Christianity 201

September 17, 2022

Anger: It’s What You Do With It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Two years ago we introduced you to last year, Wattsup with Kids (tag line: Kids, Coffee and Christ Every Day) written by Tracy Watts. Looking at her writing again, it’s clear she holds scripture in high regard, and while this topic may not land perfectly with your situation today, make note of the value placed on God’s word to establish each of the teaching points. Click the title below to read this recent article at her site.

Anger

Mr. Rogers poses an excellent question in his song “What do you do with the mad that you feel?”

This was of course, a question aimed at children, but I think it is something adults struggle with too. Perhaps we explode verbally or physically. Perhaps we take it out on those around, snapping short temperedly. Perhaps, we hold tightly to it and it festers inside our hearts, turning to bitterness and resentment.

None of these are good options. What then, can we learn from God’s word about anger?

Anger itself is not wrong

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger ~ Ephesians 4:26

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. ~ Mark 3:1-6

Even Jesus got angry (though it is helpful to note the things that make Jesus angry – and perhaps the less eternally important things that irk us!)

Either we control our anger or our anger controls us

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. ~ Proverbs 29:11

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. ~ Proverbs 16:32

Man’s anger does not produce good things

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. ~ Psalm 37:8

For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. ~ James 1:20

So… as Mr. Rogers so poignantly asks, what do we do with the mad that we feel?

We can place it in God’s hands

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” ~ Romans 12:19

We can pause before speaking in anger

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah ~ Psalm 4:4

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. ~ Proverbs 15:1

We can replace the anger with something good

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. ~ Galatians 5:19-21

We can exercise self control

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. ~ Proverbs 29:11

It’s comforting to me that the wise man does feel strongly, he does have a passionate spirit and does feel emotions. He just does not allow “full vent” to them. He does not explode in verbal vomit. He does not erupt with his emotions and spatter them across the unfortunate people nearby.

Instead, he “quietly holds it back.” What does that look like? A person who has learned the beautiful art of self-control. It’s not that he somehow magically got rid of ever feeling anger or frustration. It’s that he has learned to respond instead of merely reacting. He grapples inwardly to not explode outwardly.

Of course, this is a process, a learning of how to channel our anger (and our other emotions) and ultimately to be more like Him.

And indeed, we can agree with Solomon’s wisdom:

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. ~ Proverbs 16:32

May we each learn to control our spirits better, with the help of Him who made us.


Second Helping

Two other recent articles from Tracy:

June 8, 2022

As Sure as Tribulation Arrives, Restoration Will Come

George Whitten is the editor of Worthy Devotions which is part of a multi-media ministry to which we paying a return visit today. Click the title to read this where it first appeared, and then take a few minutes to browse the site.

Seek Him now, and Don’t Forget about the Restoration!

Deut 4:30-31 When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice;(For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.

We’re hearing a lot of talk lately, on the internet and elsewhere, about the “End of Days”. The Hebrew phrase, “acharit hayamim”, often translated, “latter days” refers to the “end of days, or “last days”, mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments, and refers to a critical period late in human history which is characterized by a great “pandemic” crisis and an ensuing panoramic recovery.

First used in Deuteronomy 4:30, quoted above, “acharit hayamim” entails a prophecy of “tribulation” which eventuates in God’s people turning back to seek Him with all their hearts, bringing about their restoration.

This theme of “tribulation” and “restoration” may be the most significant in all of scripture. The above passage, written to the people of Israel, prophetically encompasses their entire history and eventual recovery, salvation, and Kingdom restoration.

At the present moment, we may well be focused on the “tribulation” part of “acharit hayamim”. Yeshua (Jesus) prophesied specifically that famines, pestilences, and earthquakes would precede His coming, and were but the “beginnings of sorrows” [Matthew 24].

At this very moment many of us may be trembling at these developments and the “doom and gloom” which they portend…yet might we miss the significant fact that both testaments predicted exactly what we are seeing? The sovereignty, omniscience, and revelation of the Creator have been downloaded to humanity through the Scriptures, clearly pointing to His existence and redemptive purpose.

There lies our opportunity and blessing. Yeshua, who knows all things from the beginning to the end, revealed all the relevant details of the “acharit hayamim” (Last Days). Why?… so that we might quake in terror as they begin to transpire? But He says, “…likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.” [Matthew 24:33]…the promise of His return!

