, seemed to be dispatched easily by the craftiness of the Jewish authorities combined with the power of the occupying Roman authorities. The disciples would have felt the sting of defeat in that moment. But notice what Jesus said:

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John 12:23-24 (NRSV)

Sure they killed Jesus, but he rose from the dead. This was no defeat, but victory.

Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

1 Corinthians 15:24-26 (NRSV)

We are conquerors, not through our abilities, but through faith in the ability of Jesus to win the war against sin, evil, and death.

Faith kept the earliest Christians going when they seemed to be fighting a losing battle. Faith has kept Christians throughout the centuries going despite often losing battles. Faith keeps Christians around the world today going when they seem to be fighting a losing battle against persecution. Faith keeps us moving forward no matter what.

If we feel like we are fighting a losing a battle, perhaps we are. Not every battle will be won. But we have faith that Jesus has won the war.

There are battles ahead that will be lost. For some, that ends up not being the last drink, the last time watching pornography, or the last time losing one’s temper. Some, despite their belief in Jesus and the support of Christian friends, will lose the battle to stay alive. Battles are fought, and sadly, sometimes lost.

We see the struggle that prayer does not seem to touch. We see the disease that takes a life. Some battles will indeed be lost and we will feel defeated. The battle may indeed be lost, but the war is won. That makes us victors in Christ.

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. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (NRSV)

Keep the faith!


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor who appears here most Thursdays. You can read more devotions like this by clicking the header which appears just above his name. Video of the full sermon on which this devotional is based can be seen on its own, or as part of this online worship expression.

April 7, 2021

A Morning Like That

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Last year we introduced you to The Cove, a multi-site church in Mooresville, NC (Greater Charlotte) which posts weekday devotions on their website. This time around, the writer we’re featuring is Noelle McDermott. This was the Tuesday devotional in a series on the resurrection. Please support and encourage the writers we feature by reading these devotionals at the source site where we found them. Click the header which follows.

As the Sun Breaks Through

Today’s Scripture: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3, ESV

Theme: The Resurrection gives us hope for today and for eternity.

AS THE SUN BREAKS THROUGH…

Growing up in North Carolina, with its predominately sunny weather, I have come to strongly dislike the rain. When clouds roll over and begin to drizzle, I immediately miss the sun. I’ll complain about how sad I feel or how I can’t wait until the sun comes back. During a persistent period of rain, I was surprised—not because the sky finally cleared up—but because the sun was out, though it was still raining.

I stepped outside and marveled at two different types of weather colliding. I felt the warmth of the sun as the rain drizzled down and watched puddles of water slowly transforming into steam that the wind swept away. The sun eventually withdrew behind the clouds once more, but that brief moment of sunshine, even while standing in the rain, had lifted my spirits.

IN THE MIDST OF STORMS…

Mary Magdalene is initially introduced to us in Luke 8 in a list of women “who provided for [Jesus and the twelve disciples] out of their means” (Luke 8:2-3). The passage specifically notes that seven demons had been cast out of her. She also witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion (Mark 15:40) and visited His tomb on the day of His Resurrection (John 20:1). Although other Gospels mention two other women accompanying her and telling the disciples of the open tomb with her, Scripture does not mention their staying afterwards. Even Peter and John, who visited the empty tomb at the women’s urging, left almost immediately also. Mary Magdalene is the only one who remained at the tomb.

Overwhelmed by her grief, she wept. I cannot imagine what went through her head as she sat in the garden, nor the hopelessness she must have felt. Not only had her Savior died, but she could not even find Him and anoint His body. What would have been next for Mary? How else could she serve Him if she could not even find Him? As she wept, she encountered two angels and a Man she did not recognize, even after speaking to Him. But as soon as He simply said her name, Mary realized that Jesus was standing before her. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus resurrected and was entrusted to tell the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

SO DOES HOPE!

The Resurrection renewed hope within Mary Magdalene and it can renew hope within us. How often do we weep and search for answers as Mary did? Distracted with questions and doubt, we sometimes fail to realize that the Lord stands before us until the very moment He calls us by name. We succumb to hopelessness and discouragement because we forget the “living hope” granted to us thorough Jesus’ Resurrection. He has already overcome, and in light of that truth, we have the assurance of hope. This living hope gives us the strength to keep the faith and persevere in difficult seasons, for we are being prepared for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17) in this life and in eternity.

