Christianity 201

December 22, 2021

Potentially Going Overboard with Christmas is Not a Reason Not to Celebrate

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Preview: “…a far bigger mistake than dancing too much before our Lord in joy is to dance too little…”

Today another new author for you. Curtis K. Shelburne has been writing at Focus on Faith since early February, 2012. He also hosts a podcast with the same name. Readers, as always, please encourage our writers by clicking on the headers like the one which follows, and reading the article where it originated.

Finding Hope and Joy in the Light

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:9).

It’s the light, you know!

   Twirling, swirling, splash-silvering

         crisp snow below.

   Liquid luminescence and stardust inadvertently shed

         By pirouetting angels in the sky

                 above the Christ-child’s head.

   They fly, as has been said,

         by taking themselves lightly!

   Ah, the delight! Such glory and brightness!

         O’er that rude Baby King-sized bed.

   And look! Nestled warm in the hay below,

         As the Christmas angels sing,

             Silver-tipped tongues of light hailing the King,

         He lies slumbering ̶ the Truth, the Light, the Way.

    Swaddled against the cold of the night,

          Whiffling and sleeping, the Babe sweetly sighs,

    And on and on the angels dance, and dark gives way to love-light

         And Heaven’s glory shimmers and shines,

               And joy, the angels’ light-essence,

                     Washes over all in His sweet Presence.

Yes, it’s the light, you know!

Wow, my poor poem needs a lot of work! But it really is the light, I think, that is one of the most beautiful features of this season. From the time I was old enough to slide under our family Christmas tree, clad in those wonderful old pajamas that came complete with feet, and gaze up through the branches of the tree and drink in the beauty, it was the light that lit me with joy.

I liked it then. I like it now. I knew instinctively then, and I know more overtly and reflectively now, that celebrating Christ’s birth with joy and light is, well, right. (I’m trying not to stay in cut-rate poet mode; I beg pardon.)

With regard to Christmas, it seems to me increasingly clear that we’re in a “if the people are silent, the very stones will cry out” situation (Luke 19:40), and, though I’m no stranger to self-righteousness in myself (it’s a cancer that all too often recurs), I’ve known for a long time now, as surely as I know my own name, that a far bigger mistake than dancing too much before our Lord in joy is to dance too little and force the rocks to praise him because we’re too full of ourselves and toxic “religion” let our joy—God’s joy—loose in our souls.

I’ve heard all of the arguments against Christmas celebration. Too much, too extravagant, too this and too that. Excessive! And with pagan roots, to boot!

Well, because we can go over the top with celebration is not a good enough reason not to celebrate when celebration is called for! It’s not praiseworthy to inconvenience rocks because we’re praise-mute for no good reason.

And the charges of paganism tossed about by folks who want to pour a little cold water on over-much joy is not all the story by any means. Reading some better scholars telling the historical truth about such will make you feel a lot better about feeling really good about the joy of the season. (I can point you to a great article or two well worth reading, if you ask.)

Our God is not worried that we might overdose on joy. The far greater danger is that we remain so hung up on ourselves that we are unable to dance selflessly before our Lord.

Jesus told us clearly (it’s still a very hard lesson) that being his disciples means laying down our very selves so that we focus on him. That’s the way God molds us into the truest versions of ourselves, exactly what our Creator had in mind when he made us for his joy.

G. K. Chesterton, an amazing and faith-filled wordsmith once wrote, “How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure; if you could see them walking as they are in their sunny selfishness and their virile indifference! You would begin to be interested in them, because they were not interested in you.”

Too often we stumble around in darkness, always in one way or another taking mental “selfies” to see how what we’re doing is “playing.” But it’s hard to see at all when our universe is bounded north, south, east, and west by self. And how boring!

In his light, we begin to open ourselves up to the lives of others, and we find their lives and stories and personalities, their joys and trials and sheer courage, not boring in the least.

If we would let in the light of Christmas, God’s light, Chesterton writes, “You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers.”

God’s light splashing our souls with God’s joy has been known to grow some very large souls indeed.

My Christmas lights won’t add much to the divine light kindled by our Creator, but nonetheless, I plan to join my neighbors in flipping the switch each night and adding my little attempts at glimmers of light to the nuclear reaction of God’s cosmic glory.

All genuine light is God’s light, you know.


Revisit the introduction for website link and podcast site link.

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

November 21, 2021

Four Snapshots of Gratitude…Or a Lack Thereof

 

As the United States gets ready for its annual Thanksgiving holiday, it seemed appropriate to share today’s devotional thoughts with everyone. The writer, appearing here for the first time, goes by the online name S. Joiner and their blog is called Basic Bible Thoughts. Clicking the header which follows will allow you to read this direct from the source.

Gratefulness

As I did a quick online Google search for the meaning of thankfulness and gratefulness here is the slight but important difference I found. Thankful is being pleased and relieved, whereas Grateful is showing an appreciate of kindness. Being pleased, is an inner emotion whereas showing appreciate takes some action on our part.

