Christianity 201

December 15, 2022

The Grinch that Stole Joy: Grief

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

We light the candle of joy, sing “Joy to the World,” then head home, back to the real world where sadness awaits us, maybe depression, and for all of us at some point in our lives, grief. It may be grief over a loved one who has passed away or grief over another kind of significant loss. Whatever it may be, it is as if our joy has been snuffed out like a candle.

It is not just the Grinch that steals Christmas, we have already looked at how conflict can steal our peace, and how expectations can steal our hope. Today we consider how grief and sadness can steal our joy.

What to do?

Isaiah 35 is instructive for us. As you read, watch for something notable about the references to joy:

1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus 2 it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the LORD,
the majesty of our God.
3 Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
7 the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
8 A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
9 No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Isaiah 35 (NRSV)

Easy to miss is that every reference to joy looks to the future. In fact there are only two verses that speak to the present:

3 Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God….

Isaiah 35:3-4 (NRSV)

The prophet does not say that everyone should be happy and joyful in the present. Rather, the encouragement is to nurture strength and trust. God’s people were not in a place of joy in Isaiah 35. Manufacturing joy was not what was needed, but nurturing strength and trust while believing that joy would come, someday.

There are seasons that we go through. As we read in Ecclesiastes:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:…
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;…

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 (NRSV)

There are seasons of grief that we each must pass through. The timing of Christmas, that most wonderful time of the year, the season marked by great joy, may not line up with a season of joy in our lives. It may line up with a season of grief. We are all likely to experience this at some point. If we are experiencing grief, we may do well live in the season we are in rather than forcing ourselves into Christmas with a manufactured and insincere joy. We will do well to focus on nurturing strength and trust instead. Sometimes grief is not something we can put on the back burner as if it doesn’t matter. It is something we just have to go through. Our grief does not care it is Christmas.

When we find ourselves grieving at Christmas we may find our place in a different part of the Christmas story. Our place may not be with the wise men who expressed exceedingly great joy at seeing the star. Our place may not be with the shepherds, caught up in the excitement of it all. Our place may be with the mothers in Bethlehem when Herod took the lives of all the male infants in an attempt to kill Jesus.

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Matthew 2:17-18 (NRSV)

Had those grieving parents realised that the first Christmas took place in their town not long prior, they may have wondered what difference it made anyway.

What difference did that first Christmas make to those who were alive in that moment? None, really. Yes, on that first Christmas “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). But no one really cared. A handful of wise men and some shepherds were excited. But no one put up a tree, no one had a family gathering, no gift exchanges, nothing, and why would they? Nothing changed. The world was still a dark place, where death makes a mess of things, where Herod still had a reign of terror. The fact that nothing changed was proven thirty years or so later when people in power used their power to ensure that no one else could be in power, and Jesus was crucified.

The crucifixion of Jesus was proof that though there had been Christmas, the world was still in a place of Advent, a place of lament, of knowing things are not the way they should be, of looking for, of needing, a better future.

Then Jesus rose from the dead. Human empires must give way to the kingdom of God. Reigns of terror must give way to a reign of love and joy. Cruel tyrants must give way to the King of kings and Lord of lords, the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

Herod’s are still in power in our era. Pilate’s still give life taking orders today. They just go by different names; Hitler, Putin, cancer, Alzheimer’s, Lou Gerig’s, and many more. Something or someone may cause you to experience a reign of terror in your life without any concern for the fact this is Christmas. There will be joy, there can be joy, because Jesus is king. Change is coming. But for now you may experience terror.

If grief wants to steal your joy at Christmas, you may need to let it borrow it for a time. But don’t let it take your joy forever. Lean into Advent as a time of anticipation, of looking forward to a better day. Lean into Advent before jumping straight into Christmas. Our society jumps right into Christmas. You might need to show up for Christmas parties, but you can come home to Advent. Advent is a time of longing, of grieving that all is not right with the world. All may not be right with you and it is okay to admit that, to not feel particularly joyful. Advent is a time for being honest that things are not the way they are supposed to be. Lean into that.

We light the Advent candles each Sunday but perhaps the joy candle should be pre-lit, then snuffed out. We might light it on Christmas day…next year. It will shine brightly some day. But that might not be today, and that is okay.


