Christianity 201

October 2, 2022

Everyone is Welcome: A House of Praise for All

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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I’m hoping today’s devotional will ‘work’ for you. Allow me to make that more personal.

This is a case where a worship song lyric that I’d known for many years was really sparked to life by a video of a person reading a scripture passage as part of it. But for me, the scripture passage is really sparked to life knowing the song. The one truly illuminates the other.

In a print copy I had of the song lyrics was written “Isaiah 56:1-8.” How much do we lose by not digging into the scripture notations on song lyrics? Or greeting cards? Or printed sermon notes?

► You can pause here and listen to the only online recording I could find of the song, located at the bottom of today’s devotional.

Here’s the song lyrics by Chad Sundin:

Let not the foreigner who lives for me say, “I am not welcome.”
There is a place for all who choose what’s pleasing to the Holy One.
Even to the outcast I will give an everlasting name.

You are welcome
My house will be a house of prayer for all
All of the nations
My house will be a house of prayer for all

And so,  you foreigners who bind yourselves to serve the Lord, give thanks.
There’s a memorial reserved for you within my temple gates.
I will bring you to me where I am, my holy mountain.

And now the righteousness of God will shine where it has not been known.
When you have hands for justice, not for evil, my salvation’s close.
Blessed are the ones who do my work, from any tribe or tongue.

The scripture passage referenced is the opening 8 verses of Isaiah 56:

NIV.Is.56.1
This is what the Lord says:
“Maintain justice
and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand
and my righteousness will soon be revealed.

2 Blessed is the one who does this—
the person who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it,
and keeps their hands from doing any evil.”

3 Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
“I am only a dry tree.”

4 For this is what the Lord says:

“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—

5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.

6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant—

7 these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”

8 The Sovereign Lord declares—
he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
besides those already gathered.”

The passage anticipates a day when there will be neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.

NLT.Gal.3.28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

I couldn’t help but think of Luke 9:

49 “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”

50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

In another well known text, after driving the currency traders out of the temple Jesus says,

NIV.Mk.11.17 And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”

The polarity of the present age pushes many to want to be about exclusion when the message of the Gospel is all about inclusion.

Everyone is welcome at the house of God.

August 9, 2022

How Do We Get People to See God’s Love?

Today we’re back again at the site A Simple Christian. The author is unnamed, but is a pastor at Concordia Lutheran Church in Cerritos. Ca. Even there, I exhausted some time looking for his name on the website. You have to respect that level of humility in a world where some pastors have their pictures so prominent.

You may click the title below to read where we located it. The format of A Simple Question presents quotations that are not annotated until the endnotes. I was going to exercise some editorial liberty and provide the sources within the body of the article, but I decided it was done for reasons of flow, and used footnotes instead.

Do We Dare Ask This Question?

Thoughts which draw (or drag me) to Jesus… and His cross:

1  “Look at my servant, whom I strengthen. He is my chosen one, who pleases me. I have put my Spirit upon him. He will bring justice to the nations. 2  He will not shout or raise his voice in public. 3  He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged. 4  He will not falter or lose heart until justice prevails throughout the earth. Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instruction.” Isaiah 42:1-4 (NLT2)

How does this come to pass? Surely, it comes to pass when you hear that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has by his most holy touch consecrated and hallowed all sufferings, even death itself, has blessed the curse, and has glorified shame and enriched poverty so that death is now a door to life, the curse a fount of blessing, and shame the mother of glory. How, then, can you be so hardhearted and ungrateful as not to long for and love all manner of sufferings now that these have been touched and bathed by Christ’s pure and holy flesh and blood and thus have become holy, harmless, wholesome, blessed, and full of joy for you? 1

Oh, how can we get men and women around us to realize that God Almighty, before the beginning of the world, loved them, and thought about them, planning redemption and salvation and forgiveness? 2

When divine love overflows from the interior life of the Trinity into our hearts, it immediately confronts our false selves, and we experience conflict. A struggle arises between this pure goodness—sheer giving—and the ingrained possessiveness, aggressiveness, and self-seeking which are so characteristic of us in our present condition. Thus, at the very heart of life is the challenge of sacrifice; of dying to our present condition in order to move to a higher level of life. This can only happen by letting go of the false self. Suffering and death are not enemies, but doors leading to new levels of knowledge and of love. 3

Tozer’s question (second quotation) annoys me.

Primarily because the church today, including me and mine, does not ask it enough. There are days I am not sure we care enough to ask it.

We need to ask it—and we need to find the answer.

My thought is that we need to find the answer first. We see signs of it in both Luther’s and Keating’s writings from my devotions this morning. They both talk about the impact of Christ’s presence and love in our lives. That as Jesus touches our wounds, our brokenness, they take on the same rich holiness that His wounds did on the cross, and at the resurrection.

And seeing His glory all of life and even those pains and torments become blessings.

For through them, we reach out to Him in our despair, and He lifts us up, and heals us. They become contacts points for His knowing His presence, for we don’t look for it at other times. This allows us to sacrifice our pain, our resentment, our thirst for justice, all that which feeds our basic desires for self-preservation.

The freedom that follows is that which Isaiah prophesied would happen because of God’s chosen Servant, whom we know is Jesus. That prophesy’s subject is what Tozer wants to know how to communicate.

I think the only way is to make the church so aware of what it has… for a church that knows God thinks about them, cares for them and loves them.

If we know that, we can’t stop talking about Him, trying to help others receive the blessings of seeing His presence revealed to them.


1 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 141–142.

2 A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).

3 Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 218.

June 13, 2022

Fashioning Weapons into Agricultural Tools

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we have another new author to introduce to you, although he has been writing online for a long time. Chuck Larsen is a U.S. pastor, and we discovered him when looking at search results for the phrase “they will beat their swords into ploughshares.” It seemed like a timely search in view of the grassroots desire for gun reform in that country, and I couldn’t help but think of social activist Shane Claiborne, who literally takes guns and fashions them into garden tools.

Chuck’s articles are shorter than some we run here, so there is also a bonus devotional for you as well. Clicking the headers (titles) below will take you to where they first appeared. The first is from 2011, the second is from last week and is part of a series in Genesis. If you’re reading this June 2022, simply visit the blog and read through.