Gratefulness must start at contentment, (a feeling of happiness and satisfaction). Many of us may view contentment as giving up, having no desire or passion, or maybe deciding to settle. Together we will see how contentment is so much more and how gratefulness is to be shown.

Luke 12: 16-21            NIV

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.

His first barn was plenty large enough to care for him and his family (if he had any). Why not share the overflow, give to those in need? Some might say that we should all prepare for a rainy day and for retirement. I would be one of those people, I prepare for just those events in my life. Then how much is enough, where is the line of overflow. The challenge centers more on the statement made by the farmer, “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry”. He is missing a very important ingredient, “being rich toward God”. Finding contentment begins with understanding you are no longer yours, but His. You see He has created you with a plan, our role is to find the plan by finding Him. Seek first the kingdom and all these things will be given to you.

Jonah 4: 5-8    NIV

Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” 

Jonah had just preached to Nineveh, and they were changing their ways. He wanted more, he wanted God to destroy them. Jonah makes himself a shelter, but he doesn’t seem to be very pleased, nor does it completely shelter him. It had created it with his own hands and yet that creation did not bring contentment nor gratitude. God creates a plant that towers over his shelter and provides the needed shade. Jonah did nothing for his current state of happiness, God did. I don’t see where Jonah even offered a thank you for God’s wonderful creation, yet he sat there waiting for God to destroy a city. When the plant, Jonah had not lifted a finger to build, was eaten by worms, he was angry yet again.

Luke 17: 11-17            NIV

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?

These ten men, lived outside the cities. They who were diagnosed with leprosy and were sent away with strict rules of conduct. When talking with Jesus they stayed at a distance. Jesus tells them to go visit the priest. As they walked, they felt and saw the healing power of Jesus create them anew. All they did was listen, walk, and obey. The joy and happiness of that healing moment was huge. Nine of them kept walking but one, just one, came back to Jesus. His voice could be heard as he praised God all the way back. Arriving at Jesus there is no distance between them, he throws himself at His feet. He was pleased, happy, and relieved. But don’t you see something more here, he was grateful, unashamedly grateful, change had come, but not through his power but the power of Jesus.

It’s just far to easy to walk though this life seeing only the hurt, the difficulties, maybe the heat of the day, or lack of room for all our overflow of stuff. The burden of life can become overwhelming, and I stop myself and ask, did I build this shelter or this barn, with my own hands? Can I find contentment inside myself, the answer is a resounding NO! Contentment is only found in the arms of our Savior Jesus Christ. As we are blessed, share it. When our life is not the way we planned it out, look toward Jesus because He can grow plants that cover you and offer shade from the heat of this life.

How grateful are you during this season of life? Are you angry, or is your voice wide open in praise? Hopefully this thought comes to mind, “how do we look beyond the challenges of life and develop that spirit of Gratefulness?”

Philippians 4: 4-8 NIV

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Paul encourages us to have joy always, become a gentle person. Gentleness is found in contentment, be satisfied with what you have in Christ, stop trying to build your own shelter. He is near and His ears are tuned to our praise of thanksgiving. When we fall at His feet there is peace. I love that Paul let’s us know that even he believes that this peace is beyond our understanding. But he knows that it will guard our heart and mind. Train you mind and your emotions, have them find the good, have them locate Jesus in every situation. All that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy – think on those things and be grateful to God that he provides them.


Second Helping: This month we’ve been featuring links to read a second devotional study by the featured author. We don’t mind “edgy” topics, but even we have our limits! I say that to warn you that the second helping today (which didn’t become the featured article) is about spit. Yes, that kind of spit. (I warned you!) And it figures into scripture several times. Check out the article titled, Redeemed Saliva. (Before you click, can you guess a few of the passages referenced?)

June 8, 2021

The Weight of Joy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Romans.6  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,that we should no longer be slaves to sin… 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness…22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

So what does today’s title mean? Stay tuned!

Today we are highlighting a writer who is new to us, Victoria Moll. Her blog is titled, Notes About Glory. Before we get into today’s devotional, here’s a little introduction to her writing. In both cases, you’re encouraged to click the headers to read each piece at her site.

In Jesus Christ, For His Glory

In Jesus Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

The phrase “in Jesus Christ” simply means to be a believer in Christ, having accepted him as your Lord and Savior.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid the price for human sin by his blood, granting us forgiveness. Jesus is the reason that we are declared righteous when we stand before God, and are justified in His sight. Eternal life is not earned, but freely given to everybody who declares the name of Jesus because of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Anyone who is a believer is “in Christ”.

For His Glory.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11

We serve a God who is truly worthy of our praise! Giving praise to the Lord is more than singing songs during a praise and worship service. Worship is a lifestyle of obedience and working for the glory of God through our spiritual disciplines and missional mindset. Giving glory to God looks like thanking Him and recognizing Him as the source of everything good. The practice of giving glory to God is rewarding in that the more you practice a life of worship, the more you will see how worthy He is! This joy in realizing the fullness of God brings about celebration and adoration.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

Joy is Weighty

I have been thinking a lot about joy lately, and I’ve noticed that in order for there to be joy, there must always be a sacrifice.

