Christianity 201

December 3, 2015

When Current Events Crowd Our Thoughts

I’ve pre-empted the devotional that was scheduled here today in order to share something that Gene Appel posted on Facebook earlier today.

San Bernadino mass killing

Like many of you, I woke up this morning grieving. While radios and iTunes are playing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” it sure doesn’t feel that way. Especially for those grieving from the San Bernadino tragedy and so many others. Some of you, like my sister Gail, have buried your spouse this year or someone you couldn’t have imagined living without. Many of us are burdened by the increase of violence and terrorism in our world. I was reminded as I was reading from Matthew 2 this morning that while the first Christmas on the one hand was a time of great joy and Jesus came to bring peace to all, on the other hand it was also a time of great weeping, and violence, and terror, and grief. Matthew 2:16 says,

“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under….”

First Christmas - Gene AppelJust imagine you’re a parent in Bethlehem with a baby boy, or maybe even a couple of boys under the age of 2. Imagine the terror you feel as Herod’s soldiers are going from house to house, tearing babies out of the arms of mothers screaming in anguish. Imagine watching these little ones being pierced with swords until they are all dead. You see, even the first Christmas was not only a time of great joy, but it was also a time of great weeping and mourning and pain…..and there were parents and families whose lives were forever shattered.

So what’s our appropriate response today? How does a follower of Jesus process these tragedies? Eccl. 3:4 says,

“There is a time to laugh and there is a time to cry.”

And I can picture Jesus saying to each of us right now, “Hey, this is crying time.” This is a time to give permission to grieving people to let it rip and express the pain without burying anything, or editing anything, or sanitizing a single emotion or feeling. Let it out in it’s raw uncensored form. The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV),

“You do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

And the implication is…but certainly go ahead and grieve! Don’t grieve like those who think God is dead and heaven isn’t real and Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and He’s not in heaven preparing a place that defies the imagination….but grieve. Weeping is the language of the soul and it’s a critical part of healing.

This morning I’ve been thinking about these words from Lamentations 3:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.”

Today, I’m choosing to trust the faithful God who promises the love and mercies I need for this new morning and day. He’s there for all of us if we will just take His hand and trust Him. Great is his faithfulness!


Gene Appel, is the senior pastor of Eastside Christian Church, a multi-site church in Anaheim, CA and Park Rapids, MN.  Follow him on Twitter @GeneAppel

July 13, 2013

Longing for Restoration

Today’s post is from author and Cross Point pastor Pete Wilson who posted this at his blog under the title Inconsolable Emptiness.

Pete Wilson on Cross Point LiveThis morning I read the following passage in the Voice translation:

Romans 8:19-22 “For all of creation is waiting, yearning for the time when the children of God will be revealed. You see, all of creation has collapsed into emptiness, not by its own choosing, but by God’s. Still He placed within it a deep and abiding hope that creation would one day be liberated from its slavery to corruption and experience the glorious freedom of the children of God. For we know that all creation groans in unison with birthing pains up until now.”

There is a temptation we all face and it’s to being to think that this current life is it. When we fall into that temptation we begin trying to have all our desires for purpose and satisfaction and significance met in a sin stained world we were never really created for. And ultimately this leaves us flat empty.

I think we’ve done a lot of disservice in our churches by telling people there are seven easy steps to a completely satisfying life and not warned them of what I call the “inconsolable emptiness”.

CS Lewis said it this way, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

So true! I was made for another world. Even my relationship with God here on this earth is not what it’s intended to be. No matter how hard I try there is no relationship with God in this present world that will ever be as rich, fulfilling, or freeing as it will be in heaven.

We all know something is wrong. Even creation itself longs to be restored.

I think we often miss this. We think what we want is a bigger title, better looks, more popularity, larger sums of money, or the perfect spouse. However, what we really want is the person we were made for: Jesus, and the place we were made for: heaven.

Today I’m so incredibly thankful for the future inheritance I have in Christ. Life is great…but I was made for eternity with Him.

~Pete Wilson

Today we’re celebrating Post #1200 at Christianity 201. Thank you for your support. Let us know how this collection of devotionals and Bible study topics has helped or encouraged you.

For our 1,200th post let us know in the comment section your response to particular types of blog posts here; which of the following do you like or dislike:

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November 7, 2012

Israel and Aquaphobia

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. (Rev. 21:1 emphasis added)

Other than the Beach Boys, probably the Vineyard churches have had more musical output on the subject of water. But quenched thirst, rains, showers, oceans and rivers have figured into the lyrics of both classic hymns and modern choruses, and the reference is usually positive.