Before appearing here, Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon’s condensed sermons appear at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

December 8, 2022

The Grinch that Stole Hope

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:12 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

What are you hoping for this Christmas? To prepare the perfect Christmas dinner? To find the perfect gift? To experience the perfect Christmas family gathering? To ensure loved ones experience the perfect Christmas? The word “perfect” is showing up there a lot, how about we try one without it: world peace?

Whatever you are hoping for this Christmas, when these things fail to happen our hope can turn to cynicism, disappointment, and even despair. We light the candle of hope during church on Sunday morning but then we snuff it out and head home to the real world where our hope gets snuffed out, sometimes as fast as the candle.

It is not just the Grinch that can steal Christmas. Our expectations for the future can steal our hope for the future. Our hopes can fade to disappointment when the hope of Christmas is stolen by unmet expectations. In fact our disappointment at Christmas may be a symptom of a bigger problem; disappointment with ourselves, others, or with God.

So what are we to do?

We ask if our expectations are wise expectations. If they are not, they will steal our hope, replacing it with disappointment. Do we have wise expectations of ourselves, others, and of God?

Let’s turn to a hope filled passage of the Bible, specifically, Isaiah 11:1-9, and ask if Isaiah’s expectations were wise.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

Isaiah 11:1 (NRSV)

David’s family is described as a “stump” in a way that signifies that God’s people will face tough times, even destruction, interpreted by the prophet as being the judgement of God. By speaking of new growth from this stump Isaiah expressed hope that what could be perceived as the end would give way to a new beginning. This new beginning would come about with a “shoot” that represents remarkable new leadership, a great new king:

2 The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

Isaiah 11:2-5 (NRSV)

Isaiah had hope that there would be good governance, marked by the presence of God, taking direction from God, and in good relationship with God. The new king would be righteous, helping the disadvantaged and bringing justice to those who are evil.

Those who first heard Isaiah’s hope would hardly be thinking of Jesus, but looking back, we who are Christians can not help but see Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God.

Isaiah continues with the theme of hope:

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 11:6-9 (NRSV)

With animals getting along together who normally would not and children playing safely among violent creatures, Isaiah is expressing the hope that in this new beginning there would be a great sense of security. Some take these verses literally and look forward to a day in which such animals really will live together without bloodshed, but others take this as symbolic of the sense of security, peace, and safety that the hoped for new king would bring. Either way, Isaiah has great hope for the future.

But are Isaiah’s expectations wise?

Does Isaiah have a reasonable hope, or is he setting himself up for disappointment by having crazy expectations for the future?

Isaiah had great expectations for the future, but they are expectations of God and what God can do. God is the Creator, it is no trouble for God to be a Re-Creator. God can send a new king and establish a new kingdom. Our hope for the future as Christians may seem like “pie in the sky after I die” to some, but this is God we are talking about. God can do it. It is wise to have great expectations of God.

This brings us to our first word of caution as we consider wise expectations. God can fulfill sky high expectations, we cannot. We can expect God to be God. We cannot expect ourselves, or others, to be God. Might we need to lighten up a bit with regard to our expectations of others, and what we expect of ourselves? Our expectations may be unwise.

And now a second caution, our expectations of God are only wise when we expect God to do what God wants to do. If God has promised to do something, then our expectations are wise and we can have great hope. Sometimes, however, we expect God to do what we want God to do, or what we think God should want to do. We can make assumptions about what God wants to do. This can lead us to unwise expectations.

I might expect that God wants me to be pain free. Recently I have been overly active, plus doing things that I don’t normally do, like installing flooring, and moving appliances which lack handles for proper lifting technique. Add in a lack of good stretching and needless to say my muscles are not happy with me. This led to a sleepless night and a repeated prayer for relief from the pain. Should I expect the Lord to answer such a prayer like some kind of divine pharmacy? Perhaps I should learn to take better care of myself.

While I could not sleep due to a physical plain, there are those who cannot sleep because of emotional, psychological, and spiritual pain. Expecting God to simply lift such pain in the immediate future may be unwise, for God has not promised to do that. Expecting that God will simply lift all pain may just leave us disappointed with God and cynical about faith. Expecting God to journey with us in the pain, however, and to release us from all pain in the resurrection, is wise. We can have great hope. God has promised a King and a Kingdom. To have great expectations about that King and that Kingdom is wise.