As believers, we experience joy as a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) as a product of the continual transformation brought on by the Holy Spirit. This joy is free and accessible to us, but it came at the price of Christ’s death on the cross for our sake.

Because of the weight of sin in our fallen world and the perpetual death that comes with it, in order for us to feel the joy of the Lord, it comes at a cost. Yet God was so merciful that He paid it for is, giving us access to that joy.

What does all this mean?

That there is baggage in joy. Not necessarily the kind that we wallow in or the kind that keeps us from rejoicing, but the kind that convicts our hearts and draws us near to the Father in thankfulness and praise.

I believe that the glory of the Father can be found in our joy, as a product of what the spirit produces in us, because of the Son.

Joy is a lovely state of being, yet a necessary reminder that without Christ, there once was not.

I think about the year of Jubilee. The Year of Jubilee, which came every 50th year, was a time commanded by God for the releasing  of people from their debts, releasing all slaves, and returning property to those who originally owned it (Leviticus 25:1-13). The year of Jubilee was precisely its namesake: a season of celebration. There was so much joy that came from the lifting of the yoke of slavery and the shame that came with debt. Jubilee was joyous for those who could not find freedom by their own means- but the catch is that this joy is not so easily recognized until there is first the taint of slavery. For those who did not experience loss or debt, they had a much harder time rejoicing, because they had nothing to be returned to them.

In the same way, Paul says in Romans that although we should not continue sinning, the memory of sin should bring us joy in our salvation, and compel us to offer ourselves to the Father as instruments of righteousness. (Romans 6).

This is the Christian joy: to not live as though we were still dead in our sins, but to rejoice in the freedom we have found in Christ, using our knowledge of salvation and thankfulness to compel us to glorify the Father.

Yes friends, this is a weighty joy.


Keep going: Get to know Victoria better in this recent, heartfelt article about what Jesus means to her. Check out Why Jesus.

May 22, 2021

When Face Masks Block the Light

A year later, we are returning to the website Sacred Sandwich. This article touches on a subject I was thinking about just a week ago and I urge you to click the header below to read it in full. The author is C. R. Carmichael.

Is Your Face Shining With The Light Of Christ?

“…It is ours to reflect the light.. and to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” — C.H. Spurgeon, 1879

It is not until you’ve been forced to wear a mask during a pandemic that you truly value the power of your face. No sooner have you exchanged glances with someone that you suddenly realize they can’t see your hidden smile, and you in turn have no idea what they might be expressing to you under that piece of cloth. It is in that awkward moment that you immediately comprehend how dehumanizing and frustrating it is to have your face so savagely removed from the process of interpersonal communication and emotional connection. No doubt this is why so many masked people these days seem to avoid eye contact altogether, walking past you like soulless zombies in a private hell.

For joyful Christians who demonstrate the grace of God through the social graces, this can be a difficult time for missional endeavors. As ambassadors for Christ who are called to be a light in this dark world, our shining faces are essential in communicating the Gospel to those with whom we interact during the course of our day. The Gospel, you see, is conveyed with more than mere words or deeds. It is a message of love and grace, fueled by the Holy Spirit, that can be powerfully expressed in the very countenances of our faces. Does the Scriptures not tell us so?

Indeed, the Bible teaches that the inward spiritual transformation of the Christian will bear outward “fruit” as the believer increases in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10). By the grace of God, those drawn to Christ have been “transformed by the renewing of their minds” (Romans 12:2) and now possess the wisdom of God’s truth embedded in their hearts. This sacred Gospel knowledge imparted by His Spirit is a sparkling treasure in earthen vessels that will always radiate through the bright eyes and happy wrinkles of our beaming faces. Indeed, as God’s word tells us, “a man’s wisdom brightens his face, and the sternness of his face is changed” (Ecclesiastes 8:1).

Once freed from the chains of sin and guilt by Christ’s sacrifice, the wise Christian’s once-dour face is forever changed, shining “as the brightness of the firmament” and appearing like “stars forever and ever” so that the believer might “turn many people to righteousness” through the illumination of the Gospel (Daniel 12:3). Even stretching into eternity, Jesus has assured us, “the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43).

Light, therefore, is intrinsic to the new nature of those transformed by Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. “You are the light of the world,” Jesus tells His people. “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Jesus Christ, in fact, is our example to be emulated so that we might become “the children of Light” (John 12:36). During his earthly ministry, our Lord spoke to his disciples, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). And how was His light often transmitted in its full power and glory? Why, in His glorious face! “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

“In the face of Christ!” Imagine being witness to those historic supernatural events bathed in the brilliance of Christ’s white-hot countenance. How thrilling it would have been to stand beside Peter, James, and John in the high mountain when they saw their Master “transfigured before them,” where “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). Or being there to share in John’s vision of Christ holding seven stars in his right hand, a sharp double-edged sword coming from His mouth, and seeing His face “like the sun shining at its brightest” (Revelation 1:16).

One day, of course, the redeemed people of God will literally witness such a marvelous sight when “night will be no more, and they will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5). And what a glorious thought this is as we anticipate His return to usher us into this bright eternity.