Not so for the nation of Israel in scripture. They were not a water skiing bunch, and so we often see water cast in a negative sense.

I’m currently reading With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, by Skye Jethani (Thomas Nelson, 2011) and he makes the following observations:

…The sea is a source of endless recreation, whether on the beach playing in the sand; on the water’s surface boating, fishing and surfing; or beneath the waves exploring the alien underwater worlds.

But for all the sea’s joys and beauty, it is also an unrivaled source of destruction…

…The massive power and unpredictability of the sea is why ancient peoples saw it as a symbol of evil. The inhabitants of Israel, who were not a seafaring people, viewed the ocean as a realm of chaos, destruction and darkness… [T]o them the sea was a dark abyss to be feared…

…The opening scene of the Bible captures this contrast. In the beginning the earth is described as “without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” It is an ominous and disorganized world. But then we read, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” The God of creation brought order out of the primordial chaos… …God declared the newly organized world “good.”

…Sadly, the onward progress of order and beauty was severely interrupted when the man and woman broke unity with God. Choosing to rule without him, they plunged the world back into chaos…

…But God has not abandoned his world to chaos. The Biblical narrative has more to say about the sea and God’s power over it. The story of the flood found in Genesis 6 … tells of the world being destroyed by water. But the Lord preserved for himself a remnant through the deluge…

…Moses was put into a basket and survived the waters — a retelling of the Noah story on a micro scale. Years later God rescued his people from the oppression of Pharaoh through Moses. With the sea on one side and Egypt’s army amassed on the other, the Lord separated the waters and led his people to freedom on dry land. Then, as in the story of Noah, the waters washed away those committed to evil…

Taking these stories and others, we see that the Old Testament acknowledges the unpredictable and chaotic nature of our world as captured in the imagery of the sea and flood, but it also speaks of God’s power to preserve us through it. These stories affirm that although the cosmos appears to be random, in fact it remains subject to God’s purposes.

Psalm 77: 16 When the waters saw you, O God,
    when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
    indeed, the deep trembled.

Psalm 93:3 The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
    the floods have lifted up their voice;
    the floods lift up their roaring.
Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
    mightier than the waves of the sea,
    the Lord on high is mighty!

…When King David’s enemies overwhelmed him, he compared the situation to drowning… He cried for the Lord to rescue him.

Psalm 69: 1Save me, O God!
    For the waters have come up to my neck.

I sink in deep mire,
    where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
    and the flood sweeps over me.

14 Deliver me
    from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
    and from the deep waters.
15 Let not the flood sweep over me,
    or the deep swallow me up,
    or the pit close its mouth over me.

…The imagery of God’s presence with his people in the raging sea may be metaphorical in the poetry of the Psalms and Isaiah, but it becomes vividly literal in the New Testament.  Traveling across the Sea of Galilee, Jesus’ disciples awakened him when a fierce storm came on their tiny fishing boat. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” they shouted.

Jesus spoke to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” and immediately everything became calm…

They did not fully understand who was with them in the boat. In time they would come to see that he was the one who separated the sea from the land, who preserved Noah through the flood, Moses in the Nile, and led the Hebrews through the sea on dry land. He is the one before whom the waters tremble. And if he is in our boat, we need not be afraid. We will surely arrive at our destination because the forces of evil cannot overwhelm him. With God there is hope even in a world that appears to be drowning in chaos.

The Biblical narrative ends with John’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth. We are told in Revelation 21 that in the renewed creation, “the sea was no more.” This observation must be read within the larger biblical context. From the opening scene in the Bible onward, the sea has been synonymous with evil and chaos. The total absence of the sea in John’s vision simply means evil will have no place in the new creation. Beauty and order and abundance will fill the world, just as God intended from the beginning.

~Skye Jethani

November 5, 2012

Peace… Be Still

If I’m really honest — and I’m going to be today —  I would have to admit that I approached last Monday night’s storm with a great deal of apprehension. Part of it was due to the media buildup and part of it was due to general anxieties being brought on by a variety of circumstances.

As it turned out, the media’s anticipation of the storm was not hype, and people in New York City who failed to heed the warnings to evacuate ended up needing rescue.  If September 11th, 2001 represented the day that war came to America, then October 29th, 2012 was the day catastrophe came to New York City.

Stephen and Brooksyne Weber have had storm-themed devotions at Daily Encouragement all last week, though it’s interesting that the Friday before (26th) they chose this verse:

 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

The day after (30th) they chose this passage,

“And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’” (Mark 4:37,38).

The passage continues,

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

We sleep at night with a fan on in the room (for the white noise background), but even with that the winds were howling. I’m sure that we’ve had worse winds in several Canadian winters, but this time around I entertained the possibility of the top half of the house blowing away.