We come to church and light the candle of hope, then go on our way and pin all our hopes on people who can’t meet our expectations, including, and especially, ourselves. Or we go on our way and pin all our hopes on unwise expectations of God. Hope gives way to cynicism, disappointment, and even despair when our hope is based on unwise expectations of ourselves, others, and God. Let us have wise expectations, and let us be hopeful!


Before appearing here, Clarke Dixon’s condensed sermons appear at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

November 26, 2022

Advent: A Promise is About to be Realized

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This devotional was originally scheduled for Saturday and ties in with the first Sunday of Advent, Hope Sunday.

Today we’re back for a third time with who writes at Our Living Hope. Click the title which follows to read this where it first appeared.

The Advent: A Divine Fulfillment

“All the promises of God are yes and Amen in Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

The Advent of Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promise to mankind, the word became flesh to show the world that the word of God will stand the test of time and will never pass away. As the world is facing lot of challenges, it’s important that we stand on those promises and offer hope to a hurting world. Through the incarnation of Christ God has assured us that he is Emmanuel, he will be with us always, even until the end.

The first Christmas saw a great rejoicing over the birth of Christ, the Angels sang, the shepherds shared, the people were amazed and the wise men worshiped, since God fulfilled what he had promised to his people. Even today Christ stands as a sign that God is able to fulfill his promises, to be a Saviour, to be a good shepherd, to be an everlasting King, So as to fulfill his eternal plan on this earth, that all might have hope.

It fulfilled the Scriptures:

“……and so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet. ‘Out of Egypt I called my Son’. Matthew 2:15

There are four times in Matthew 1&2 its been written that certain incidents happened to fulfill what was told through the prophets found in the scriptures. The prophetic word and the divine revelation of the Holyspirit came in to life through the birth of Jesus. All through his life Jesus fulfilled the scriptures, it is the reason on the road to Emmaus, he opened the scriptures to the disciples and showed both from the Law and the Prophets all that was mentioned about him. Jesus is the central truth of the Bible, the old projects upon it, and the new proceeds out of it, and his advent becomes the focal point of human history. All the promises found in the scriptures leads to Christ and through Christ it becomes relevant in our lives. When the prophetic word comes to life it becomes life giving as in the life of Jesus. From Genesis to Revelation the Bible orients itself towards consummation of God’s everlasting will, on earth as it is in Heaven. Jesus fulfilled all the prophetic word that was said about him, and the advent began that divine process, as the prophetic word spoken to Mary began to unfold the advent story unwraps itself to reveal the word to the world.

It fulfilled the appointed time:

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,”. Galatians 4:4.

God’s promises and God’s time are inseparable and one in the same. The revealed word requires an appointed time. The Promise of Christ was mentioned in the early pages of the Bible, but it took centuries to be fulfilled. Prophet Isaiah proclaimed the prophecy of his birth almost six hundred years back. Its fascinating that God revealed his promise of Christ through his prophets much before its fulfillment shows his wisdom which is far beyond and that he is ahead of our time, to prepare us for the task ahead. Simeon and Anna in God’s appointed time saw the glory of God they desired. Elizabeth was too old to conceive, but for Mary it was too early, our time belongs to God! The advent of Christ established God’s sovereign authority over our time. It was during the edict of Augustus for a kingdom wide census, it was when Herod tried to gain the people’s favour by refurbishing the second temple, when Judea was seeing many nationalistic uprisings, and Rome was strengthening its authority all over its kingdom through administration, military and transport. It was God’s chosen time to enter man’s history and forever made it his story. Jesus stepped in when the set time had fully come, he fulfilled God’s appointed time. The right time is always His time!

It Fulfilled the work of Faith:

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34.