Beat Their Swords Into Ploughshares

God has not only given us His absolute truth to guide our life by, but also has promised us a king who will one day apply that truth across the board for all mankind. This King and judge of all will be recognized by the entire world. He will come! He will establish His Kingdom and we will finally have peace. Micah 4:3-4 is a famous passage. Every soldier that’s ever walked a rice patty or stormed a beach, or pointed a rifle, or pushed a button longs for the fulfillment of this passage. Every mother who lost a son, every wife, every child whose husband or father didn’t return from battle gets goose bumps when they read this.

It says,

“He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.”

This passage is also found in Isaiah Chapter two. It is inscribed on a stone wall facing the United Nations building in New York. Khrushchev saw a figurative fulfillment of the prophecy when he visited the John Deere factory near Des Moines, Iowa: The plant was built early in World War II for manufacture of machine-gun bullets. Today it produces farm implements.

Micah 5:2-4 is another famous passage. We often sing about it at Christmas time. It tells us about the Prince of Peace who will end war for all time.

It says,

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, …And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

The next time I sing, “O little town of Bethlehem,” I’ll sing it with more meaning. “The Hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight!”

Chuck

“…his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Dust Thou Art!

In Genesis 2:7 we see more detail in God’s creation of our first ancestors. It says, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

Picking up on what Wenham said in his commentary that I quoted earlier, he adds to his comments on verses 5 and 6 and says more, “The writer flashes back to the situation before mankind was created on the sixth day (1:26–28) and describes a typical middle-eastern desert, which requires human effort to irrigate and make it bloom. It was from the clay of such an area that God, the great Potter, moulded the first man and breathed into him the breath of life. Through this traditional image Genesis implies that people are by nature more than material; they have a spiritual, God-breathed, element too.”[1]

Referring to the material aspect of man, “clay” or “earth” or more often “the ground,” Adam, the man, and Adamah the ground have an intimate relationship. Mangun says, “The word for man is adam, while ground is adamah, so the verse says that God formed adam from the dust of adamah.”[2] He then points out that other commentators insist that both Akkadian and Egyptian texts depict God forming man from clay like a potter. This is a familiar comparison in the Bible as well. One commentator even argues that this relationship is intentional. “God forming man here is intentionally evoking the image of a potter and clay.” Then he points out “The Hebrew word used three times in Gen 2 for ‘formed’ is the same word that describes the potter and his activity in Isa 29:16.”[3]

I love that verse. The English Standard Version follows the traditional translation and says, “Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’”? I like the New Living Translation better. It says, “How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, ‘He didn’t make me’? Does a jar ever say, ‘The potter who made me is stupid’’?

It was a common practice for man, in repenting, to cover themselves with dust and ashes. I think the “dust” was symbolic of the acknowledgement of being the clay who has not right to question the potter. It took Job 40 chapters to wrestle with why bad things happen in the world to good people. After he and his friends exhausted all their puny ideas, God confronts them with questions they cannot answer. Job finally gets the point in Job 42:2-6 and says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak.” Sometimes it’s good to remember that we are but dust.


[1] Wenham, Gordon J. 1994. “Genesis.” In New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, edited by D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham, 4th ed., 62. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[2] Mangum, Douglas, Miles Custis, and Wendy Widder. 2012. Genesis 1–11. Lexham Research Commentaries. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] Mangum, Douglas, Miles Custis, and Wendy Widder. 2012. Genesis 1–11. Lexham Research Commentaries. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

January 27, 2022

When Relationships Get Ugly

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through Luke 4:14-21

by Clarke Dixon

Relationships can get very ugly very quickly. Whether between people groups or among family and friends, things can turn sour fast. I’m sure I don’t need to give examples as you probably have first-hand experience. Don’t we all!?

We have an example of relationships getting ugly fast when Jesus made a positive first impression on his hometown crowd and then that same crowd attempted to throw him off a cliff! Digging into this event will help us with our ugly relationships.

So what happened? Let’s see where it begins:

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:16-21 (NRSV)

We will see why things got ugly when we compare what Jesus went on to say, and not say, with what Isaiah went on to say in Isaiah 61 had Jesus just kept reading.

The first thing we notice is that Jesus stopped quoting Isaiah at a significant moment. He stopped mid-sentence. Had he gone on to read further, he would have read:

…to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,

Isaiah 61:2 (NIV emphasis added)

Jesus stopped short of talking about vengeance. Maybe that is our first clue on handling ugly relationships?

To understand what is going on here more fully, it will help us to realize that Isaiah had prophesied to God’s people about the Babylonian invasion of the promised land, the exile of many to Babylon, and then here in the passage quoted by Jesus, their subsequent return. Isaiah was looking forward to the day God’s people would be set free from the Babylonians, a day of “release to the captives” when “the oppressed go free.”

According to Isaiah, not only could God’s people look forward to freedom from these foreign oppressors, the tables would be turned on the enemy. For example,

Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,
foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines;
but you shall be called priests of the LORD,
you shall be named ministers of our God;
you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations,
and in their riches you shall glory.

Isaiah 61:5-6 (NRSV)

According to Isaiah’s prophecy God’s people would no longer be slave-laborers for the Babylonians but instead the foreign enemies would be laborers in the promised land. Also, the wealth of God’s people would no longer belong to Babylon, but instead the wealth of nations would be brought to God’s people. This is a reversal of fortunes.

Those in Jesus’ day would have latched onto this reversal of fortunes, especially when Jesus said “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What those listening to Jesus would have been thinking is, “great, just as we needed rescue from Babylon, we now need rescue from these Romans who have invaded our land! This miracle worker may just be the one who will lead the rebellion!”

However, Jesus neither went on to read that part of Isaiah 61 nor to apply it to the current situation, making no insinuation that the tables would be turned and the Romans would become subject to the Jews. As much as the crowd would have loved to have heard that, he said this instead:

Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.

Luke 4:24-27 (NRSV)

Instead of speaking about the tables being turned against the foreigners, Jesus gave two examples from the Old Testament of foreigners receiving a greater blessing from God than God’s people. This is not what the crowd wanted to hear, and this is the point things got ugly and they took Jesus out to throw him off a cliff. This is also the point that helps us with ugly relationships.

Jesus did indeed come to set the prisoners free, but God’s people had bigger enemies than the Romans to worry about. Sin was the greater enemy. The Romans themselves were captive to that same enemy, and in fact, without Christ, so are we. The Romans, though being the oppressors, were themselves prisoners. They were captive to sin, captive to thinking that brute force was the way toward a better world, captive to life without God.