Make It Personal: As you reflect upon the Resurrection this week, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal where you have lost hope in the Lord’s promises. Where have you begun to doubt and despair? Let Him renew hope in you.

Pray: God, thank You that You sent Your Son and resurrected Him. Thank You for the confident hope given to us by Jesus’ Resurrection. Through each season, remind me of the hope I have in You through the Resurrection. Amen.

Weekly Memory Verse: “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 1:19-20, NLT

Read: John 20:1-18; Luke 8:2-3; Mark 15:40; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

February 25, 2021

Driven to Tears? Jesus Was Too

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Have you been driven to tears yet? Feeling discouraged? We may be driven to tears when we hear how many deaths are being reported around the world due to the pandemic. We think of those who have lost life in other ways, losing connectedness with others, losing work or schooling opportunities. Even where very few are infected, everyone is affected. Everyone has experienced change and loss. Grief is a normal way of dealing with loss and tears are a healthy part of that grief. Of course there are those who are driven to tears even without the pandemic. Life can be hard and when it is, we may be driven to tears.

We may be thinking, “God, you could have done something about all this, if you had been where the COVID-19 virus started, if you had been where the cancer cells started, if you had been where my loved one lost control . . . if you had been here.” We experience things that are life taking, that seem to diminish our lives or the lives of loved ones. We wonder where God was in those moments.

Martha and Mary must have been driven to tears. Jesus was their friend and the friend of their brother Lazarus as well. Jesus was well known for his miracles and healings. Yet now Lazarus is dead and buried:

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

John 11:21 (NRSV)

Word was sent by Martha and Mary to Jesus days before that their brother was ill. Jesus could have made it on time, but he didn’t.

When Mary came to where Jesus was, she saw him and fell down at his feet.
‘Master!’ she said. ‘If only you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!’
When Jesus saw her crying, and the Judaeans who had come with her crying, he was deeply stirred in his spirit, and very troubled.
’Where have you laid him?’ he asked.
‘Master,’ they said, ‘come and see.’
Jesus burst into tears.

John 11:32-25 (translation by N.T. Wright, as found in the “John For Everyone Commentary”)

Jesus was also driven to tears. Was this grief over Lazarus? Was he perhaps thinking that things could have been different if only he made it on time? When we read the whole story we know that this is not the case. Or, is it possible that Jesus could look back, seeing how things could have been different, if only . . .

  • Adam and Eve had chosen life, instead of choosing the one thing that would lead to death.
  • Cain had chosen life instead of choosing death for his brother Abel.
  • humanity had chosen life instead of violence toward one another in the days of Noah.
  • Pharaoh had chosen life instead of ordering Hebrew babies to be killed.
  • the Israelites in the desert had chosen life with GOD instead of longing to go back to slavery in Egypt.
  • the people had chosen life instead of choosing death in neglecting the law that God had given.
  • when God sent the prophets, the people had chosen life and listened to the prophets instead of choosing to remain in the ways that led to death.

The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 KJV). Is it possible that Jesus was driven to tears because he knew how often we chose death? Things could have been different, if only . . .

Is is possible that Jesus was driven to tears by the fact that even as he was planning on raising Lazarus to life, the religious leaders were potting to put Jesus himself to death. Things will be different.

Was Jesus driven to tears because he could look forward to our lives today? How things could be different, if only . . .

  • we would choose to love like God, love that brings life to people, instead of choosing hate that brings death, or apathy that fails to prevent it.
  • we would choose to develop in the fruit of the Spirit, including love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23), instead of choosing to cultivate the weeds of the evil one.
  • we would choose to engage in conversation instead of shutting it down.
  • we would choose a posture of learning, instead of always choosing the same echo chambers where our thinking is never challenged.
  • we would choose to recognize the impact we have on people, instead of ignoring the hurt we may cause.
  • we would choose to get help with an addiction.
  • we would choose to not gossip, but lift others up with our speech.
  • we would choose to do something about racism, poverty, homelessness, and many other issues that plague our world.

We sometimes lament how things might be different if God would show up. Things could be different, if we would show up.

Was Jesus driven to tears when, looking forward, he would see the many who would choose death over life by rejecting the Giver of life?