Until that day, however, the question remains: how do we as Christians bring Christ’s light to our faces to help convey the Gospel message in this dark world? Quite simply, it can only happen when we are in daily communion with the Lord. Just as Moses’ face radiated with the fiery glory of God when he returned from his interaction with the Divine in Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34:29), so too the Christian’s face should be filled with the reflected light of Christ’s glory after boldly approaching His heavenly throne through fervent prayer, worship, and the reading of His word. It is, after all, the spiritual culmination of “fixing our eyes upon Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).

As the old hymn beautifully says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; Look full in His wonderful face; And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”

When believers are regularly energized through communion with the holy dynamo that is Christ Jesus, such fellowship cannot help but show forth in their outward expression. This spiritual interaction with the eternal Light of the world produces a godly, compelling visage that can draw the attention of those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Isaiah 55:1; Matthew 5:6). As explained by Matthew Henry, “Near and spiritual communion with God improves the graces of a renewed and holy character. Serious godliness puts a lustre upon a man’s countenance, such as commands esteem and affection.”

This noticeable “lustre,” therefore, should be the goal of every Christian who desires to be used for God’s glory in bringing the lost to Christ. “Every Christian life,” insists Alexander Maclaren, “should be a life of increasing lustre, uninterrupted, and the natural result of increasing communion with, and conformity to, the very fountain itself of heavenly radiance.”

It is here where the Christian must be very careful not to pursue this heavenly radiance under their own power. This is not something that can be manufactured by sheer will or desire. We must never think we can put on a “happy Christian mask” of our own creation to hide a dark face still burdened by stagnant discipleship, ongoing sin or suspect faith.

When Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees, “hypocrites” (Matthew 23:25), He was using a common theatrical term of His day that denotes a stage actor in a Greek play who often wore a mask to “assume a role and identity that were not truly his own and performed for the audience’s approval” (Jesus and the Theatre, New Testament Studies, Vol. 30, 1984). The grave implications of being a hypocrite, therefore, are readily apparent. If you, as a professing Christian, are wearing the false mask of an actor because you are “more concerned with your public image rather than with genuine fidelity to God” (Ibid), then do not be surprised if the Lord soon calls you out as a liar and a hypocrite.

The true disciple of Christ has no need to hide behind a false mask. Stephen, one of the first deacons of the Church, is a case in point. To be sure, this servant of God was a humble disciple “full of God’s grace and power” who preached Christ with a true supernatural “lustre” that came from the Holy Spirit. There, even among the enemies of Christ, Stephen displayed in his face a real godly wisdom and calm serenity that struck at the very hearts of his listeners as he delivered his Gospel message. As the Bible records, “Gazing at Stephen, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

Did this mean that Stephen looked like an effeminate cherub from an old Renaissance painting? Of course not. John Gill tells us that the beauty displayed in Stephen’s face was consistent with the “lovely and amiable” angels of God, “who when they appeared to men, it was in very glorious and splendid forms.” Indeed, the Bible reminds us that angelic beings are “angels of light” that can have “faces like the sun” (Revelation 10:1). And so it was with Stephen’s appearance at the very moment of his martyrdom when his face reflected the heavenly vision he saw of Christ standing at the right Hand of God (Acts 7:55-56).

At this point, perhaps, the Christian may look in the mirror and become worried that the face looking back at him or her has little of the biblical radiance of an angel of God. This, of course, can be a frequent concern among those who are poor in spirit as humble servants and are often “working out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Whether this fear of a dim spiritual condition is based on one’s lack of godly discipleship or from an overly-harsh assessment of their position in Christ, it makes little difference. The answer is simply to renew one’s commitment to Christ and seek His face at every opportunity. When our spiritual focus wanes, how blessed we are to have a God who is “gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Psalm 145:8).

This is why the Bible is filled with repeated heartfelt petitions to the Lord, actively seeking His face and asking that He might “make His face shine upon thee” (2 Chronicles 7:14; Numbers 6:25; Psalm 27:8; 105:4-5). It is the shining face of God which imparts His grace and warms us in the rays of His care and benevolence. This, in turn, recharges us and brings a renewed spiritual brightness to our faces. It may not be a vivid, supernatural light of biblical proportion, but nevertheless the public around you will no doubt see a striking difference in your facial expression.

“It is not unusual,” writes theologian Albert Barnes, “for deep feeling, sincerity, and confidence in God, to impress themselves on the countenance.” Even the slightest Spirit-driven influence upon your face can mark you as “peculiar” and distinct from the world. As Scripture declares, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” And why are you set apart from the crowd? “So that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

In this way, your happy face with sparkling eyes, a radiant smile, and the glowing cast of spiritual serenity can truly proclaim the light of the glory of Jesus Christ. And if the dazzling beauty of Christ and the shimmering power of the Holy Spirit rests upon your countenance, perhaps one day it will also warm and enlighten the heart of a lost sinner who then will ask you “the reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). As C.H. Spurgeon encourages us on this point, “Scatter your light in all unselfishness. Wish to shine, not that others may say ‘How bright he is,’ but that they may rejoice in the Source from which the light came to you and to them.”