Indeed the brute force of Rome combined with the ignorance of the Jewish religious leaders in the execution of Jesus. Here again, Jesus stopped short of vengeance. Rising from the dead Jesus did not call for immediate destruction of his enemies, but instead sent out his disciples to tell people the good news of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that is entered through the receiving of God’s forgiveness and grace. That forgiveness was, and is still, offered to all God’s enemies.

Our Ugly Relationships

Do you have ugly relationships with others? We have bigger enemies to worry about, enemies that all humans face, like hatred, grudges, gossip, and dangerous ideologies or theologies. Let us seek release from these enemies. Perhaps we should put more of our focus and energy on battling these sins than on doing battle with the people we have ugly relationships with. That battle may begin with our own hearts.

When relationships get ugly let us begin by stopping short of seeking vengeance. We might need to learn the art of stopping our thoughts and words mid-sentence, before things go too far. The thought of justice comes naturally to us. The jump from justice to vengeance is a short hop that comes naturally to us. The way of the cross does not. We have God’s Spirit to help!

When our relationships get ugly, let us be like Jesus and remember love first.

Our relationships, our world, could be different if we become enthused by the grace of God, whose first response to His enemies, and ours, is love.


  • To watch a 20-minute sermon on which today’s devotional is based, click this link.

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.

September 2, 2021

In Repentance and Stress is Your Salvation?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through Isaiah 30:15

by Clarke Dixon

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength . . .

Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

For many people, the Christian life does not seem like a restful life, but a stressful life. It is a life of continual guilt, and when you do not feel guilty, you feel guilt for not feeling guilty. It is a life preoccupied with sin.

Repentance can be defined as remorse over wrongdoing or sin, feeling shame and regret. We might assume that the Christian life is to be a life of constant remorse, regret, and shame.

And so some have found Christianity to be stressful. Isaiah 30:15 may as well read, ”in regret and stress is your salvation.”

Is this the way it should be? Is the Christian life best described as a life preoccupied with sin?

Thinking through Isaiah 30:15 will help. So let’s dig in.

The prophet here is speaking to a specific situation in Old Testament times when God’s people in Judah were under threat of invasion by Assyria. When small nations are under threat from bigger, more powerful nations, the most natural thing to do is make an alliance with another big nation. We do this as Canadians, seeking national security by being part of NORAD and NATO. If anyone wants to mess with us, they will have to mess with the collective might of so many other nations including the military might of the Americans.

So God’s people in Judah did what small nations do, they sought an alliance. What did God think of that?

“Woe to the obstinate children,”
declares the LORD,
“to those who carry out plans that are not mine,
forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,
heaping sin upon sin;
who go down to Egypt
without consulting me;
who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection,
to Egypt’s shade for refuge.
But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame,
Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace.
Though they have officials in Zoan
and their envoys have arrived in Hanes,
everyone will be put to shame
because of a people useless to them,
who bring neither help nor advantage,
but only shame and disgrace. ”

Isaiah 30:1-5 (NIV) 1

Making an alliance with Egypt? Bad idea!

The right thing to do, would be to seek God, to remember the covenant with God, to lean into that covenant with greater passion, trusting that God is faithful and will carry out His covenant promises. To sum up God’s covenant promises, “stick with me and I’ll stick with you and you will live and flourish in the promised land. Don’t stick with me and you are on your own (and remember you are a small nation stuck between big bad enemies, so invasion and exile is how that will go).” Therefore turn to God, and not Egypt.

This is where verse 15 comes in:

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,

Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

To paraphrase; in turning, or rather returning, to God for help, rather than turning to Egypt for help, and in resting, putting your future as God’s people in God’s hands, rather than trying so hard to ensure safety through an alliance, will be your rescue from the Assyrians. In a quiet confidence in God and trusting in him rather than the Egyptians will be your strength.

The Hebrew word translated “repentance” here in the NIV is not the word meaning “feel ashamed of” or “regret.” It is the word for turning as recognized in many translations, including the NRSV: “In returning and rest you shall be saved”.

So in context, repentance here is not so much a feeling of regret or shame over sin as we would normally think of it, but a decisiveness, a decision to depend on God rather than Egypt. Yes, feeling guilty over not sticking with God and his ways would happen, but the more important thing than the emotions involved is the decision to stick with God. As my wife and I have often said to our children, “it is not an apology we are looking for, but a change in behaviour.”

Given that Isaiah 30:15 was written for a specific occasion, what does it have to do with us?

Does this mean that we as Canadians should not turn to allies like we do with NORAD and NATO for security and defence? Does this mean that we should not turn to doctors when we fall ill, or scientists and their vaccines when there is a pandemic? Does this mean we should trust no one but God alone?

Well, no. Remember the prophet was originally speaking to a specific people who were under a specific covenant with specific promises, about a specific patch of land, during a situation that was specific to them. We are not that people, those are not our promises, Canada is not that land, we are not living under that covenant.

That being said, we too have the opportunity to be in a covenant relationship with God; the new covenant through Jesus. He died for the forgiveness of our sins. God’s promise to us is eternal life with God, beginning with his presence in our lives now. When it comes to these spiritual realities that are a matter of eternal life and death, what can be said about the old covenant, can be said about the new covenant:

In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.

Isaiah 30:15 (NRSV)

In turning to God and in resting in what God has done for us in Jesus is our salvation, in quietness and trust is our strength. We don’t depend on ourselves, on our own capacity to impress God with how good we are. We live in relationship with God, trusting Him, trusting in His love for us. We rest in God’s love, we live in a quiet confidence. The Christian life is not a life of preoccupation with our sin, and our imperfections, but of preoccupation with God and God’s perfect love.

There may well be things in our lives that we should feel ashamed of, that we should regret. Repentance is part of the Christian life and an opportunity for growth. However, framing the Christian life as a life of constant shame and regret, as a never-ending preoccupation with sin, is itself regrettable.

The Christian life is a life of trust and living in God’s love, of resting in God’s loving embrace.

It is not “in regret and stress is your salvation” but “in turning to God and rest is your salvation.”


Join us again tomorrow for a “catch up” post now that Clarke is back from vacation. Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursday and is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Clicking the header which appears just above his name takes you to his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

December 3, 2020

It’s All a Mess, But There’s Hope!