Jesus was driven to tears, yet Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life,” (John 11:25 NRSV). Mary and Martha could say “if you had been here, our brother would not have died.” Jesus could say “I am here now and because I am, Lazarus will live.”

Jesus told Lazarus to come out of the tomb, and he did. Jesus calls us to come out of our tombs, to choose life over death. Jesus calls us to leave our graves, to listen to him, to do those things that bring life instead of death to us, and others. Jesus calls us to choose life, to choose him. Jesus will someday call us from our tombs to share in everlasting life with him:

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.”

Revelation 21:3-4 (NRSV)

Until then we have a lot of opportunities to choose life. If we show up, and keep choosing life, things will be different.


Canadian Pastor Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays. The full video sermon on which this is based is also part of this online weekly worship expression.

February 19, 2021

Hope in Psalm 146

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In 2016 and 2017 we featured the writing of gardener and author Shelley Cramm who writes at Garden in Delight. She is the General Editor of the NIV God’s Word for Gardeners Bible. She lives in Texas — “the same latitude as Israel and the Bible lands” — and while you can read this devotional here, I encourage you to click the header which follows and read the full devotional (with pictures) and thereby send her some warm love at a time when Texas has been through a tough weather period.

Find Garden Hope in Psalm 146

Our journey to find garden hope begins in Psalm 146—in hopeless places. These Words lead us into life’s deepest sorrows, the painful, woeful conditions that rub raw the very knowing of who we are and what we hold onto. Let the Gardener-Lord meet us in somber, despairing depths with the resounding reality that personal traumas are precisely where God brings His blessing of hope.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The Lord reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord.

Psalm 146:5-10 NIV

Oppressed — those living and working in unjust situations, treated unfairly, given no dignity.

Hungry — desperate to eat, no money for food, no energy to sauté even dandelion greens, cut off from the bounty of the earth, deprivation creating constant, haunting tension.

Prisoner — confined rightfully or not, held on hard surfaces by hardened hearts, dull and dismal.

Blind — without privilege to the great joys in pleasing sights, colors, forms and dimensions, whether found in the environment or found in the heart, for spiritual blindness is the worst.

Fallen — stumbled, staggering, strength stolen, physically faltering; robbed of stamina, taken out of the fight.

Foreigner — surrounded in strangeness, missing clues and connection to culture, disoriented, isolated by the inside jokes of idiom.

Fatherless — missing validation, reassurance, direction, help and belonging to someone as their most precious gem.

Widow — a half with a hole, a stem without its roots, a gardener without a garden, suffering a severance tearing through the heart.

Find Garden Hope

Who can endure downtrodden existence with uplifted spirit? Those who hope in the Lord. How does one endure death and dead-end ways all around them without dying themselves? By the blessing of hope in the Lord.

Our faith in Jesus transfers God’s righteousness to us and he now declares us flawless in his eyes.[a] This means we can now enjoy true and lasting peace[b] with God, all because of what our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, has done for us. Our faith guarantees us permanent access into this marvelous kindness[c] that has given us a perfect relationship with God. What incredible joy bursts forth within us as we keep on celebrating our hope of experiencing God’s glory!
But that’s not all! Even in times of trouble we have a joyful confidence, knowing that our pressures will develop in us patient endurance. And patient endurance will refine our character, and proven character leads us back to hope. And this hope is not a disappointing fantasy,[d] because we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us![e]

Romans 5:1-5 TPT

With God, hope flourishes in suffering with perseverance and character, and a growing embrace of God’s love and marvelous kindness, poured out long ago and constantly.

Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
Psalm 25:5 NIV


Linger in these Hope-Full passages:
Psalm 146:1-10, Psalm 25:1-5, Isaiah 35:1-7 , Romans 5:1-5


NIV denotes Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. http://www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.®
TPT denotes Scripture quotations taken from The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017, 2018 by Passion & Fire Ministries, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ThePassionTranslation.com
Footnotes:
a.Romans 5:1 Or “having already been declared righteous.” What bliss! We are declared righteous in the eyes of the Holy God. This is the wonder of grace!
b.Romans 5:1 Or “Let us enjoy peace with God.” The Greek word for peace is eirene and can also mean “to join” (as in a dove-tail joint). We have entered into the union of our lives with God’s peace and enjoy lasting friendship with God. The Hebrew word is shalom, which means abundant peace and well-being.
c.Romans 5:2 Or “grace.”
d.Romans 5:5 Or “This hope does not put one to shame.”
e.Romans 5:5 Or “was given to us.”