Thus, the Christian should always ask, “Is the Light of Christ still shining in my face?” This may not be an easy question to answer these days. Sadly, we live in a stressful age of suppressive masks and fearful faces that have hardened and waxed cold. Now, more than ever, we must diligently and continually seek after Jesus, knowing that the Captain of our salvation will gladly fill our faces with His eternal brilliance to powerfully shine the Gospel “upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79).

Regardless of our circumstance, may we heed the charge of David’s inspired psalm in order to emit the rays of Christ’s glorious light in this dark and fear-gripped world:

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; Talk of all His wondrous works! Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD be joyful! Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face for evermore!” (1 Chronicles 16:8-11).

If this we do, then no mask on earth will ever dim our glorious shine for Jesus.

February 19, 2021

Hope in Psalm 146

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In 2016 and 2017 we featured the writing of gardener and author Shelley Cramm who writes at Garden in Delight. She is the General Editor of the NIV God’s Word for Gardeners Bible. She lives in Texas — “the same latitude as Israel and the Bible lands” — and while you can read this devotional here, I encourage you to click the header which follows and read the full devotional (with pictures) and thereby send her some warm love at a time when Texas has been through a tough weather period.

Find Garden Hope in Psalm 146

Our journey to find garden hope begins in Psalm 146—in hopeless places. These Words lead us into life’s deepest sorrows, the painful, woeful conditions that rub raw the very knowing of who we are and what we hold onto. Let the Gardener-Lord meet us in somber, despairing depths with the resounding reality that personal traumas are precisely where God brings His blessing of hope.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The Lord reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord.

Psalm 146:5-10 NIV

Oppressed — those living and working in unjust situations, treated unfairly, given no dignity.

Hungry — desperate to eat, no money for food, no energy to sauté even dandelion greens, cut off from the bounty of the earth, deprivation creating constant, haunting tension.

Prisoner — confined rightfully or not, held on hard surfaces by hardened hearts, dull and dismal.

Blind — without privilege to the great joys in pleasing sights, colors, forms and dimensions, whether found in the environment or found in the heart, for spiritual blindness is the worst.

Fallen — stumbled, staggering, strength stolen, physically faltering; robbed of stamina, taken out of the fight.

Foreigner — surrounded in strangeness, missing clues and connection to culture, disoriented, isolated by the inside jokes of idiom.

Fatherless — missing validation, reassurance, direction, help and belonging to someone as their most precious gem.

Widow — a half with a hole, a stem without its roots, a gardener without a garden, suffering a severance tearing through the heart.

Find Garden Hope

Who can endure downtrodden existence with uplifted spirit? Those who hope in the Lord. How does one endure death and dead-end ways all around them without dying themselves? By the blessing of hope in the Lord.

Our faith in Jesus transfers God’s righteousness to us and he now declares us flawless in his eyes.[a] This means we can now enjoy true and lasting peace[b] with God, all because of what our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, has done for us. Our faith guarantees us permanent access into this marvelous kindness[c] that has given us a perfect relationship with God. What incredible joy bursts forth within us as we keep on celebrating our hope of experiencing God’s glory!
But that’s not all! Even in times of trouble we have a joyful confidence, knowing that our pressures will develop in us patient endurance. And patient endurance will refine our character, and proven character leads us back to hope. And this hope is not a disappointing fantasy,[d] because we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us![e]

Romans 5:1-5 TPT

With God, hope flourishes in suffering with perseverance and character, and a growing embrace of God’s love and marvelous kindness, poured out long ago and constantly.

Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
Psalm 25:5 NIV


Linger in these Hope-Full passages:
Psalm 146:1-10, Psalm 25:1-5, Isaiah 35:1-7 , Romans 5:1-5


NIV denotes Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. http://www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.®
TPT denotes Scripture quotations taken from The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017, 2018 by Passion & Fire Ministries, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ThePassionTranslation.com
Footnotes:
a.Romans 5:1 Or “having already been declared righteous.” What bliss! We are declared righteous in the eyes of the Holy God. This is the wonder of grace!
b.Romans 5:1 Or “Let us enjoy peace with God.” The Greek word for peace is eirene and can also mean “to join” (as in a dove-tail joint). We have entered into the union of our lives with God’s peace and enjoy lasting friendship with God. The Hebrew word is shalom, which means abundant peace and well-being.
c.Romans 5:2 Or “grace.”
d.Romans 5:5 Or “This hope does not put one to shame.”
e.Romans 5:5 Or “was given to us.”

December 12, 2020

Find Joy in the Story!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today’s writer came recommended. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ United Methodist Church (UMC) in Alliance, Ohio. His website for sermon content and blog articles is PastorPartridge.com. As usual we strongly suggest reading this at source. (You’ll find a tab which takes you to a section of articles about John’s hearing loss; good reading if you know someone considering a cochlear implant.) Click the header below to read at his site.