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

What a messed-up Christmas this is likely to be! Even more people than usual will be dealing with loneliness. Family and church traditions will be messed-up including carol sings. And of course, COVID-19 is not expected to take a holiday for the holidays. Then there are those who will spend Christmas in the hospital. In fact, this is not just a messed-up Christmas, it is a messed-up year.

This will not be the first messed-up Christmas. God’s people were in a big mess that very first Christmas. How did they end up there? God created humanity. Humans rebelled. God had a plan to reconcile humans to himself which included the calling of a special people, the Hebrew people known as Israel. God entered into a covenant with them, which if you are not sure what a covenant is, marriage is a covenant complete with covenant promises, known to us as vows. As is the case with marriage, there are consequences when one of the partners breaks the covenant. God’s people broke the covenant and as a consequence things did not go well, they went into exile. God promised restoration. Though an invading army had taken the people out of the promised land, He promised they would return. They did eventually return to the land, but it felt like God did not. First the Greeks invaded. Alexander the Great was not that great if you were Jewish. Then the Romans invaded. They were the ones in charge when Jesus was born. The Romans installed Herod the Great as the king, even though he had no right to the throne. Herod the Great was not that great either, if you were Jewish.

This was not how things were supposed to be. God had promised to bless Israel and to bless all peoples through Israel. But here were God’s people under the thumb of the Romans. The Romans were ever present, God seemed far away.

As often happens when people are in a mess, things get messy. When people are in messy situations, they tend to divide over how to deal with it. We see this in God’s people at the time of Jesus’ birth. Some were known as zealots. They were calling for everyone to rise up against the Romans and fight for freedom. Some were known as Pharisees. They were calling everyone to double down on being religious. Some, including those known as Sadducees, were calling people to accept the status quo. Then there were those like the Essenes, who had given up on everyone else and were trying to create their own, smaller, but better, community.

We see these four responses among people anytime things get messy. We see this today in nations, families, indeed any people group. I have seen it in churches:

  • “Pastor, we need to fight for what is right.”
  • “Pastor, we need ensure greater purity among our people.”
  • “Pastor, we need to just go along with the powers-that-be.”
  • “Pastor, I’m outta here.”

Perhaps you have heard these kinds of responses as well . . . or responded to messy situations in these kinds of ways.

With all the mess we are in and the mess we stir up in response, is there hope?

Isaiah predicted that the people would be in a mess following their exile. He had a message of hope for them, and for us:

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.

Isaiah 40:1-2 (NRSV)

If it felt to God’s people in Jesus’ day like the exile never really ended, that the covenant with God was broken forever, that God had finally walked out of the relationship completely; take comfort, He did not. The people are no longer suffering the consequence of breaking the covenant. God is still in love with people. God still has a plan of blessing.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Isaiah 40:3-5 (NRSV)

If it felt to God’s people like they came back from exile, but God remained far away, they were to take heart, for God was on the way. Isaiah used imagery here of preparing for the arrival of someone very important to the city, making sure the road is suitable for the king.

A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Isaiah 40:6-8 (NRSV)

If it felt to God’s people like they would never get their act together, that their “constancy is like the flower of the field,” that they would never be that faithful people God deserves, they were to take comfort, for God’s promises still stand: “the word of our God will stand forever.” God is still on ‘plan A’ and God’s people are still part of ‘plan A’ even if they had trouble sticking to it.

Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
See, the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

Isaiah 40:9-11 (NRSV)

Though the Romans seemed to be in charge, though the people were divided, God was on the way. God is powerful, and can deal with every mess created by every enemy. God cares for his people like a shepherd cares for a flock.

The message of Isaiah 40 was clear. Despite the mess, God was on His way.

Enter Jesus.

The Gospel of Mark does not contain the Christmas story. But it does begin with the fact of Christmas:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’ ”

Mark 1:1-3 (NRSV)

The Gospel writer goes on to tell us about John the Baptizer who prepares the way for Jesus. The message is clear. God is on His way, and through Jesus He is here. Merry Christmas!

The Gospels go on to connect Jesus with the Isaiah 40 passage, particularly the image of God coming as a shepherd:

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. . . . And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass.

Mark 6:34, 38-39 (NRSV)

When Jesus feeds the five thousand with just a few loaves and fish, the image of Jesus as shepherd is unmistakable. In fact when Jesus has the disciples make people sit down on the green grass we are even reminded of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;

Psalm 23:1,2a (NRSV)

Additionally, Jesus refers to himself as a shepherd in John 10:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10:11 (NRSV)

The hope filled message of Isaiah, chapter 40, of God coming to us, and being a shepherd among us, is fulfilled in Jesus. He promises to be present with us always:

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:20b (NRSV)

With the mess we are in, where is our hope today? Is it found in,

  • fighting, and using violence in words or actions, like the zealots?
  • doubling down on being religious like the Pharisees?
  • acquiescing to the status quo like the Sadducees?
  • separating ourselves from the others like the Essenes?

Our hope is in walking with Jesus. He is the shepherd who will lead us through the mess, feeding us, binding up our wounds, carrying us, dealing with the enemy, even the greatest of enemies:

The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

1 Corinthians 15:26 (NRSV)

When Jesus came into the world it was a very messed-up world. It was a messed-up Christmas. God’s people were in a mess and in trying to deal with it, they just made things messier yet. A baby was born on that first messed-up Christmas, and with him, hope was born.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. The full reflection (sermon) can be seen as part of this “online worship expression(online service). Previous posts by Clarke can be found here, or at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

September 27, 2020

How God Uses the Problem(s) You’re Facing Today

Today again, we’re introducing a new (to us) writer, K.K. Hodge, who describes herself as “a family nurse practitioner, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, Sunday School teacher, church treasurer, and crazy critter farmer.” She’s also the author of three books, but only began blogging daily devotions at Inspirations from the Funny Farm after Coronavirus hit. Click the link below to read today’s at source. You might also enjoy the one she posted this morning.

Give me a word, Lord: PICTURE THIS

Isaiah 41:13 For I hold you by your right hand—I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, “Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.”

Isaiah 46:4 I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.