February 17, 2021

Hope That Can Never Perish, Spoil, or Fade

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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One year ago we introduced you to Chris Miller at the blog Get Encouraged. Reconnecting today, I read three of his devotionals. Click the header which follows to read this recent one at source. This is a theme so many are searching for in these days.

A Living Hope

Their lives were hard. Day after day, they endured harsh labor as they made bricks. Their bosses overlooking every step, and their quota seeming unrealistic and never ending. They cried out for relief and hoped that one day it would come. Their hope fueled by a forefather, who by faith, requested his remains be carried with them to the promised land. Generation after generation heard this request and cherished the idea it would come true someday. Hope continued through the generations.

Hope, in many ways, is fuel for our soul. It is what drives us forward. Hope of something better coming pushes us through the rough and challenging times. When our bank account is empty or we’re being slaughtered in the gossip circles, it is our hope which propels us forward.

For the nation of Israel, their hope was in Joseph’s request to carry his remains with them as they left Egypt for the promised land. Hebrews 11:22 says it was Joseph’s faith which gave him this hope.

  • 22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.

Because of his faith, Joseph knew the Lord would bring Israel out of Egypt. He understood he would not see Israel’s deliverance, but he knew it would come when the time was right. So, Joseph gave instructions for his burial. It was Joseph’s instructions which gave the Israelites hope for generations. Basically, they were placing their hope in a dead man’s faithful instructions.

We, as Christ followers, have something better. Our hope is not in a forefather’s faith, but in a living Savior. 1 Peter 1:3-9 encourages:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Max Lucado writes:

Others offer life, but no one offers to do what Jesus does—to reconnect us to his power. But how can we know? How do we know that Jesus knows what he’s talking about? The ultimate answer, according to his flagship followers, is the vacated tomb. Did you note the words you just read? “A living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” In the final sum, it was the disrupted grave that convinced the maiden Christians to cast their lots with Christ. “He appeared to Cephas [Peter], and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time” (1Co 15:5–6).

Can Jesus actually replace death with life? He did a convincing job with his own. We can trust him because he has been there.

He’s been to Bethlehem, wearing barn rags and hearing sheep crunch. Suckling milk and shivering against the cold. All of divinity content to cocoon itself in an eight-pound body and to sleep on a cow’s supper. Millions who face the chill of empty pockets or the fears of sudden change turn to Christ. Why?

Because he’s been there.

He’s been to Nazareth, where he made deadlines and paid bills. To Galilee, where he recruited direct reports and separated fighters. To Jerusalem, where he stared down critics and stood up against cynics.

We have our Nazareths as well—demands and due dates.

Jesus wasn’t the last to build a team; accusers didn’t disappear with Jerusalem’s temple. Why seek Jesus’ help with your challenges? Because he’s been there. To Nazareth, to Galilee, to Jerusalem.

But most of all, he’s been to the grave. Not as a visitor, but as a corpse. Buried amidst the cadavers. Numbered among the dead.

Heart silent and lungs vacant. Body wrapped and grave sealed.

The cemetery. He’s been buried there.

You haven’t yet. But you will be. And since you will, don’t you need someone who knows the way out?


■ From the same author: Guiding Through Adversity.

January 3, 2021

Pray for the Betterment of the Place You Live

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:7

I had been looking for this verse in a book I’d just finished reading, but as I flipped back and forth I couldn’t find the reference. I actually wanted to include it today, and then, as I looked for a devotional it was contained in the very first source I checked out!

What do we mean by welfare? Synonyms might include well-being, security, safety, comfort, protection, fortune, robustness, and one site suggested abundance.

I wanted to go one further, and titled this using a word similar to improvement, the word betterment.

I found an excellent article by Doug Scalise at the website of Brewster Baptist Church. It was lengthy and included a number illustrations that we don’t normally have room for, so I’ve included just about a third of it. However, if you prefer, there’s also a half hour sermon version of today’s blog post available at the link in the header which follows. Either way, it flows better if you click the link!