Passing the Joy Test

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11              1 Thessalonians 5:16-24;       John 1:6-8, 19-28

It is probably no surprise to anyone to hear that we are living in an unusual time in history.  But what I mean in saying such a thing, is that we are living in a time when we can see the freight train coming.  We are as an American society in the twenty-first century, very much in the position of the damsel Nell Fenwick who has been tied to the railroad tracks by Snidely Whiplash and is desperately hoping for the arrival of Dudley Do-Right to come and rescue her.  We can see the freight train of rising virus cases caused by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year gatherings and we can anticipate the terrible consequences but there is little, or nothing that we can do to stop the train.  The only things that we can do… is hope.

But, as unusual as this might be, it is not unique in history.  …The prophet Isaiah lived in just such a time.  In about 700 BC, Isaiah and the people of Israel watched as the Assyrian Empire grew in power, influence, and military might and the Assyrian King Sennacharib had already brought his armies to the gates of Jerusalem.  Through God’s grace, Israel was saved, but Isaiah knew that those armies would be back, that Israel and Judah would be captured, marched to Babylon, and held in captivity for seventy years.  They saw the train coming down the tracks, they could anticipate the terrible consequences, and they were tempted to despair.  But, as difficult as it must have been to hear about God’s judgement and the impending destruction of their nation, because Isaiah also prophecies their eventual return to Israel and proclaims Israel’s rescue and the coming Messiah, Isaiah’s message is ultimately a message… of hope.

Even though they saw the train coming, and they knew that hard times were coming, they knew that God cared about them and that God had a plan to rescue them.  We hear a part this message in Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11:

61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.  They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing.  In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.  Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples.  All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

Isaiah speaks about the coming Messiah, we hear a message that we will hear again from John the Baptist, and we hear a message from a God who loves justice, and who loves and cares for his people.  And that message, given to a people who watched as the freight train of the Assyrian army grew ever closer, shined like a beacon on a dark night and for hundreds of years, through invasions, captivity, destruction, suffering, sorrow, and death, this was a place where they could find hope.

And then, in John 1:6-8, 19-28, Isaiah’s vision becomes reality as John the Baptist announces the imminent arrival of Jesus.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

John proclaimed that the time had finally come for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, and that while he was not the messiah that God had promised, that messiah was already standing “among” them.  After hundreds of years and many generations, the prayers of Israel’s people were being answered.  God’s rescuer and redeemer had arrived, and the hope of the people was transformed… into joy.

Well, at least it did for some of them.  John rejoiced, as did many of the people, but not everyone.  It was the people that Isaiah had talked about who found joy in the coming of the messiah.  It was the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, prisoners, those in mourning, the grieving, the people who suffered from injustice, robbery, and wrongdoing, it was the outcasts, the least, and the lost who rejoiced.  But the wealthy, and those whom the system served, and whose success had been tied to the success of the system saw the coming of the messiah as a threat to their success and to their way of life.  This disconnect between the haves and the have-nots grew until it exploded into violence, crucifixion, and death in the Easter story as the system struggled to maintain the status quo.

And later, long after the resurrection of Jesus, the church remembered the lesson of joy and in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica and gives them these words of instruction:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

Rejoice always.  Find joy in the story, in the message of Good News, and in the prophecies of God.  Give thanks, at all times, for the things that God gives you, even when those times are difficult.  Do not cast aside the prophecies and promises of God just because you think that God is taking too long, or that there is too much pain, or too much suffering, or that your circumstances are too hard.  Instead, test the prophecies of God to find the truth.  Test them against what you know about God.  Hold on to what is good because we know that God is good.  Reject every kind of evil, because we know that God is never found in any kind of evil deeds.  Our God is a god of peace who is always faithful and who always keeps his promises.

In some ways, our joy is a test.  The coming of Jesus was intended to upset the apple cart and to disrupt the status quo.  We are called to rejoice in that disruption and not be so married to our success, to our wealth, our culture, and to the status quo that we become like Israel’s leaders and reject Jesus simply on the basis that his existence will be disruptive and make our lives more complicated.  Secondly, we are invited to test all of God’s prophecies because we know that God is always good and so we know that what God wants for us is good and that we can reject anything that is evil as not being godly.

The coming of Jesus at Christmas is intended to bring good news of great joy.

Let us rejoice.

But let us remember to find joy in the right things.


From the same author, check out Peace in the Present Promise.

March 9, 2020

Finding Joy in Everything

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Recently a devotional that I’m subscribed to, Devotions Daily offered an excerpt from the David Jeremiah book A Life Beyond Amazing. It was too long to print here but I wanted to offer you some excerpts from the excerpt!

Infusing life with joy!