So I laid there and in my heart prayed “Peace, be still.” My lips didn’t move and my vocal cords didn’t engage, but inside, the prayer was a scream. I wasn’t expecting the storm to stop so much as I was praying for a stillness of the winds of anxiety and the rains of adversity.

I was praying for a stillness, a calm to inhabit my heart and mind.

And while that was going on, I thought of a song that’s based on the same passage in Mark, Master the Tempest is Raging. There are a few versions of it online, but nothing that matches the passion and intensity that I remember when, in my teen years, I heard it performed by the 120-voice choir at my home church in Toronto.

These are the lyrics, though I had no memory of the 2nd or 3rd verses until I looked them up today:

Master, the tempest is raging!
The billows are tossing high!
The sky is o’ershadowed with blackness,
No shelter or help is nigh;
Carest Thou not that we perish?
How canst Thou lie asleep,
When each moment so madly is threat’ning
A grave in the angry deep?

The winds and the waves shall obey Thy will,
Peace, be still!
Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea,
Or demons or men, or whatever it be,
No waters can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean, and earth, and skies;
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will,
Peace, be still! Peace, be still!
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will,
Peace, peace, be still!

Master, with anguish of spirit
I bow in my grief today;
The depths of my sad heart are troubled—
Oh, waken and save, I pray!
Torrents of sin and of anguish
Sweep o’er my sinking soul;
And I perish! I perish! dear Master—
Oh, hasten, and take control.

Master, the terror is over,
The elements sweetly rest;
Earth’s sun in the calm lake is mirrored,
And heaven’s within my breast;
Linger, O blessed Redeemer!
Leave me alone no more;
And with joy I shall make the blest harbor,
And rest on the blissful shore.

I think it is significant that in 1874, the writer, Mary A. Baker, chose to take the direction in the second verse that most likely applies to us today, and most certainly applies to me. The winds of fear and the rains of troubles and trials really never stop, but “no water can swallow the ship.”

As I did Monday night, and several times in the days since, reach out your hand toward your circumstances and whisper, ‘Peace … be still.’

~Paul Wilkinson


A more contemporary song that came to me this week was posted here previously, check out Psalm 91 by SonicFlood.

Hurricane Sandy devastated Cuba, Haiti, The Dominican Republic; but all we tend to hear about is New York City. Here’s an examination of the inequities of media reporting.

August 13, 2012

Funeral Worship: Worship When Singing is Impossible

It’s been awhile since we had a worship song here, and the post for tomorrow featuring a Paul Baloche song was written before this one.  But while looking at Paul’s website, I found this article. Since many C201 readers are in ministry themselves, or offer ministry at times of need, I thought this might connect with some of you.

Worship in times of sorrow
by Paul Baloche

 Some of the hardest yet most inspiring times of worship occur during funerals. The raw emotions of sadness and loss are mixed with a sense of hope and eternal perspective.

The book of Ecclesiastes says,

“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart” (7:2 NIV).

In our fast-paced culture, funerals give us the rare occasion to reflect on the brevity of life and how each of our days are numbered. There is a sense of “coming to terms” with reality that our life on this earth will end. As Christians we find assurance in the promise of God’s Word that Jesus Christ did indeed die for the remission of our sins and rose again with the invitation to live forever through Him and with Him.

Songs of worship can be the most encouraging aspect of a funeral service or a time of intense grief. Part of my role as a worship pastor is to show up and “pastor” those who are grieving. Several times last year I was called upon to lead worship during memorial or graveside services. Silence can be powerful. Stillness consoling. Yet when a simple chorus or hymn begins with a guitar or human voice, you can feel something change in the air. Timely words sung at the right moment can bring a wave of comfort and release His faithful presence.

“Blessed be Your name when the road’s marked with suffering, when there’s pain in the offering, blessed be Your name.” “Open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see you.” “I can only imagine …..I will rise when He calls my name, no more sorrow, no more pain.” These are just a few of the songs that have served the moment and brought hope to those who have lost loved ones.

Sometimes we aren’t sure how to bring comfort in situations where someone is fighting an illness or recovering in some way. Often my wife and I have gone to someone’s bedside in the hospital or at their home and simply sang over them. With sensitivity to the moment, we pray for them and ask if they mind if we sing quietly and worship in their room. Some of my most profound moments with God have been during these times as tears flow and faith is released in prayer and song.

Scripture is filled with passages that exemplify praise in the midst of pain, promises of joy as we walk through profound sorrow.

“Why are you so downcast, oh my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God,” (Ps 42:5-6a).