Jeremiah – Seeking the Welfare of the Place You Live

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be a person in the Bible? What would it have been like to be someone like Hagar, Samuel, Isaiah, John, Mary, Elizabeth, or Paul? It might be an amazing experience, but I know I wouldn’t want to have been Jeremiah. He had a tough life

The Prophet Jeremiah was born 645 years before Christ and he began to be involved in public life at the age of twenty-two. His ministry and teaching reflect the influence of the prophets Hosea, Isaiah, and Amos. Forbidden by God to marry or have children; his truth-telling made him enemies and he had only a few loyal friends. He spent more than a decade of his life in prison, and died in exile in Egypt at the age of sixty…

…The book of Jeremiah came into existence during a tumultuous time. The little kingdom of Judah had the misfortune to be caught between two much stronger powers: Egypt to the south and Babylon to the east. In Jerusalem it was a tense time of political maneuvering with one faction being pro-Egypt and the other pro-Babylon. Jeremiah was in the Babylon camp. Judah’s kings and not surprisingly most of the prophets and priests leaned in the other direction. Jeremiah’s outspoken endorsement of the Babylonians as the instrument of God’s discipline led to charges of treason and that he was unpatriotic. Most of the prophets and priests associated with the temple opposed to Jeremiah. They said he was wrong that Judah wouldn’t be destroyed…

…Jeremiah chapter 29 begins with a letter from Jeremiah – stop for a moment and think about how amazing that is – we have a letter that is over 2,500 years old and we not only know who wrote it we know who delivered it! Here is the first part of it: Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles in Babylon Jeremiah 29:1-7

“29 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar (neʹbuh-kuhd-nezʹuhr) had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 This was after King Jeconiah (jekʹoh-nīʹuh), and the queen mother, the court officials, the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the artisans, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem. 3 The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah son of Shaphan (shayʹfan) and Gemariah ((gem-uh-rīʹuh) son of Hilkiah, whom King Zedekiah of Judah sent to Babylon to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. It said: 4 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

The word translated as “welfare” is the Hebrew word “shalom” which means peace, wholeness, and well-being. It might sound a little strange to hear God saying to people in exile, to people who are in a new place in life where they didn’t choose to go, where they don’t wish to be, “Make the best of where you are in life.”

Have you ever had to move to a new community, state, or country? If it’s our choice we probably feel very differently about relocating than if we’re taken and compelled to leave our home and forced to settle in a new place. Jeremiah’s letter goes on to tell the exiles that this is not a short term situation; they’re going to be there for 70 years.

So the Lord is telling the people, “Find meaning in your situation even in suffering; continue to choose life. Rather than growing bitter, resentful or cynical; seek the shalom – the success and prosperity of the place where you live.” Not only does God tell the exiles to make the best of a bad situation and to go on living, he even tells them to “pray to the LORD on its behalf.” I can imagine some of the exiles listening to Jeremiah’s letter and saying to themselves, “Is he serious? Pray to the Lord on behalf of the capital city of our enemy? Is he joking?” No he wasn’t. God’s people still struggle with biblical teaching like this even though it’s stated in a similar way by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount when he tells us to pray for our enemies and by Paul in Romans 12…

…I think this is true whether we’re in a new land or where we’ve lived all our life; whether we chose to move or had no say in being relocated; whether we moved because we had the freedom and ability to retire or because we had to flee for our life from danger; I believe the Lord wants us to seek the shalom of where God has led us and to pray on behalf of our community. In the world in which we live all these years after Jeremiah there are still those who are violent and selfish and those who are caring and seek to live in a way that serves and blesses others.

…As Christians…we’re called by God to pray and work for the welfare of the place where we live, wherever we are, even if it’s a place we’d never have chosen to be. Working and praying for the welfare of where God has placed us enables us to bear witness to the love and faithfulness of the Lord in our communities. “Promote the general welfare” is such an important a concept that the Committee on Style who wrote the preamble of the US Constitution included it in the introduction to that important document.

That is what Jeremiah is encouraging the exiles to do – promote the general welfare. Jeremiah tried to help the exiles to change their attitude in the midst of what was a terrible ordeal. He sought to direct their focus to shalom and prayer; to life, gratitude, and hope – things we should hold onto with all the strength and tenacity we can muster. Gratitude is how faith responds in remembering God’s faithfulness in the past; hope is how faith responds in trusting God’s faithfulness in the future

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