And, that is where our focus must remain. Our God will restore all things, both for Israel and for us according to the covenants He has made….when He returns! Restoration is the unequivocal promise of Heaven. The “tribulation”, “beginning of sorrows”, famine, pestilence, earthquakes, WHATEVER!…. All these are signs, portents, and even promises, that our God is real, true, and utterly faithful, and we must declare, encourage, and stand in the knowledge of Him. The troubles themselves are a powerful testimony of the Messiah’s identity, His redemption, and His promises. So, if the days are evil, make the most of the time! These are days of tremendous opportunity. Remember His promise of restoration!

May 19, 2022

Truth-Telling in a World of Lies

Today we’re back for a second time with Rev. Taylor Mertins  who blogs at Think and Let Think, has co-authored three books, and hosts the Strangely Warmed Podcast and the Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast. Clicking the header which follows will take you to today’s devotional where it first appeared.

A Dangerous Adventure

John 14.27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

“Christians are people who tell the truth. And, if we cannot tell the truth, then at least we should not lie.” I have those sentences scratched in a notebook that I carried with me during seminary. And, if my notes are correct, I heard those words from a professor named Stanley Hauerwas during a hallway conversation after morning prayer.

His conviction about our truthfulness is nothing new. Martin Luther famously said that a theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil whereas a theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is.

Translation: tell the truth.

But telling the truth is no easy endeavor, particularly because we live in a world that runs on lies. Every ad we consume presents a false vision of reality so long as we purchase a particular product. The nightly news is designed to terrify us so that we will keep watching until we know what side we are supposed to be on for every subject. And even in our domestic dramas we often lie because we are trying to be good: we don’t want to tell our spouses how we really feel, we don’t want to upset the applecart at a family get together, we’d rather brush something under the rug than bring it to the surface.

All the while, as Christians, we worship the one who not only tells the truth, but is, himself, truth incarnate.

When Pontius Pilate was told that Jesus was the one who had come into the world to testify to the truth, he asked, “What is truth?” Jesus gave no response because Pilate was literally looking at the answer to his question. Therefore, should we truly desire to be a community of the truth and by the truth then we need not look further than Jesus Christ and him crucified.

The “and him crucified” is crucial. For, truth-telling is a dangerous adventure. But without an example of a truth telling community, the world has no alternative but to continue to run by lies.

Jesus leaves peace with his disciples and the peace Jesus leaves runs counter to the peace of the world. The peace of the world is achieved, kept, and maintained by violence. Whereas the peace of Jesus comes through vulnerability, sacrifice, and even suffering.

Part of the hard truth that the church has to speak into the world today is this: we have a problem with violence.

Mass shootings have become so commonplace that it’s hard to keep track of what happened and where. And yet we, as Christians, can advocate for a new peace, a peace given to us by Jesus, a peace that means we have to fundamentally reshape how we understand what it means to be in the world. Or, we can simply avoid going to churches, malls, supermarkets, concerts, cinemas, parks, pre-schools, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, college campuses, mass transportation, and any other place where a mass shooting has taken place.

We’ve become so accustomed to the war torn images of Ukraine (and war in general) that it leaves us feeling apathetic. And yet we, as Christians, can advocate for a new peace, a peace given to us by Jesus, a peace that means we have to fundamentally reshape how we understand what it means to be in the world. Or, we can let things continue on their merry way while more and more people are displaced, separated, and killed.

Speaking truth to power is no easy thing. But until we’re willing to call a thing what it is, we are doomed to call evil good and good evil. Or, put simply, the beginning of a faithful imagination comes with telling the truth.


Flashback link: From 2014, scripture verses which reference truth.

May 16, 2022

The Business (and Ministry) of Making Connections

Some of you know that I’m involved with a Christian bookstore. (Yes, there’s still a couple left!) The thoughts below are something I shared with our customers on the weekend…


Part of our mission at Searchlight is to get people connected to local congregations. So it would be easy for me to sit here and type something like, “Okay, people; it’s been more than two years, it’s time to get plugged in once more to a local church.”

Instead, I want to come at this from the other direction. I want to celebrate the people who, against odds we’re all familiar with, have remained faithful to church attendance (in-person as much as possible) for the last 24+ months. Faithfulness is not just an admirable quality, it’s listed as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Your dedication and perseverance is seen and will, one hopes, inspire others.