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me … my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Ps 23).

Shortly before a crazed gunman murdered her, Virginia Tech student Lauren McCain wrote in her diary, “Show me Your purpose for me at Tech, and on this earth. But, if You choose not to, I will still praise you and walk where You lead, not because I am selfless, or holy, or determined to sacrifice myself for what is right but because You are the delight of my heart; and I cannot live without You.”

Lord, give us all that same heart as we seek to console others in their time of mourning. For one day we will wish for someone to sing over us and help us to worship in the midst of our sorrow.

This article appeared in Worship Leader Magazine.

July 5, 2012

Don’t Waste Your Sorrows

Even after his passing, the late David Wilkerson, founder of Teen Challenge, continues to minister to many through the David Wilkerson Devotions blog, where this appeared under the title,  Don’t Waste Your Afflictions.

The book of Numbers contains a sad example of wasted afflictions. The five daughters of a man called Zelophehad came to Moses asking for a share in the possession of the Promised Land. They told Moses,

“Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah; but he died in his own sin, and had no sons” (Numbers 27:3). These women were saying, “When all the others rose up against you with Korah, our father wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t in rebellion. He died in his own sin.”

This last phrase struck me as I read it: “He died in his own sin.” This meant that although their father had seen incredible miracles—deliverance out of Egypt, water flowing from a rock, manna coming from heaven—he died in unbelief with the rest of his generation. Of that generation, only faithful Joshua and Caleb survived the wilderness.

Obviously, these five daughters were born in the wilderness and they grew up in a family full of anger toward God. All of Israel’s testings and trials produced only hardened unbelief in their father and these young women grew up hearing murmuring, complaining and bitterness. At breakfast, lunch and supper, there was constant bellyaching, with never a word of faith or trust in God. Now these women had to tell Moses, “Our father left us with nothing—no hope, no possessions, no testimony. He spent those forty years whining and in bitterness, because life was hard. He died in sin, his life a total waste.”

What a horrible thing to have to say of one’s parents. Yet I must warn all parents reading this: Your children are watching you as you’re under affliction and your reactions and behavior will influence them for life. So, how are you behaving? Are you wasting your affliction, not only for yourself but for the generations that follow? I hope your heirs are being established in Christ as they hear you say, “I don’t like this affliction but blessed be the name of the Lord.”

I know many Christians who become more bitter and grumpy with every new affliction. The very afflictions meant to train and sweeten them, trials designed by God to reveal His faithfulness, instead turn them into habitual complainers, sourpusses, and meanies. I wonder, “Where is their faith, their trust in the Lord? What must their children think?”

Beloved, don’t waste your afflictions. Let them produce in you the sweet aroma of trust and faith in your Lord.

~David Wilkerson

May 9, 2012

Where is God When Chaos is Happening?

Today’s blog post was sourced after the anonymous author left a comment at my other blog. 

I hope this works…we’re going to break the rules today and include a testimony here, but it’s one that’s really worth the reading all the way to the end.  As usual, we’ll post it in full here because statistically many of you don’t click, but please, do the author a favor and read it on her site, okay?

Jack-in-the-Box Moments
 
One Friday morning in 2009, my life was drastically changed. The week before had been filled with Jack-in-the Box moments. These are moments where life jumps out at you and scares you silly. I never did like that toy and can’t even imagine working at a factory that makes them. The song it plays – “Pop Goes the Weasel”- warns you that Jack is about to pop out so you try to prepare yourself for his sudden appearance. Being prepared doesn’t help. I always jump. That Friday morning I was weary from jumping.

On Monday we were a family of four; by Friday we were down to three. On Monday I was a minister’s wife; by Friday he had been fired. On Monday, we were upper middle class; by Friday I could qualify for food stamps. On Monday we had a three bedroom house complete with two kids, two dogs and a fenced in back yard. By Friday we were preparing to move. “Pop Goes the Weasel” became our family song.

Thankfully the scary free-fall we were experiencing was broken by a gracious, loving church and a Sunday School class full of friends. They took the shame and embarrassment we were experiencing and lessened it with graceful love. Our church provided my sons, dogs and me with a house until we could get back on our feet. When we moved in, there were groceries already in the cabinets from my Sunday School class. Meals, cards and monetary gifts came. God provided through his people.

It was during this time that I sat on the edge of my bed asking, “God, HOW do I DO this? How do I DO life?” God drew me to Proverbs over and over again each night. It became my guide for “doing life” as it was at that moment. In Proverbs it shows that there are really only two ways to do life – you do it “with God’ or you do it “without God.” I had a choice to make. Did I want to live with bitterness, revenge, and fear or did I want to be free from those things building up and choking my life? I wanted to be free, so I chose God.