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

We’ve been reading in the book of Isaiah the last few nights as we continue our reading through the Bible in a year plan. There are some very good words of wisdom in this book and many great reassurances. I praise God for His Word. I am so thankful that He provided His Holy Word to give us guidance, strength, and peace. We have God that is bigger than all our troubles and problems, and His Word reveals that to us over and over again.

We all have problems. We may not admit them, but if we are living and breathing, we probably have some sort of problem or concern. The problem with our problems is that we try work them out on our own. I’m a very visual person. I love to take pictures. I take pictures of anything and everything, and when I’m working things out in my mind, I do so with pictures or images. Sometimes we have to picture things in order to get a clear image of the situation at hand.

When we picture all our problems in our mind, we see all the different problems in the picture. We may see financial problems, relationship issues, concerns about our children, health troubles, job stressors, and the list goes on. We see all of these troubles in the picture, and then we see ourselves sitting in the middle of the picture surrounded by all of these problems. The problem with this is that we are seeing it all wrong! When we look at a picture of all those problems, we shouldn’t see ourselves sitting in the midst of the trouble, but rather we should see GOD in the picture with our problems. We have to take ourselves out everything, and we need to give everything to God.

Some might say, if God is handling all of my problems, why do I have so many? Well, my friend, sometimes we bring those problems on ourselves. We aren’t perfect. We goof up every now and then even when we are trying to live a good and righteous life. God can and will handle any and all problems that we are enduring, but we have to trust Him through the process. Psalm 119:71-72 tells us, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees. Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver.” What? Did he say that suffering is good for me? Yea, buddy! When we go through the struggles in life, we learn from the difficulties and we learn to lean on our Lord and Savior. We are going to have problems in this life. Life is a problem solving adventure. WE may not choose the problem, but we get to choose how the problem affects us. The problem will either develop us or defeat us. We get to make the choice.

No matter what type of difficulty you are going through, you can rest assured that God will use the problem for your benefit. Sometimes He uses the situation to direct you. Maybe He needs to get you to start moving in a certain direction, and He uses a problem to ignite you and get you going. Maybe, just maybe, God has placed something on your heart that He wants you to do, but you won’t budge. Maybe He uses a problem to get you moving in the direction in which He desires for you to go.

Sometimes He uses a problem to correct you. Maybe you are going down a path of destruction, and God uses a problem to teach you a lesson. Ouch! We don’t like the sounds of that one, but there is truth there. Just as a parent disciplines a child who is doing wrong, God is going to discipline His kids. He’s going to get our attention, and a lesson will be learned. Just as we love our children too much to allow them to do things that will harm them, God loves us too much to ignore us when we are doing wrong.

Maybe God is using the problem to inspect you. Did you ever think of that? I’ve read this little saying on social media. “You are holding a cup of hot coffee, and someone bumps you and causes the hot coffee to spill everywhere. Why did you spill the coffee? Because there was coffee in the cup. Had there been tea in the cup, you would have spilled tea. The point is whatever is in the cup will be spilled out. Therefore, when life comes along and shakes you, whatever is inside of you will spill out.” So…what spills out when you are struggling through a difficult situation? Do people around you see fear, anger, bitterness, or do they see love and grace as the marks of a true child of God? What does God see when He inspects you?

Maybe God is using your problem to protect you. Perhaps He has closed the door on a job, a new place to live, or a dream that you had, and it seems like the end of the world. We have to remember that God knows what is coming down the road, and sometimes He closes doors so that other doors can be opened. We can’t see as God sees. He is all knowing, and He knows just what we need when we need it. He may remove a person, a thing, or even a job from our lives in order to provide needed protection.

Our problems weigh us down. We try to carry the burden all alone. Oh, if we could only see the big picture. All those problems that we picture are not too big for God. We may or may not have invited the problem in, but regardless, God is going to use the situation for our good and His glory every time. Stop picturing yourself surrounded by all of the problems of the day. Begin picturing our perfect Lord and Savior…sitting right there in the middle of it all…working it all out. He’s working on each one of us. He’s directing us, correcting us, inspecting us, and protecting us, and ultimately, y’all, He is perfecting us. Just picture it!

 

May 19, 2020

The God Who Touches Lepers

Melody has creating devotional writing at In Pleasant Places since January, 2013. This is her 5th time being highlighted here. Her blog started somewhat organically from correspondence she was sharing with a friend, as she explains in her story. To read this at her blog, click the header below.

Powerful Healing, Compassionate Love – Isaiah 53:4-5

“Surely He has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows…
Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with His stripes we are healed.”

Isaiah 53:4-5

I read these words by Charles Spurgeon this morning:

“What a mass of hideous sickness must have thrust itself under the eye of Jesus! Yet we read not that He was disgusted, but patiently waited on every case… Whatever my own case may be, the beloved Physician can heal me; and whatever may be the state of others whom I may remember at this moment in prayer, I may have hope in Jesus that He will be able to heal them of their sins.”

This is the example the disciples witnessed. Jesus, with compassion and care for all. Not repulsed. Not hesitant or intimidated. Instead, He was welcoming and patient. Demonstrating that there is no lost cause; He can heal all who come to Him. A powerful physical demonstration of His ability to heal, cleanse, and restore, pointing to His greater healing of the soul for all who believe in Him.

No sin is too great, too dark, too ongoing. He cleanses all.

That’s what He died for.

And He meets us with the same compassion regardless of how dirty, shameful, and unworthy we feel – just as He met the high priest in Zechariah’s vision, rebuking his accuser, removing his iniquity (taking it on Himself ultimately on the cross), and clothing him in pure garments (Zechariah 3:1-4).

As Jesus reached out His hand to touch the leper (Luke 5:11-13), He reaches out His hand to touch and cleanse us. To pull us out of the mire and give us a new song to sing (Psalm 40:1-3). To change our lives because we are delivered into His kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13-14), freed to know Him in relationship and experience His grace in obedience. Freed to love and serve Him, walking in the newness of abundant life. With strength and peace, joy and steadfast hope.

When we are freed, may we never forget the greatness of His salvation, the depth and depravity of sin He saves us from, or our continual need of His mercy and grace – and His ability and ready willingness to meet that need (Hebrews 4:16).

May we never look at others’ chains and sicknesses with disgust, but as our Savior does – with compassion. With love. Reaching out to meet them where they are, and gently sharing our experience of a God who loves them enough to die for them, a God who will not shame them, a God who stands with ready open arms to assure them, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zechariah 3:4).