We can be faithful because God is faithful toward us. Proverbs 3:3-4 (NLT) reads,

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.

I am so grateful for the example of people who have “stuck it out” during the ministry season of 2020 and 2021 (and now this year as well.) For these people “pulling back” from Christian service was simply not an option.

Another mission of our store is to connect people and resources, so it’s especially painful when those resources simply don’t exist in our community. Wednesday morning a young man came in the store who is without an address to call home. Yes, there are shelters but unless you’ve actually spent a night in a shelter, it’s only an academic exercise to talk about them.

Then on Thursday morning, the devotional reading that lands first-thing on my phone was from James 2:15-16.

“Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” (NLT)

We do have people in our community who lack clothing — a national event called “The Big Give” is coming up in a few weeks, and clothing will be handed out — and people with food insecurity, but the Bible doesn’t speak as much to the equivalent challenge of our day, homelessness. Perhaps when the scriptures were written it was the warmer climate, or that family units cared more for their own. But for us today in North America, it’s the affordable housing crisis.

And yet, after talking to him about possibilities, I did the VERY SAME THING that the verse tells us not to do, and, as is my habit when people are walking out the door, I said, “Bless you; have a good day.” Talk about Brain Cramp Encounters of the Worst Kind.

I felt so empty, not being able to give him the one thing he needs more than anything right now. I just don’t have the contacts, and we have other acquaintances who are literally living in a tent on the north shore of Lake Ontario. That’s their home. And was all winter.

It just hurt to not be able to reach into my pocket and pull out a business card and say, “Call these people, they’ll set you up.” I could more easily pull a rabbit out of a hat these days.

I was reminded of a poem which was making the rounds at least two decades ago that is a riff on a Bible passage that is known well by readers here. I’m not sure if anyone knows who wrote this:

I was hungry …
And you formed humanities groups to discuss my hunger.

I was imprisoned …
And you crept off quietly to your church and prayed for my release.

I was naked …
And in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick …
And you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless …
And you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.

I was lonely …
And you left me alone to pray for me.

You seem so holy, so close to God …
But I am still hungry … and lonely … and cold …

The challenges for people without a fixed address can seem endless. But there are people doing what they can to help, day in and day out, because of the thing we started out mentioning: Faithfulness. One way to find out exactly where your help is most needed and appreciated might come through a local church connection.

Which brings us full circle. The capital “C” Church is making a difference in the world, but there’s so much work spread out ahead of us. You can be a part in making a difference.

April 24, 2022

Waiting on God; Hoping on God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I had bookmarked the site Welcome to the Brightside in my computer, and when I returned today, the about page and contact page had been scrubbed clean, so I couldn’t see who the writer was beyond a single name, Katie. But I decided to be true to my original impulse when I bookmarked the site, and run this devotional from June ’21 anyway.

The devotional is short, but links to another at First 15 by Grace Fox, some of which we’ve included. If you’re looking for more today, consider that a second helping.

Clicking the title gets you to read this where we sourced it.

What is the World Coming To?

In a time where it feels as if everything is crumbling around us and making us question everything, one thing I know for sure remains true: Jesus.

The Holy Spirit. God. The Universe. All that is Holy. It’s true. I rest in this space. It tests my limits – making me feel uncomfortable at times – but the discomfort is one of my own. It is a lesson being offered to me on a silver platter. I choose to work on these and iron them out in my sacred time.

This morning I read on the First 5 App a beautifully written article on Hebrews 6:13-20.

Hebrews 6:19 (ESV) “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain…” 

An anchor’s purpose is to hold a boat in place. Set in mud, sand or silt, it prevents the vessel from drifting. Just as mariners need a physical anchor properly set in the right foundation to secure their ships, so all humans need a spiritual anchor properly set to secure their souls.