That may sound like a proud bragging proclamation, to say “I chose God.” But it is not. God cries out to be chosen with His arm raised over the worldly crowd. He waves it wildly in the air, hoping to catch our eye. “Pick Me, Pick Me” is His chant. Our eyes scan the crowd of choices and in our brokenness and neediness we point to Him and shout –” I choose Him”. He steps forward and makes the weasel’s song fade and replaces it with a new melody…fresh, clear, compelling, pure and free. It is God, and He is singing.

Zephaniah 3: 17
“The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with his love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”

After November of 2009, Jack kept jumping. Our lives had been drastically changed in one week and our lives would change even more as the New Year introduced itself. Thanksgiving and Christmas with family passed and became dear memories…really dear memories.

I started off the New Year by going with my sister to chemo. I had never been in that situation before and seeing the young and old waiting for their turn in treatment was eye opening. When my sister stated that her doctor was the leading specialist in the type of cancer she had and that he only accepted “special” cases, I knew we were heading into a place in life I did not want to go.

As January ended I prepared to budget for February. I pulled up my recent paycheck stub online and noticed that my paycheck had decreased significantly. A phone call informed me that the IRS was garnishing my wages for taxes my husband and I owed. Since he was fired and we were separated, I was the only one with a job…so they came after me. Now my two boys and I had to live for five months on $800.00 a month. This surprise almost put me under, but God held my nose above the water.

Not long after that my son’s car blew up, and then he wrecked mine. My tri-focals broke and had to be replaced. February was the month of broken things that just settled in along side our broken emotions. It was at this time that I noticed laughter…the weird kind of laughter that breaks out when the Jack-in-the-Box toy pops out at a baby. It is a laughter mixed with fear and amazement. I had the laugh, my friends had the laugh and my children had the laugh…what else could go wrong? Well, a phone call can go wrong. My Mother was sick. The day she got out of the hospital was the day she went back in the hospital. The news was not good. We lost her here, but she gained heaven with her Christ-bought soul.

On my birthday in March, we buried Mom and that evening we were told that my sister had three months to live. We lost her in two…May was her date to go home.

Where was God when all this was happening? He was where He has always been..on the throne. I don’t see the throne room of God as a cruel place where He flings out sorrow to earth. There is not a jester standing by Him who is playing around with my life to entertain. Why? Because Death, Decay, and Sorrow are products of this world that I have to wade through. Their flow of muck originated in Eden, but will end with Heaven. It will be clear one day…until then I will by faith see LIFE in death, I will see Hope in decay and I will see Joy in sorrow.

Jack is in his box…eternally confined. God is on His throne….powerfully free.

September 6, 2011

God’s In Charge

Ula Gillion lives in South Africa and blogs at Jesus Carries Me.  She called this post, Smooth Sailing Results in Limited Understanding.

Suggested Reading: Matthew 8:23-27

The disciples didn’t always know exactly what Jesus’ next move was going to be or what He had planned ahead, but they followed Him nevertheless.  “He got into the boat and His disciples followed Him.” They didn’t get very far with Jesus when a sudden storm came up. These were seasoned fishermen. They were well acquainted with the weather patterns and recognized the signs of an impending storm, but this “furious” storm caught them off-guard, nonetheless. The Greek word used to describe the intensity of the storm is the word seismos, a word related to the word we use to measure the intensity of an earthquake (seismic activity). The storm was so severe that it caused a shaking similar to that of an earthquake, and in no time the waves were sweeping over the boat.

But, amazingly, throughout the shaking and the strong gale force winds and the water sweeping into the boat, “Jesus was sleeping…” I suppose it is easy to take a nap in the middle of a storm if you know you are in control of things. Jesus could sleep because He knew He was in control of the winds and waves. The problem, however, was the disciples didn’t know that He was aware of the storm. They did however believe He could do something about it and filled with fear, they decided to wake Him up. “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” Although they have at this point not yet fully grasped who Jesus was, they nevertheless knew that they could call to Him for help. It does appear that they thought the storm will take Jesus by surprise. They were about to discover that not only was He fully aware of the storm, but with a simple word nature’s power will bow down to His. At that moment  they called for Him to help, I wonder what it is precisely they thought He would do about the storm. One thing is certain; they did not expect Him to settle the problem with a single word. He spoke and it grew “completely” calm. Not a little calmer or considerably calmer. It grew completely calm through a word out of our Lord’s mouth.