Fellow believers, let us not be repulsed.

Let us not shame.

Let us not cast down.

Rather, let us reach out to love.

Let us listen.

Let us share of the Father’s great love and mercy, manifested on the cross of Jesus and extended very personally to those He puts in our path.

Let us share this not to change them, but to introduce them to the living God of love, hope, peace, and freedom. For each precious one who believes in Him, He will draw them out of the mire into His light. He will free them from their sin. We bring others to Jesus in love and compassion; His Spirit does the rest, just as He continues His work to free us from our sin. A work that He will bring to completion for all who are His (Philippians 1:6).

Because His healing work is that powerful and His love for us is that great.

“I waited patiently for the LORD;
He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.”
Psalm 40:1-3


April 17, 2020

Potsherds, Grog, and other Pieces of Our Past

Today’s devotional is an excerpt from popular Christian author Lysa TerKeurst‘s bestselling book, It’s Not Supposed to be This Way in which she shares living through cancer. To read the full excerpt, click this link. To learn more about the book, click this link.

When God Gives You More Than You Can Handle

[O]ne day… a couple of girls introduced themselves while standing in line to get some take-out food at a restaurant near my house. We chatted for a minute about what God had been teaching them, and then the topic of what I’d be writing next came up. I told them about… the revelation God had given me about dust. Jessica’s eyes lit up. Her mom is a professional potter…

…She’d seen clay being formed into many beautiful things when placed into her mother’s hands. And then she shared something with me that made my jaw drop.

She told me that wise potters not only know how to form beautiful things from clay, but they also know how important it is to add some of the dust from previously broken pieces of pottery to the new clay. This type of dust is called “grog.” To get this grog, the broken pieces must be shattered to dust just right. If the dust is shattered too finely, then it won’t add any structure to the new clay. And if it’s not shattered enough, the grog will be too coarse and make the potter’s hands bleed.

But when shattered just right, the grog dust added to the new clay will enable the potter to form the clay into a larger and stronger vessel than ever before. And it can go through fires much hotter as well. Plus, when glazed, these pieces end up having a much more beautiful, artistic look to them than they would have otherwise.

Jessica smiled and said, “C’mon, that will preach, right?!”

Oh, it absolutely did. I kept thinking about what Jessica shared and how it might relate to my season of suffering. What if the clay made from all the other dust currently in my life could be strengthened by this newly added broken piece?

And then I read Isaiah 45:9:

Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?

God is making something beautiful out of my life. I know that. So, why question what He sees as the necessary ingredients to make my life stronger and more beautiful than ever? Sure, my diagnosis added some more brokenness, but even this could be used for my good.

I kept reading that verse from Isaiah and decided to do a little investigation into the term potsherd.

A potsherd is a broken piece of pottery.

Interestingly enough, a potsherd was also mentioned in the story of Job when he was inflicted with an awful disease.

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. — Job 2:7-10

A broken potsherd can lie on the ground and be nothing more than a constant reminder of brokenness. It can also be used to continue to scrape us and hurt us even more when kept in our hands.

Or, when placed in our Master’s hands, the Master Potter can be entrusted to take that potsherd, shatter it just right, and then use it in the remolding of me to make me stronger and even more beautiful.


Taken from It’s Not Supposed to be This Way by Lysa TerKeurst Copyright © 2018 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

May 11, 2019

Out of His Pain, We Are Counted Righteous

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Zech.3:3-4 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.  The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”

Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”

This is our third time with Melody who writes at In Pleasant Places for six years. As we explained previsouly, her blog started from correspondence she was sharing with a friend; see more at her story. To read today’s article at her blog, click the header below.

Anguish and Joy – Isaiah 53:11

“Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.”

Isaiah 53:11

This is one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture. Capturing so powerfully Jesus’ perspective of His sacrifice on the cross. I’m sure I have written on it before, but its impact on me is renewed each time I read it, reflecting on the love of our Savior and the love of God the Father to send Jesus for our salvation, knowing all it would require.

As Isaiah 53:5 says, Jesus was wounded for our transgressions, our offenses against the law established by the sovereign God of the universe. He was crushed for our iniquities, our immoral and wicked behavior. Jesus took the chastisement, the punishment due for the choices we made, to bring us peace with God. And with His stripes – a picture that brings me to the severe lashes on His back from His scourging – we are healed, every crevice of our heart, to the very depths of our soul.

Jesus endured all of this. Sorrow upon sorrow, abandoned by those closest to Him, mocked and scorned by crowds. Unimaginable physical pain. The darkness and heavy weight of all sin, laid on this One who is light. An agonizing break in relationship as Jesus took our place on the cross as forsaken, willingly taking the wrath of Holy God for us and experiencing for the first time in all eternity a separation from God the Father.

But out of this, through the anguish of His soul – the soul of the beautiful, perfect, infinite and holy Son and Word of God – He sees and is satisfied.

Because through this knowledge of grief and pain, Jesus makes many to be regarded as righteous. All who believe in Him, who previously had no hope of righteousness because unrighteousness filled our souls. Jesus fully and successfully bore our iniquities, that we would bear them no longer and be set free from sin. He is satisfied because He can silence our accuser, remove our filthy rags stained with our sin, and personally adorn us with pure vestments (Zechariah 3:1-4).

Ever our intercessor and good shepherd. Caring for each of His own and not losing one of them (John 10:28).

Ensuring, through the perfect fullness of His sacrifice, that no condemnation or accusation can touch us, because we are His. Sealed with His Spirit who lives and works within us, whose presence is revealed and affirmed by the evident renewal of our minds and hearts as we become more and more like Christ, day by day, until we stand blameless before the throne of His glory as He presents us to Himself with great joy. To the praise of His glorious grace.

“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died
– more than that, who was raised –
who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
Romans 8:33-34

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling
and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,
to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord,
be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
Jude 24-25

January 3, 2019

2018 “Bible Verse of the Year”

by Clarke Dixon

What was the most popular Bible verse of 2018? According to the popular Bible app YouVersion, the verse of the year was not John 3:16 or Romans 8:28 as you might expect. It was Isaiah 41:10.