…In Luke 15, Jesus told three stories of precious things that are lost and then found, and each is an occasion for joy: the shepherd who left ninety-nine sheep to search for and find one lost lamb; the woman who lost a valuable coin and found it; and the prodigal son, who was lost but finds his way home. In each story Jesus spoke of the rejoicing that surrounds the saving of one soul, and He described the joy that results:

I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.Luke 15:7

After the Ethiopian eunuch was saved, he went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:39). Luke recorded the conversion of the Gentiles “caused great joy to all the brethren” (Acts 15:3). The Philippian jailer and his family were filled with joy when they became believers in God (Acts 16:34). Never doubt that salvation, the most profound of new beginnings, is also infused with joy beyond description…

…Christian joy shows up not only in the happy times but also in times of trial and discouragement. Jesus’ joy survived troubles and even flourished in the midst of them. He told His followers:

Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!” — Luke 6:22-23

The writers of the epistles followed Jesus’ lead:

You received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you.1 Thessalonians 1:6 NLT

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.
— James 1:2

One of my favorite Bible stories is the story of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail. They were beaten; they were imprisoned; and who knew what would happen to them the next day?

But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Acts 16:25

The kind of joy that gets you singing in jail at midnight with your back bleeding and your life hanging by a thread — that’s joy worth cultivating!

In our culture of instant gratification and constant amusement, it’s hard to understand the suffering the apostles endured for the sake of the gospel. We’ll do anything to avoid trials and tribulations. But often, in an attempt to keep anything uncomfortable from touching us, we miss the very thing God wants to use to lead us to the joy in Him. We can’t avoid difficulties, but in the midst of all our troubles — there is God and His effervescent love.

This doesn’t mean we deny or disguise our feelings. It doesn’t mean we can or should shrug off pain or disappointment, or try not to feel sorrow when we have good cause. It means we place our trust in God, and He opens the door to a joy beyond anything we can know on our own: the joy of knowing we are in His hands forever.

Commenting on the New Testament’s command that we’re to rejoice and be glad when undergoing trials, Philip Yancey said:

By using words like “Rejoice!” the apostles were not advocating a spirit of grin-and-bear-it or act-tough-like-nothing-happened. No trace of those attitudes can be found in Christ’s response to suffering, or in Paul’s…

Nor is there any masochistic hint of enjoying pain. “Rejoicing in suffering” does not mean that Christians should act happy about tragedy and pain when they feel like crying. Rather, the Bible aims the spotlight on the end result, the productive use God can make of suffering in our lives. To achieve that result, however, He first needs our commitment of trust, and the process of giving Him that commitment can be described as rejoicing…

…As Paul contemplated the conclusion of his life and ministry, he anticipated the joy that would be his at the end:

But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy. — Acts 20:24

According to the apostle Peter, this joy is “inexpressible” (1 Peter 1:8). From his captivity on the Isle of Patmos, John the apostle affirmed this dying joy:

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.Revelation 14:13

 

January 17, 2017

Healing and Testing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Atlanta pastor and author Charles Stanley and the broadcast organization, InTouch Ministries. As we did last year, we’re bringing you a two-for-one special because the articles are shorter. We’ve grouped two together I think make a good fit. Each also includes an audio reading of the same material.

When God Does Not Heal

NLT Prov 3:3 Never let loyalty and kindness leave you!
    Tie them around your neck as a reminder.
    Write them deep within your heart.
Then you will find favor with both God and people,
    and you will earn a good reputation.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take.

In Touch - Charles Stanley“Why would a loving heavenly Father allow His children to go through terrible trials and experience sorrow?” We can understand the reason that this is a common question—it can be baffling when the all-powerful God of love seems to stand by silently while painful things happen to His followers. Where is He during personal tragedies, natural disasters, financial crises, and other times of heartache?

The Word of God is the only place we can find the real answer. Even so, today’s reading can be hard to understand or accept. One might read James’s exhortation to be joyful in the face of trials and think, Count me out! Difficulties and joy just don’t seem to go together—that is, unless we understand God’s perspective of what life is about.

When James spoke of joy, he wasn’t referring to a cheery, frivolous feeling. Rather, he was talking about an inner sense of calmness, peace, and confidence in the Lord. He wasn’t telling us to feel happy about our trials but to know, as we go through them, that God is up to something good in our life. Our attitude during the struggle will determine what shape we’re in when we come out on the other side.

When our faith gets tested, the end result is endurance; being aware of this gives us hope and strength. What’s more, the Bible promises God will use trials for our good, so we don’t need to be afraid or anxious.

God’s desire is to bless you, not destroy you. Adversity can make someone feel like a victim, but as followers of Christ, we can choose to be victors!


Testing Builds Endurance

Dear brothers and sisters,[Gk brothers] when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

“Why would a loving heavenly Father allow His children to go through terrible trials and experience sorrow?” We can understand the reason that this is a common question—it can be baffling when the all-powerful God of love seems to stand by silently while painful things happen to His followers. Where is He during personal tragedies, natural disasters, financial crises, and other times of heartache?

The Word of God is the only place we can find the real answer. Even so, today’s reading can be hard to understand or accept. One might read James’s exhortation to be joyful in the face of trials and think, Count me out! Difficulties and joy just don’t seem to go together—that is, unless we understand God’s perspective of what life is about.

When James spoke of joy, he wasn’t referring to a cheery, frivolous feeling. Rather, he was talking about an inner sense of calmness, peace, and confidence in the Lord. He wasn’t telling us to feel happy about our trials but to know, as we go through them, that God is up to something good in our life. Our attitude during the struggle will determine what shape we’re in when we come out on the other side.