Evidence that they did not expect this result is in the stunned silence that followed.  Their jaws dropped to their feet and they exclaimed, “What kind of man is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!” That is why He asked them why they had so little faith. They didn’t yet understand that this Man with them in the boat is the Lord of all the earth. They did not yet understand that He is the One through whom all things have been created and that all things will therefore obey Him. They did not yet understand that God placed all things under His feet –that with them in the boat was the One called Immanuel –God with us. God Himself was with them in that boat.

Do we really grasp the One who is with us in the boat when we go through the storms of life? Do we really understand that He only needs to speak one word and then everything will grow completely calm? Do we know that He can do with one word what we have been struggling for years to achieve? We need only to call on that name –the Name of Jesus, and all the powers of the universe will have to obey His command. He will never allow His own to be destroyed. He promised never to leave us nor forsake us.

Whatever storms we face will only be allowed to develop us and never to destroy us. Because of this storm His followers gained a greater understanding of who Jesus was. Had it not been for the storm, they may have continued for a while longer with their limited perception of Jesus. The storm revealed another aspect of His glory. The storm looked big and monstrous, but only until Jesus spoke. When He speaks our storms will appear minute in comparison to His power. Just as it happened for the disciples, our storms may give us deeper insight into the glorious power of our Lord. Without the storms, we may still continue limiting Him in our minds. Smooth sailing results in limited understanding of God, so let us praise Him in the storm!

 

May 18, 2011

Be Our Resurrection and Life

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Although it’s long past Easter, this Easter prayer continues to have a life of its own in various blogs.   This cut and paste is from David Neff’s blog.  The author of the prayer is Mark Galli.

Easter Prayer 2011

O Risen Lord, be our resurrection and life.

Be the resurrection and the life for us and all whom you have made.

Be the resurrection and the life for those caught in the grip of sin and addiction.

Be the resurrection and the life for those who feel forsaken.

Be the resurrection and the life for those who live as if you do not.

Be the resurrection and the life for those who do not believe they need resurrection and life.

Be the resurrection and the life in churches that believe they are dying, and in successful churches who don’t know they are dead.

Be the resurrection and the life in us who know the good but fail to do it, who have not been judged but still judge, who know love but still live for self, who know hope but succumb to despair.

Be the resurrection and the life for those dying of malnutrition and hunger.

Be the resurrection and life for those imprisoned unjustly and those imprisoned justly.

Be the resurrection and life for those who live under regimes that seek to crush all who proclaim resurrection and life.

Be the resurrection and the life for those in the throes of sickness that leads to death.

Be the resurrection and the life in families where the weak are maltreated by the strong.

Be the resurrection and the life in marriages that are disintegrating.

Be the resurrection and the life for women trafficked and enslaved by the forces of wickedness.

Be the resurrection and the life for those whose lives are snuffed out in the womb.

Be the resurrection and the life for anyone anywhere who knows suffering and death in any form, and for Creation itself, which groans in travail.

Be the resurrection and life in the life we share and the fellowship we enjoy, that filled anew with the wonder of your love and the power of your grace, we may go forth to proclaim your resurrection life to a world in the grip of death and yet on the verge of redemption, a redemption promised by you and assured by what occurred on the first Easter morn.

Amen.

April 8, 2011

On Turning Aside from God

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Today’s post is from a fellow Alltop blog called Theologer, where it appeared under the more provocative title, On Whoring Ourselves Out To Idols.

This morning I spent time in Ezekiel 16 and I have to be honest the imagery of Israel prostituting herself out as a whore to other nations and idols and gods is a little much for me. But I know it’s supposed to be. When Israel turns to other gods and worships them instead of the Lord it is an utter abomination – of the worst kind. God uses the imagery of His wife prostituting herself out to others because that is along the same lines, for us the worst thing we can imagine.

I’ve mentioned before that whenever I read about Israel’s idolatry I actually get frustrated with their stupidity; when the hand of the Lord is so visible in their lives how can they turn aside? But I know the hand of the Lord has been incredibly visible in my life, and yet I turn aside. Not to golden idols made from the gold God gave (as was the case of Israel in Ez 16), but I worship myself and my own skills or gifting, which the Lord gave me. The parallels really are depressing.

But as awful as the whole of the chapter is, the final two verses are:

“I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 16:62-63

The Lord is nonetheless going to establish his covenant with Israel. He will atone for us in a way that we look on our sins with utter shame.

And He has. The cross is that atonement. And the cross should cause shocking shame for our sin, and bring us before His throne trembling because in the cross He has atoned for all we have done.

Lord thank You for Your grace for even our most filthy sin. The things we have done are too horrifying to even mention, and yet Your grace is sufficient for us.