Unfortunately, this verse is an indicator of what was on the hearts and minds of people around the world in 2018; fear and discouragement. We had many reasons for fear in 2018, such as changes in society and changes in our world with movements toward nationalism and various kinds of fundamentalism. We saw changes in relationships between nations, thinking especially of renewed trade wars. Most of us saw changes in ourselves. I am one year closer to the big five-O. Perhaps you are one year further away from it. Aging can be a great cause for fear. Then there are the things that stay the same; wars and rumours of wars, continuing oppression, natural disasters. There were reasons for fear in Isaiah’s day as well. Israel was a small nation surround by strong nations. That can be cause for fear in any age, but certainly back in the days when empires were eaten up by bigger empires.

What do we humans do when we are afraid? Isaiah tells us:

5 The lands beyond the sea watch in fear.
Remote lands tremble and mobilize for war.
6 The idol makers encourage one another,
saying to each other, “Be strong!”
7 The carver encourages the goldsmith,
and the molder helps at the anvil.
“Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. Isaiah 41:5-7

The New Living Translation makes clear what most other translations don’t. The artisans and goldsmiths are making idols. We have a tendency of turning to idolatry in the midst of fear. In Isaiah’s time people thought idols could control the future. Are we any different today? What do we think controls the future in our day? In answering this we tend to either run toward superstition, or away from it so far that we run from the supernatural altogether.

It amazes me when I check the news headlines using the Internet on my tablet as to how often the daily horoscope shows up among the headline news. Here we are as very sophisticated people with great technology in our hands, and yet people are still looking to the stars for their future.

Superstition can sneak into Christianity very easily. I have often used an app on my phone called IFTTT which means “if this, then that.” I program this app so that when I do the right “trigger,” it will automatically do the right action. So, for example, I can say “time to eat,” and text messages are sent to our boys that dinner is ready. People often treat God that way. If I do this, then God must do that. I can control the future by doing a certain “trigger” which will force God to do the right action. Problem is, God is not an app or a phone that he must operate according to our scripts. God is sovereign. I am reminded of a prominent Christian couple who walked away from Christianity in 2018. God had not responded to them as they thought He should have. People do not tend to walk away from Jesus. They do, however, walk away from superstitious expressions of Christianity. Unfortunately, people tend to walk towards superstitious expressions of Christianity in times of fear.

While some, in thinking of the future, rush headlong into superstition, others will go the opposite extreme and become anti-supernatural. Nothing controls the future, it just all unfolds according to mechanistic processes. Even the process of thinking is said to be just a matter of one thing causing another, like a line of dominoes falling. Anti-supernaturalism can be found in certain expression of Christianity where people appreciate the benefits of religion such as structure, morality, and community. However, they don’t really believe in a transcendent and immanent sovereign God. The world is what it is and the future will be what it will be.

According to Isaiah, neither superstition, nor anti-supernaturalism speaks to our future. Who really holds the future? We find out in Isaiah 41:8-10

8 “But as for you, Israel my servant,
Jacob my chosen one,
descended from Abraham my friend,
9 I have called you back from the ends of the earth,
saying, ‘You are my servant.’
For I have chosen you
and will not throw you away.
10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:8-10

God holds the future. Notice how Isaiah points to the past, present, and future. God’s people could look back and see a long standing relationship with God, “I have chosen you.” They have been his people for a long time. They can look to the present “I am with you, don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.” They can look to the future, “I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Nothing could provide hope and help in times of fear like God Himself. In thinking of the future we do well to leave behind our superstitions and our anti-supernaturalism and turn to God. He holds the future as surely as He has held the past and now holds the present.

The theme of “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you” will sound familiar to the Christian. We can think of the angels announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds:

9 They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! – Luke 2:9-11

That God had become present through Jesus was good news, and so “do not be afraid”! We are also reminded of the last words of Jesus to the disciples in the Gospel of Matthew:

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:20

Like the people of Isaiah’s day, we can look to the past to see the relationship God has been pursuing with us. We can look to Christmas, we can look to Easter and the reconciliation that He has offered at the cross. We can also look to God’s presence in our lives now. We can look forward to God keeping His promises in the future.

2018 may have been a year marked by fear and discouragement for you. Perhaps Isaiah 41:10 is a verse you want to memorize for 2019.

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

May your New Year be blessed and happy!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. All scripture references are NRSV.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

…or, if you prefer, all his articles here at C201 can be seen at this link.

Scripture references today are taken from the NLT

December 28, 2018

Recurring Fulfillment: A Virgin Shall Conceive

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today’s post is new, but first I want to refer back to something we covered in 2012. At the time — as we will also consider today — the question was, “How can a prophecy which was so clearly fulfilled at ‘Point A’ in time, be considered to be one which will be fulfilled at ‘Point B’? Or to put it the other way around, “How can something which is so clearly speaking about something which will be fulfilled at ‘Point B’ be said to have already been fulfilled at ‘Point A’?

At the time I shared this:

I asked an old friend of mine and former seminary student about this, because it happens in the prophetic writings and also in the Psalms. He shared with me how the prophets see across a line of time, with the vision of someone following stones skipping across the water. So we find prophecies having fulfillment at various junctures in history; and while the a text in Luke [21] would seem to have its primary fulfillment in the destruction of the temple, it could also be argued that this is actually a secondary fulfillment because it is a mere foreshadowing of the main events to come.

When you’re in the moment however, things are different. In 2011, we shared this:

Bruxy Cavey is a pastor and author who maintains the prophecy should be read ‘backwards’ to see how God was in control all along, not ‘forward’ to try to predict the future. We can’t read forward. On the other hand, author and pastor Rob Bell teaches that every Jewish girl envisioned the possibility of herself being “the one” who would give birth to the Savior.

That brings us to today’s thoughts, our second visit to the site Discovering the Bible, written by Deborah, a retired doctor now living in Swansea, Wales.

The virgin shall conceive…?

Isaiah 7:1-17 [click here to read the whole passage]

King Ahaz has a problem: enemies are marching on Jerusalem, and he needs help urgently. The prophet Isaiah goes to meet him and declares that God will intervene. God even offers the king a sign of his own choosing, to bolster his faith. But Ahaz refuses – faith plays no part in either his religion or his politics. He has already made up his mind what to do – which is to entrust the fate of his people to the Assyrian empire (II Kings 16:7,8) – and he doesn’t want to be proved wrong.