‘Faith makes all things possible, but it doesn’t make all things comfortable’. Just because its from God, it doesn’t mean it has to be easy. The first message of Christ’s birth was received with a doubt, Mary said ‘How can this be?’ and Joseph secretly planned to put her away. The human response to God’s plans are always with fear and doubt, because it’s always beyond human conceptions and thoughts, and God understands it and he alone deserves the Glory. He strengthened both Mary and Joseph beyond their doubts to carry out his will. God just revealed them his plan, but didn’t tell all the struggles they had to go through to bring out Jesus. God designed the advent story to be a faith story. God’s sovereign plan need a faith response, and God gives us that grace even in the midst of weakness and struggles. Joseph and Mary had to go through the struggle to bring out God’s promise of Christ. Mary had to go through shame as well as Joseph, they had to go through the times of unknown, constant shuffling from one place to another. It was a human struggle for a divine purpose, but God was with them every step of the way. Even the Magi needed to have faith to find the King in a manger, to become a part of that advent story, they were wise because they had faith to seek. Every faith story involves struggles, and God gives us grace to fulfill the work of faith. Those infants of Bethlehem killed by Herod I believe are the martyrs of the same faith. Even today the birth of Christ inspires us because it’s a story of faith beyond human struggles, fears and uncertainties. God just doesn’t give the promise, he also gives the faith to fulfill it.

It fulfilled the call to follow:

“But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus”. Matthew 1:25.

The greatest gift we can enjoy in this world is the very present guidance of the Lord. The advent story had God’s guidance every step of the way. Jesus followed God’s mandate in obedience to be a part of our human family and how it changed human history for good? Just his humility to give himself under our care as a child, he trusts us too, who are so unworthy and that’s hope! Everybody came together on that night because Jesus was at the centre of their desire. Joseph and Mary followed God’s guidance in bringing Christ in to this world, we can see in those verses that every time God spoke to Joseph and guided him, he responded with obedience. Joseph could have thought what does the redeemer promised to Israel going to do as a refugee in Egypt? But he still followed. Many times it’s not easy, following can be tough, but the advent story became a reality through God’s divine guidance in the life of a follower. Every time Christ’s birth is told and retold it will never be complete without the part of Mary and Joseph. The advent story is about the people who followed. Their perseverance to follow gave them the privilege to name the Son of God, the Saviour of the world and the King of all the earth as ‘Jesus’!

As we enter the season to remember Christ’s birth, lets acknowledge that its our story too. He came for every single person of this world, so that every one can become part of his plan. Jesus is the promise of God unto mankind and through whom every other promises are Yes and Amen. Jesus is the promise and assurance of God’s love to all humanity, in Love this kingdom is established and this promise of Love is to save everyone who believes,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. John 3:16.

It is the reason his first coming is as relevant even today as his second. Even with all the joy and excitement of the season, we also cannot forget the unfinished work that is ahead us, in reaching all and invite everyone to partake in the promise of God’s unfailing love through which humanity can find hope. We also enter this season with a sense of paradox understanding both the joys and responsibilities as those who become part of the promise to look forward and prepare others to look to another promise as well, A. Peter gives us a glimpse in to the heart of God, that he doesn’t want anyone to perish,

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”. 2 Peter 3:9.

Come Thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise

Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy redeeming love

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here by Thy great help I’ve come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home

November 14, 2022

Bible Teaching on Chronic Pain

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we played the search engine game so you don’t have to. Here’s what we found on the first three pages of results.

From the website Faith and Health Connection a look at Psalm 38 from the NLT with key words emphasized:

1 O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your rage!
Your arrows have struck deep,
    and your blows are crushing me.
Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;
    my health is broken because of my sins.
My guilt overwhelms me—
    it is a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and stink
    because of my foolish sins.
I am bent over and racked with pain.
    All day long I walk around filled with grief.
A raging fever burns within me,
    and my health is broken.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
    My groans come from an anguished heart.

You know what I long for, Lord;
    you hear my every sigh.
10 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
    and I am going blind.
11 My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
    Even my own family stands at a distance……

17 I am on the verge of collapse,
facing constant pain.  

The writers there also note that verse 3 and verse 5 attributes the suffering to sin; noting that:

[S]ometimes the pain can be caused because a person is in internal conflict with God and/or with them self because they have sinned or are living in intentional sin. This internal conflict can cause tension in the muscles and other body tissues. This soft tissue tension can sometimes compress the tissue or bone against nearby nerves and can result in pain. Sometimes chronic pain… [I]f the pain is rooted in the inner conflict or guilt that stems from sin, the treatment or pill may well not cure the pain.