March 7, 2011

Seeing Illness as a Blessing

Yesterday’s and today’s items here don’t have any specific scripture references.  I wrote this three years ago at an obvious low point, and thought it might be applicable to someone reading it today; maybe you are that person.  Readers may want to add a scripture verse in the comments that references one or all of the points here…

  • Illness forces us to slow down, and that forces us to do the things that really matter, and that forces us to decide what really matters
  • Illness forces us to ask God for help on behalf of ourselves, which seems selfish at times, so first we have to apologize for asking
  • Illness causes us to ask other believers to join in prayer for us, which can be rather humbling
  • Illness helps us remember others who are suffering, it helps us to identify and empathize with their situation
  • Illness – while not necessarily caused by sin -brings us to a wonderful season of self examination and determination to aim for greater holiness
  • Illness reminds us of our mortality; our material culture has forced us to cling to everything including life itself, but our lives have an expiry date
  • Illness has a mellowing, sobering effect on us – some things can become potentially more irritating, but some other things no longer matter as much
  • Illness forces us to ask bigger questions; Is God in control? Does He care about the details of my life? Will he intervene in a special way?
  • Illness brings into clarity other times we were ill, and reminds us that God brought us through that time
  • Illness helps us hear Christian songs differently; “I thank God for the mountains, and I thank him for the valleys…” Can I do that right now?

I’m sure there are other things, too. Most of the prayer requests in our churches are for issues people are dealing with in their physical bodies. Pray specifically for one another. If you are the person for whom this was for today, listen for God’s voice in the middle of all you’re going through.

February 11, 2011

Know Your Place

John Indermark is a United Church of Christ minister in Naselle, Washington.  This devotional appeared in Upper Room Disciplines 2007 (p. 70):

Philippians 3:17(NIV) Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.  4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

Do you know your place?  “Knowing your place” can be a phrase used to limit or control another’s life — or our own. We don’t like others rocking our boat. Persons don’t appreciate our meddling in their affairs. “That is not your place.”

Paul, on the other hand, speaks of knowing our place in a positive sense. Paul counsels the Philippians and through them us to “stand firm in the Lord in this way.” I take “in this way” as a synonym for knowing our lives are anchored in the place made for us in the love and grace of God. If we know where we belong — and to whom we belong — we can live with values and purposes that differ from those that deny hope or belittle life.

Tradition holds that Paul wrote Philippians while imprisoned.  Yet, the whole of Philippians is one of Paul’s most joy-filled epistles. Gratitude for God and for the community for whom he writes filled its chapters. How can that be? Paul knows his place in life and does not allow imprisonment to define it. His place is defined by life in Christ and citizenship in God’s realm.

Do you know your place? Do you know where and to whom you belong: even when life seems confining, even when hope seems distant, even when circumstances spiral out of your control? To live in Christ is to know our place as anchored in love, grace and hope.  Such an awareness of place in our lives frees us to live out our days in actions and words that embody those same qualities.

Do you know your place in Christ?

February 1, 2011

Discouragement: A Subtle Tactic in Spiritual Warfare

But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus.  (II  Cor 7:6)

Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement.  (II Cor 2: 7)

“Why do you want to discourage the rest of the people of Israel from going across to the land the Lord has given them?  (Num 32:7)

Then the local residents tried to discourage and frighten the people of Judah to keep them from their work. (Ezra 4:4)

They were just trying to intimidate us, imagining that they could discourage us and stop the work. So I continued the work with even greater determination. (Neh. 6:9)

So Moses told the people of Israel what the Lord had said, but they refused to listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery. (Ex. 6:9)

After they went up to the valley of Eshcol and explored the land, they discouraged the people of Israel from entering the land the Lord was giving them. (Num. 32:9)

Look! He has placed the land in front of you. Go and occupy it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you. Don’t be afraid! Don’t be discouraged!’ (Deut. 1:21)

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”  (Deut 31:8)

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh 1:9)

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid or discouraged. Take all your fighting men and attack Ai, for I have given you the king of Ai, his people, his town, and his land. (Josh 8:1)

“Don’t ever be afraid or discouraged,” Joshua told his men. “Be strong and courageous, for the Lord is going to do this to all of your enemies.” (Josh 10:25)

Then David continued, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. He will see to it that all the work related to the Temple of the Lord is finished correctly.  (I Chr. 28:20)

He said, “Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.  (II Chr.20:15)

“Be strong and courageous! Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria or his mighty army, for there is a power far greater on our side! (II Chr. 32:7)

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.I will strengthen you and help you.I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.  (Is. 41:10)

Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—
my Savior and my God!  (Ps: 42:11 and Ps. 43:5; same lyric)

Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged. (Col 3:21)

I am convinced that one of the subtle schemes of the enemy is to bring discouragement to God’s people.  Most of us are familiar with the many “Do not be afraid” or “fear not” verses, but there are many scriptures — 28 in the New Living Translation (NLT) reference discouragement in one way or another, the translation used for the above verses.  (18 in the new NIV, 6 in the ESV, 5 in the NASB.)

