Christianity 201

November 13, 2020

What He’s Promised; What He’s Already Given

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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We’re grateful to our friends at HarperCollins Christian Publishing (Zondervan and Thomas Nelson) for allowing us to occasionally share content from their authors (and explaining to us how and when we can do this). This one actually appeared today at Devotions Daily (see link below to sign up; it’s free and you may unsubscribe at any time).

This is an excerpt from a newly-published resource, The Weekly Gratitude Project: A Challenge to Reflect, Journal and Grow a Grateful Heart. The book is described as, “a 52-week guided gratitude journal that offers a life-changing journey through reflection prompts and inviting questions to guide you into a deeper relationship with God. This yearly gratitude journal features beautifully illustrated journaling pages that will help you discover more intimacy and joy in your spiritual life.”

Gifts: What He’s Given

Looking ahead to what He has promised can help us. It can center us in the good to come, no matter the bleakness that sometimes darkens our hearts or fills our days. But we don’t have to look ahead.

Good things are all around you right now!

What He’s already given is more than what He’s promised to give in the future.

Consider, for instance, the gift of grace, which Paul said “is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This grace is already yours in Christ. You are already a new creation because of it, able to live a better life and make better choices than you’ve ever made before.

Consider the gift of hope. When Paul wrote to the Romans, he said we could “rejoice in hope” (Romans 12:12). This reason to rejoice is not yours to come. It’s yours now. It’s why you can open your eyes right now — in this day — with a smile on your face and joy in your heart.

Consider what Paul described as “the greatest” gift of all (1 Corinthians 13:13). If God’s love is already — and always — for us, what other gifts could we possibly need?

When packing your bags for a vacation, you’re likely to include a camera, or at least, you’re sure to pack a phone. This is because you anticipate seeing something worth capturing, something worth turning into a memory because of its uniqueness or beauty or both.

What if we approached every day this way?

But, instead of with a camera, what if we approached each day with a focused heart? What if we adjusted our lens so we could see the gifts God has placed all around us — little and big, invisible and visible, spiritual and physical, recurring and unique to today?

We have countless reasons to be thankful — but do start counting! Open your eyes to all He has given and give thanks.


In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. — Ephesians 1:7 NIV

Grace — it’s the best gift we have and maybe the hardest gift to understand because it’s so unlike anything else. It never wears out. It never quits working. It’s ours, even though we don’t deserve it. It’s ours, even when we forget we have it. It’s the ultimate reason to be grateful.

Describe “God’s rich grace.” What is it? What has it done for you? What does it continue to do?

Is God’s rich grace a gift you can share with others? How?


So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three. — 1 Corinthians 13:13

Hope is fuel. It’s what keeps us going when the days are hard. It’s what keeps us believing when valleys are long. It’s why we get back up, pushing on in faith, expecting better days to come. And they will. Because our hope is anchored in the One whom hard days and long valleys can’t touch:

In Christ we have hope. — 1 Corinthians 15:19

The book of Hebrews talks about all the “better” things Christ brings to life — both here and in heaven. How has Christ already made your life better?

What’s something in your life that you hope is made better in the future?

We don’t know how some things will turn out, but we do know about others. What do you hope for that’s “sure and steadfast,” promised to come about in Jesus (Hebrews 6:19)?


So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. — 1 Corinthians 13:13

Hope is fuel to carry us to tomorrow; love is a gift to carry us through today. Whatever we’re facing, whatever we wish we had or wish we didn’t have, whatever trouble or pain comes today, love comes too. It’s higher, wider, and deeper than any other thing.

And it’s here to stay (Romans 8:38–39).

Why do you think Paul said love is “the greatest” in 1 Corinthians 13:13?

What are you facing today that’s troubling you? Write about it, and then on top of what you’ve written, around and all over it, write the words “I am loved.”

Taken from The Weekly Gratitude Project, copyright © 2020 Zondervan. Used by permission.

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June 20, 2014

Keeping A Spiritual Journal: When You Look Back

Phil. 3:10 I want to know Him inside and out. I want to experience the power of His resurrection and join in His suffering, shaped by His death…  (The Voice)

When you write a devotional blog, or keep a devotional journal, inevitably there are times when you look back at past entries and say, “What on earth was that about?”  What obviously made a great deal of sense on the day you wrote it suddenly appears to be random. You know there was a spark that set pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, but now you are lost trying to decipher it.

The Knowledge Effect

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.  (Job 42:3, NIV)

Job realizes that from day one of his experience, where the discussion is concerned, he’s been in way over his head. He is humbled and contrite. In verse six, Job is found saying,

Therefore I despise myself
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

I think there’s a lesson in this for all of us. It’s easy to jump into a discussion based on some micro-topic, but it’s difficult to see the macro-implications, the big picture. Which of us hasn’t, at some time, regretted that we started talking; or begun a sentence only to realize part way through that we have no idea how to get to the period at the end of that sentence?

Christianity 201 - newI call this blog Christianity 201, but some days I feel like, ‘Who am I to say I’m at the 201 level?’ Some days I feel like I’m back at 101, or Pre-101. My goal is to introduce topics that immerse readers in the deeper things of God, but some days I feel like I’m more immersed in the shallow things of Paul. (Thankfully, we run about 67% re-posts from other blogs, so I’m able to surround myself with the depth of other, great writers.)