From the website Beyond Today:

It is easy to assume that if one seeks to live by God’s will and loves Him, God will always relieve that one’s physical suffering. Yet, there you (or those you know and love) are—still bound by pain, disease or disability. Does the lack of physical relief mean that there is something wrong spiritually?

I would like to take you on a brief survey of the Psalms of the Bible to challenge that assumption. Many of us regularly read the Psalms for comfort and encouragement, but I wonder how many have noticed that several of these beloved songs, speak about people of faith who suffer from chronic illnesses.

Before looking into Psalms, let’s lay a little groundwork with two references from the second letter to the Corinthian Christians. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, the apostle Paul assures his readers that they—these are Christians, remember—have the opportunity to experience spiritual comfort from God when they endure troubles. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Therein lies a concept that is foreign to many: Christians can have enduring and chronic troubles…

The writer then goes into a detailed look at quite a number of Psalms. This is an excellent article.

The website GotQuestions.org (which we use frequently here) has several articles which address questions surrounding pain and suffering. In this article they state:

The word “pain” or some form of it appears over 70 times in Scripture. The word’s first usage explains the origin of pain in childbirth: “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you’” (Genesis 3:16, NASB). The context here is that Adam and Eve had sinned and the pain of childbirth is one of the consequences of sin. Because of sin, the whole earth was cursed, and death entered in as a result (Romans 5:12). So, it may be concluded that pain is one of the many results of the original sin.

…[M]edically we know that pain is a gift. Without it we would not know when we needed medical attention. In fact, the absence of pain is one of the problems associated with leprosy. Children would never learn that touching a hot stove is a bad idea, nor would we be alerted to a dangerous medical condition without the pain associated with it. Spiritually speaking, one of the benefits of pain is expressed by James: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3). According to James, when we endure painful trials, we can take joy in knowing that God is at work in us to produce endurance and Christ-like character. This applies to mental, emotional, and spiritual pain as well as to physical pain.

… Consider what Paul said: “And He has said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul was speaking of a “thorn in his flesh” that was troubling him. We don’t know what it was, but it seemed to have been painful for Paul. He recognized that God’s grace was being given to him so he could endure…

It’s not fair to lift too much content from GotQuestions.org and you really need to visit their website to read all of the article above, and especially the one below, in full. If this subject touches you at a point of need right now, I really want to encourage you to read all of the article excerpted below. Click to read this article in full.

…When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He gained renown for healing the crippled and the chronically ill (Matthew 4:23). He sometimes went out of His way to alleviate the chronic pain of an individual, revealing His compassion for the suffering (Luke 13:10–12; Matthew 9:20–22). Jesus said that He did nothing of His own accord, but only what He saw His Father doing (John 5:19; 14:10), so from this we learn that the Father also has great compassion on those who suffer and can heal them.

But pain relief was not Jesus’ main mission; nor is it the Father’s. Sometimes chronic pain is the result of sin or foolishness. Sometimes it is merely the fallout from living in mortal, imperfect bodies in a fallen, broken world. Whatever the case, our suffering is not wasted. God has a purpose in it. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him about a man born blind, Jesus replied, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1–7). He then healed the man, but only after the man had suffered from blindness his whole life up to that point. So Jesus’ attention to the chronically ill shows us that God knows about our chronic pain and cares that we suffer. However, for reasons known only to Him, He often allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves…

The website Vibrant Christian Living links to 19 different verses about experiencing joy in the middle of pain. Perhaps some of these apply in a more general sense, and some didn’t resonate with me on this particular subject, but I appreciated their intent, which is that on our journey with Christ we would be able to possess an underlying, abiding joy. Their version of choice is the New Living Translation:

Romans.5.3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

John.16.33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Col.1.11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy

1Peter.4.12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.

With a little imagination, you can figure out why I chose this topic today. Your prayers are appreciated!


Worship music video: Yesterday, I posted for the first time in several months at our flagship blog, Thinking Out Loud. I was writing about a worship song which has impressed me (and others) and it really fits today’s theme as well. Because the song is 8 minutes long, the article is called A Worship Song I Can’t Edit.

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.

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