I also wonder if much of our modern-day depression is really spiritual-warfare.  Depression and discouragement seem to go hand-in-hand.  The word depression is used sparingly in the above-mentioned translations…

After that, whenever the bad depression from God tormented Saul, David got out his harp and played. That would calm Saul down, and he would feel better as the moodiness lifted. (I Sam. 16:23, The Message)

…though the Bible being more literary and poetic than most other books, often refers to a broken heart:

I have cried until the tears no longer come; my heart is broken.My spirit is poured out in agony as I see the desperate plight of my people.Little children and tiny babies are fainting and dying in the streets.  (Lamentations 2:11, NLT)

A glad heart makes a happy face;a broken heart crushes the spirit. (Prov 15:30 NLT)

Their insults have broken my heart,and I am in despair.If only one person would show some pity;if only one would turn and comfort me.  (Ps. 69:20 NLT)

My heart is broken because of the false prophets,and my bones tremble.I stagger like a drunkard,like someone overcome by wine,because of the holy wordsthe Lord has spoken against them.  (Jer. 23:9 NLT)

For myself, today an element of spiritual warfare to it which was more overt, but the feeling I was left with — or the thing that my emotions connected the dots to, the way you attribute someone in a dream to someone you know — was that of discouragement.

It can really eat away at you if you let it.

So don’t.

January 8, 2011

God, You Are So Many Things: Psalm 91

Heard this for the first time just minutes ago at 96.5FM in Australia.  Thanks to the video people who post these songs.   Because the lyrics are already in the video, what follows is Psalm 91 from The MessageThis particular blog post had a lot of different tags as suggested by the lyrics.  If one of them brought you here, kick back and enjoy the music for a few minutes.

You who sit down in the High God’s presence, spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow,
Say this: “God, you’re my refuge.
I trust in you and I’m safe!”
That’s right—he rescues you from hidden traps,
shields you from deadly hazards.
His huge outstretched arms protect you—
under them you’re perfectly safe;
his arms fend off all harm.
Fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night,
not flying arrows in the day,
Not disease that prowls through the darkness,
not disaster that erupts at high noon.
Even though others succumb all around,
drop like flies right and left,
no harm will even graze you.
You’ll stand untouched, watch it all from a distance,
watch the wicked turn into corpses.
Yes, because God’s your refuge,
the High God your very own home,
Evil can’t get close to you,
harm can’t get through the door.
He ordered his angels
to guard you wherever you go.
If you stumble, they’ll catch you;
their job is to keep you from falling.
You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes,
and kick young lions and serpents from the path.

14-16 “If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
“I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life,
give you a long drink of salvation!”

December 29, 2010

Making Your Disappointments Work For You

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Back in May I borrowed an analogy from David Paul Door; and today I decided to see what he’s been writing more recently.    This one appeared earlier in the month under the title Leverage Your Disappointments.

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more (Luke 12:48).

The above verse is in the context of knowing God’s general will and acting upon it.  For all us who know what God wants (in general) much is asked.  Where we have knowledge, the knowledge should grow.  Where we have talents, they should be refined and used; our money should be leveraged for the kingdom of God.

But one of things we have also been given is our disappointments and our failures. These two things are never experienced as gifts.  They feel terrible.  They’re heavy. They are things we often try to ignore, or, worse, medicate with food, shopping, drugs, or alcohol.  But failure is also something to be leveraged.

Think about it for a minute.  It is often our greatest disappointments and failures, and how we overcame them, which are the greatest use to other people.  They inspire, but they also clarify the way forward for others.  Our failures can keep others from failing and bolster others who are going through the same disappointments.

Sure we admire winners, but we can relate to the one who overcame great hardships, because our lives are filled with great hardships and disappointments.  If you haven’t experienced these yet, wait a few years.  You will hit a point in your life where nothing is going according to your plan. Is that a bad thing?

We certainly can make it a bad thing.  We can throw in the towel.  We can quit, thinking how stupid it was for us to even try.  But what a missed opportunity!  It is the failure itself that is the missed opportunity — the choice to put your face into the wind, and make not only something great for yourself, but others who will walk the same road.

Possibly related post: Regrets, I Have a Few — A Review of Regret Free Living by Steven Arterburn.

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