I look back on posts from six months ago, or two years ago, and what seemed so profound seems to ring hollow. Not every one of them, but some of them. But some of this may be due to:

The Manna Effect

15b …Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. 16a This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need…

17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.

19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”

20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.  (NIV)

Sometimes, I believe the Lord gives us what we need for that particular day, and only for that day. I don’t want to push the analogy here and suggests that I look back on previous entries here and feel they stink, but if the analogy fits, so be it.

I believe that God is trying to perfect us and teach us, but it’s not necessary that we remember the intimate details of each circumstance and each lesson. Rather, I think the truths of God are applied like layers of paint.

Last summer we stained a wooden deck chair. We bought the stain because it was on sale, and then looked for something to use it on, and settled on this rocking deck chair with wooden slats. I kept applying layer after year of wood stain, and didn’t honestly think the first coat did anything, nor did the subsequent coats appear to make any difference. But this summer, you can see the result of my work.

I believe that each sermon, each hymn or worship song, each Gospel story, each Epistle, each Psalm or Proverb, etc., is contributing to the finished work of who we are. Don’t expect to be able to go back and figure out what you were thinking when you wrote it. What matters is that you were faithful, you were obedient, and you were focusing your mind and your heart on God as you typed or wrote.

Lam. 3:22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.  (ESV)

However, some times you look back and you realize it’s not The Manna Effect or The Knowledge Effect but it’s,

The Maturity Effect

Sometimes it’s not what you wish you knew back then, or that you can’t get your head in the same place where you were; rather, it’s you’re not the same person you were before.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.  (I Cor. 13:11 NLT)

Hopefully, some of the things I was writing a few years ago don’t make any sense at all, because I have moved into a more mature place in both my walk and my knowledge of God.

I’m not going to be so bold as to say that’s the case, but I hope I can look back on things I was writing about perhaps a decade ago, and even laugh, because I’ve gained the perspective that comes with walking with God for a longer time.

II Peter 3:18 But grow in grace (undeserved favor, spiritual strength) and recognition and knowledge and understanding of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ… (Amplified Bible)

Do you keep a journal or a blog? What do you find when you look back at older entries?

May 28, 2010

If a Tree Falls in the Forest and there is No One there to Hear it…

I got some rather flukey traffic this week on my regular blog, Thinking Out Loud, which drove the stats to a record high.

Then there is this one, which I do mostly for myself.   It has readers, but nothing close to the other.   I enjoy blogging at the other, but I enjoy searching my own heart to come up with things to post to this one.

The contrasting stats reminds me of something that happened last summer, which my wife blogged as part of a longer piece:

…Boston was one of our most recent expeditions. Really interesting city (American history machine aside). Cool architecture, good subway, Chinatown, really easy to get lost, terrible maps, good food. Perfect. Some historic churches. Mostly for “freedom” reasons, of one kind or another.

We chanced upon one that really struck me. Not as old as some of the others, probably. No “Paul Revere slept through the sermon here” plaques. But a lovely red brick building, tucked away in one of the more serpentine neighborhoods. We climbed a few steps to a back door and found it unlocked, so we went in. Found ourselves in a foyer of sorts, creaky floored and unlit. There was another door in front of us, so we pulled that one open. Creak. Stepped to the threshold. Creak. Peeked through the door. Creak.

It was beautiful inside. Warm and hushed and soaring. Stained glass windows, old dark pews, draperies and candles. It smelled of polished wood and wax and flame and time and prayer. But we didn’t go in any further. We closed the door and left. Creaking all the way…

…You see, the reason why we left without really going in is that when we opened that inner door, we heard something.

Someone speaking. One voice.

One voice echoing through the room, over the pews, off the windows. The pews that were completely empty, the windows that were telling their stories to no one.

One voice, chanting in what might have been Latin. Reciting a text that no one would hear. Except the speaker and God himself. Because they were the only ones in the room.

As we left, we looked at the sign on the fence outside. “5:00 pm. Mass”. It was 5 pm. So the Mass was being said. Whether anyone was there to hear it or not. It had to be said.

Why? I have no clue. But it had to be said. If only to the antique pews and the priceless glass and the glowing candles and absolutely not a living soul. Haunted and driven by tradition. Disregarded by life and humanity.

…Church with a sermon and no congregation.

You can read her article which, in context, has a whole other set of meanings, with the most inescapable being what you get from the second last paragraph: Tradition; irrelevance; religiosity.

This is different, however.   This is blogging in the original “web-log” sense of journal-keeping.   This remains available for future discovery; readers driven perhaps by items here I have yet to write.

(Have you ever noticed how close “stats” sounds to “status?”  So stats-seeking is really status-seeking.)

And all of this of course is being read by some people already.  I’d probably do this even if there weren’t any readers.  Having tasted both the highs and lows of statistics, I’m not sure that one is better than the other.   It’s somewhat similar to what I wrote about the contrasts between the large church we attended two weeks ago, and the much smaller one we attended last week.

Still, I don’t know how that Boston cleric could do it.   Something unseen drives him to go through the forms of the mass even though no other humans are present…

…Although, I wonder if later that day, he suddenly remembered hearing the door creaking and sensed that an individual; no, a couple came in, listened for a minute, and then left?