When our faith gets tested, the end result is endurance; being aware of this gives us hope and strength. What’s more, the Bible promises God will use trials for our good, so we don’t need to be afraid or anxious.

God’s desire is to bless you, not destroy you. Adversity can make someone feel like a victim, but as followers of Christ, we can choose to be victors!


Link for the second devotional is found in the archives section, click to 1/13/17

October 20, 2011

Drink Living Water From The Fountain of Life

Last night I was searching the ‘net for a song that represents a genre not often heard in today’s contemporary Christian music market, Living Water by Denny Correll.  I have the LP somewhere, but I was dying to hear the song.  In the process, I found a blogger who uses the songs from the Jesus Music era as the foundation for devotionals.  So I invite you to either click over to the blog Great, Great Joy now; or read what follows and then link over to click the audio track and follow the lyrics on a classic song.

Have you ever felt so excited about something that you couldn’t contain yourself? You just had to tell your friend, your neighbor, the person you met while walking down the street? This news you had was just too good to keep inside. It was like something that was bursting out of you that you couldn’t control!

The Joy that Jesus brings to my life is like that sometimes. Almost like a geyser, the Spirit bursts forth from me, usually in songs that I know, and that Joy comes out with it. It is literally energizing to have this happen, and spend the next several hours with music coming out in hums and whistles and fragments of song.

Jesus talks about this in the Gospel of John, chapter 7, verses 37 to 39: “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.”

This “living water” that Jesus spoke of, the Holy Spirit, is obviously so much more than just a song. But His work in your spirit could be through tears and repentance, or through joy and song. And I know that one way in which He works (at least in me) is to bring back to my remembrance Scripture that I’ve learned in the past — or possibly a song. And regardless of how He chooses to work in me today, it gives me something I can use to water the thirsty land around me, if I choose to let it flow!

Denny Correll released an album in 1979, Standin’ In The Light. One of the tracks on that album, Living Water is a joyful song that explains what I’ve said above in different words. Enjoy!

Click over to Great Great Joy to hear the song and read the lyrics.

September 2, 2011

Timothy Keller on Joy

This 5-minute clip from the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, Timothy Keller, is part of an online promotion for a series of CDs produced by Oasis Audio — the books on CD people — who have recently discovered the wealth of sermon audio material out there.  This excerpt is from “When Life Isn’t Perfect” which features full sermons by Timothy J. Keller, John Ortberg, Mark Mitchell, and Mark Buchanan

April 9, 2011

Celebrate the Gospel!

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:15 pm
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I hope that in the process of trying to be serious about Bible study and intentional about digging deeper into the elements of our faith, this blog is never at risk of becoming dry or boring.

I believe that when all the things blogged about online and written about in Christian books are said and done, the knowledge should move from head to heart and cause us to “rejoice in the God of our salvation.”

NLT Isaiah 25: 9 In that day the people will proclaim,
“This is our God!
We trusted in him, and he saved us!
This is the Lord, in whom we trusted.
Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!”

NLT Hab 3:17 Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

Nothing says “joy” like the sound of gospel music, that is to say, the mass choir gospel sound.  Hezekiah Walker does a song, “This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” which reminds us that if the gospel is good news, it should, like all good news, put a smile on our faces!

The video I wanted to insert here has some restricted applications, but you can still watch it by copying this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uy9cZ21rtxE

The song is, “This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ” by Hezekiah Walker.

May your weekend service this week be a time of CELEBRATION!

February 11, 2011

Know Your Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you know your place in Christ?

February 1, 2011

Discouragement: A Subtle Tactic in Spiritual Warfare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So don’t.

November 13, 2010

The Feast at the Table of the Lord is Ready To Begin

If you want to process some worship music that goes to a deeper level, you can’t not know about the vast catalog of songs from U.K. worship songwriter Graham Kendrick.

Today’s song is from a series of recordings intended for “public praise;” that is, taking the music that exalts God out on the streets.

This song talks about a grand feast that God is preparing for us.   When we think of the phrase, “the table of the Lord,” we tend to think of hushed whispers and the solemnity of a communion service or Eucharist.   But in Jewish thought, the sharing of a meal is usually associated with celebration and dancing.  As this song says, the table is “laden with good things.”

Turn your speakers up loud and play this one a couple of times!

The trumpets sound, the angels sing
The feast is ready to begin
The gates of heaven are open wide
And Jesus welcomes you inside

Tables are laden with good things
O taste the peace and joy he brings
He’ll fill you up with love divine
He’ll turn your water into wine

Sing with thankfulness songs of pure delight
Come and revel in heaven’s love and light
Take your place at the table of the King
The feast is ready to begin
The feast is ready to begin

The hungry heart he satisfies
Offers the poor his paradise
Now hear all heaven and earth applaud
The amazing goodness of the Lord

Jesus
We thank you
For your love
For your joy
Jesus
We thank you
For the good things
You give to us

Graham Kendrick
Copyright © 1989 Make Way Music,
http://www.grahamkendrick.co.uk