But God doesn’t take ‘No’ for an answer! David’s family cannot treat David’s God in such a cavalier fashion; so instead of being given a clear sign of God’s favour, they will be given an enigmatic one that they cannot understand…

“Therefore the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14)

In its immediate context, this prophecy refers to a certain young woman (the Hebrew word literally means ‘young unmarried woman’, but those who translated the Old Testament into Greek chose to use the Greek word for ‘virgin’). She is known to the king (the virgin), and there is no suggestion that her child will not be conceived in the normal way, in due course, when she has a husband. Her son’s name is a statement of faith, echoed in the following chapter: “God is with us” (Isaiah 8:10). So the kingdom of Judah will not fall. In fact, the crisis will be over (because Judah’s enemies will have been crushed by Assyria) before the boy has even had time to grow up (Isaiah 7:15,16).

On the face of it, this prophecy was a straightforward one, fulfilled within a few years of its pronouncement. Why should it have anything to do with Jesus? Certainly the Jews never expected their Messiah to be born of a virgin…

And yet… there is nothing particularly unusual about a young woman having a baby (those of us who work in contraceptive clinics know that it happens all the time)! And after the solemnity of Isaiah’s preamble (“Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights”), this is surely something of an anticlimax! Perhaps this is one reason why the old translators used the word ‘virgin’. It was an interpretation rather than a literal translation; nevertheless, their instinct was sound.

However, it was only after the Messiah was born of a virgin mother that the full significance of this prophecy was realised (Matthew 1:20,21). ‘Immanuel’ turned out to be not a prediction of His name but an accurate description of His nature: Jesus is not a symbol of God’s presence with us, but its reality (John 1:14).

May 29, 2018

The Chastisement of Our Peace

Sometimes a reader will leave a comment at very old post here, and it will remind me that the article might be worth sharing again. This one is from January, 2011…


He was wounded for our transgressions.

Those words, from the KJV of Isaiah 53:5 are probably among the scripture verses most known by heart.

By his stripes we are healed.

If you grew up Pentecostal or Charismatic, there is no escaping teaching on that part of the verse; no escaping the connect-the-dots between the scourging Christ suffered and the healing that is available to us today, in the 21st century.

But what about the third of the four clauses in that verse? Here’s the whole verse in the new NIV:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah, in this Messianic prophecy is saying that Christ’s suffering has brought us forgiveness for our transgressions and iniquities as well as (if you’re not dispensationalist) healing of mind and body.

But there it is, in the second-to-last, a reference to peace.

I mention all this because of a post I did this morning at Thinking Out Loud, where a U.S. pastor had his congregation complete an index card indicating the trials they were facing and the burdens they were carrying. If Isaiah 53 applies, then it must apply to the point of bringing peace to the very doubts, anxieties, fears, angers, jealousies, anger, pride, insecurities, addictions, pain, disappointments, attitudes… and everything else that people mentioned on those little 3-by-5 cards.

First, let’s do some translation hopping:

  • He took the punishment, and that made us whole (Message)
  • The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him (NASB)
  • the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him (Amplified)
  • He was beaten so we could be whole. (NLT)
  • The punishment which gives us the peace has fallen on him (tr. of French – Louis Segond)

Clearly, the intent of this verse is that our peace is part of the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The New International Bible Commentary says:

Peace and healing view sin in terms of the estrangement from God and the marring of sinners themselves that it causes.

The ESV Study Bible notes on this verse concur:

His sufferings went to the root of all human vice.

Lack of peace as sin? Worry and anxiety as sin? That’s what both of these commentators seem to say.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary makes clear however that the peace that is brought is a general well-being, not simply addressing the consequences of sin.

But in the Evangelical Bible Commentary, something else is suggested, that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is bringing a peace that represents the restoration between God and man.

Many of the other commentaries and study Bibles I own do not directly address this phrase. A broader study of the chapter reveals a Messiah suffering for all of the burdens we bear, such as the ones listed above in the pastor’s survey. (“Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear…”)

I’d be interested if any of you can find any blog posts or online articles where this particular phrase is addressed apart from the wider consideration of the verse as a whole.

At this point, let’s conclude by saying that the finished work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all manner of needs we face; all types of burdens we carry.

February 1, 2017

No Human Body Could Take the Full Impact of God’s Presence

With so much material to draw from, starting this month we will occasionally repeat some of the original devotional/study posts which have appeared here. This one is from 2013.


Exodus 33 20No One Can See God And Live

Occasionally I will read or hear conjecture as to what a “glorified body” will consist of when we leave this life and begin life in a New Earth governed by a new order. People speak of being able to transport instantly from one location to another in a manner reminiscent of Star Trek’s “beam me up.” Others wonder about food consumption, since scripture mentions a “marriage supper.” One discussion centered on clothing, because in God’s original order in the garden, the man and his wife were naked. (The conclusion was that yes, we will be, but our minds will be changed so we won’t think of it the same way.)

But I think the biggest change that will occur in those bodies will be that we will be able to withstand seeing God; we will be able to contain the impact of His presence. Have you ever heard that phrase, “No one can see God and live”? Where does that come from?

The reference is from Exodus 33:20. Here’s the story of a direct conversation — not a vision or dream — in context from the NLT with the key verse underlined:

Moses Sees the Lord’s Glory

12One day Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Take these people up to the Promised Land.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. You have told me, ‘I know you by name, and I look favorably on you.’ 13If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.”

14The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.”

15Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. 16How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”

17The Lord replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.”

18Moses responded, “Then show me your glorious presence.”

19The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh,c before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. 20But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21The Lord continued, “Look, stand near me on this rock. 22As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”

(whole chapter)

This is reinforced in the New Testament:

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

and

John 6:46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.

and

1 Timothy 6:16 12Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.13I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate,14that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,15which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,16who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.

(A parallel to that last passage is something familiar if you’ve sung the chorus How Great is Our God: Psalm 104:2 He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent. )

That doesn’t mean that some have not come close. We know that just a chapter later, when Moses received the “big ten” his face shone when he came down from the market.

The Radiant Face of Moses

29When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

33When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

This is confirmed in II Cor. 3:7 (ESV)

7Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?

This is also reminiscent of the familiar passage in Isaiah 6

1It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. 2Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3They were calling out to each other,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!
The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

4Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.

5Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”

Finally, we can’t begin to scratch the surface of this topic without considering the transfiguration in Matthew 17:

1After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Be sure to see also Revelation 10:1

Today’s reading was prepared using the online site, Bible Hub.

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