The author of Hebrews reminds us of Abraham’s faith in God. God’s promises provided a spiritual anchor for Abraham. (Hebrews 6:13-14) This anchor gave him the courage to obey when God told him to leave his country and follow Him to an undisclosed land where He would make Abraham a great nation and a blessing. (Genesis 12:1-3) It gave him the power to trust God for a son even though the thought seemed ludicrous. After all, he was an old man. His wife was beyond childbearing years and barren. (Genesis 17:1;  Genesis 18:11;  Genesis 21:1-7) Abraham’s faith also gave him the patience to wait nearly 25 years to see the promise of a son fulfilled. (Hebrews 6:15)

Abraham’s hope was securely grounded in God’s inability to lie and in the covenant He made with him. (Hebrews 6:13-18;  Numbers 23:19;  Genesis 15:9-20) Traditionally, someone who swears by an oath calls on a person with greater authority to hold him to his word, but God swore by His own name because He is the ultimate authority on Earth and in heaven. (Exodus 32:13;  Isaiah 45:23) There is no name higher than His. (Psalm 138:2) The oath is like an extra layer of reliability that He will do what He says He will do.

Abraham’s faith kept him from drifting into despair through years of waiting for the impossible to happen. Most importantly, it made him right with God. (Romans 4:1-5) We, too, are made right with God when we take refuge in Him through faith in Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 6:18;  John 3:16;  1 John 1:9)…

[…to read the full devotional, including the above cited passage with links to the scripture verses, click this link…]

The biggest takeaway for me this morning: Jesus is the hope that anchors our souls.

Jesus is the anchor when our souls have lost hope.

So I flip open my Bible to connect deeper and I stumble upon this page in Matthew 26:55.

NLT.Heb.26.55 Then Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there teaching every day.

It could do us all a lot of good to reflect. Think about it – if God waited 700 years before bringing Jesus to us – why do we constantly think we need to slay the enemy right now? Instead of focusing on defending what we believe to be ours… focus small. Otherwise we fall victim into the enemy’s plan.

Stay focused.


January 29, 2022

Needing Jesus in a World-Altering Crisis

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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I love that here at C201 we get to introduce and recommend new authors. Stephanie Nicole is a mom, worship leader, Christian radio host, and blogger at With Stephanie Nicole. As always, you’re encourage to not read these here, but click the header which follows and read the devotional where we discovered it.

If Ever

This morning as I was thinking about the current state of the world, the words of an old hymn popped into my mind: If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

My generation is living through its first lengthy world-altering crisis. Two years of fear, distance and polarization with no definite end in sight can feel overwhelming. Some say “this too shall pass”, but from our current vantage point it feels like putting the pieces back together will take a lifetime. We are the generation that believed that if we just worked hard enough and did all the right things, we could control the outcome of our lives. And now we are living the endless reality that things beyond our control can upend our plans in the blink of an eye, not just personally, but collectively, thanks to an historic global event.

Fear is sneaky. It whispers in our ears in the dark of the night and screams headlines from our news feeds. It warns us of our limitations and finite knowledge, wrapping its frigid fingers around our hearts, squeezing the hope right out of us. We are acutely aware that we can’t protect our kids from everything. We watch our loved ones face great difficulty and weather our own unexpected situations, fully grasping that life is a vapor.

Psalm 13 has always been a great source of comfort for me in dark times:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
    Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
    and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

David is clearly in a state here. We have a deeply personal prayer filled with desperate language. And then, somehow, in the midst of all the talk of being forgotten by God, wrestling with thoughts, waking day after day with sorrow permeating each part, feeling defeated and overcome by enemies, the psalm ends like this:

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

A sharpening of focus reveals where our hope can truly be found. The grief of loss is a slow burn that may not ever be extinguished this side of heaven, but we can learn to say “I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” because of Jesus. He is that beautiful gift of hope for a world reeling in panic and confusion. He is unfailing love. He is our salvation. Romans 5:1-8 is a solid reminder of the truth that God has not left us alone to wander through this life with dread in our hearts.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Amen and Amen! Friends, we have nothing to fear. Let us learn to sing the Lord’s praise in the face of uncertainty, for He has been good to us!

My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine;
for thee all the follies of sin I resign;
my gracious Redeemer, my Savior art thou;
if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I love thee because thou hast first loved me
and purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
I love thee for wearing the thorns on thy brow;
if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I’ll love thee in life, I will love thee in death,
and praise thee as long as thou lendest me breath,
and say when the deathdew lies cold on my brow:
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow:
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.


Canadian William Featherston penned the words to “My Jesus I Love Thee” somewhere between the ages of 12 and 16. He died at the age of 26.

 

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.

 

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